Old wounds in the tripartite alliance were re-opened at the Cosatu congress this week after the ANC tried to persuade the trade union federation to tone down its militant resolution on the presidency’s national planning commission (NPC).
The proposed resolution rejected the recent NPC Green Paper on the grounds that it weakens the developmental state and that it was not widely canvassed with the alliance partners. The resolution also took aim at Trevor Manuel, who is responsible for the national planning ministry.
Old battles were hinted at on Wednesday when ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe asked the congress to reword the resolution, saying it was dangerous to personalise political resolutions. “It would be a mistake for us to say Trevor Manuel alone formulates these policies,” he said.
He warned delegates to interrogate the merits of the Green Paper instead of trying to ensure that Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel — a Cosatu deployee — is not dominated by Manuel.
But several Cosatu and SACP leaders rejected Mantashe’s plea, insisting that Manuel was part of the problem and condemning what they described as his characteristic style of working with bureaucrats instead of consulting the alliance. “It is incorrect that such far-reaching policy documents can be opened up to the public without being discussed by alliance partners,” said SACP national organiser Solly Mapaila.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi also reminded delegates that when Manuel was finance minister, the treasury had decided on policy matters and overruled departments. This problem should not be allowed to re-emerge, he said. He was supported by Nehawu secretary Slovo Majola and National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s Irvin Jim.
Jim said it was difficult to depersonalise the resolution. “Individuals leave imprints in history,” he said. “This particular individual [Manuel] is consistent. We expressed our reservations when he was in treasury and we still do so today. When everyone said there was an economic crisis, he said ‘crisis, what crisis?’ After Polokwane he said there would be no policy changes.”
Before this debate erupted at the congress Cosatu had been gushing about the wonder of its political marriage to the ANC. “The ANC is now committed to be engaged,” said South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Randall Howard.
The mood at the congress had been contentment: the militancy that was tangible at the last congress appeared to have gone. The daily attendance of key ANC leaders had clearly made the worker comrades feel optimistic and unified.
Despite the anger expressed about Manuel and the NPC, Cosatu leaders feel they are being “taken more seriously now” and that debate about inflation-targeting is at least tolerated.
In addition South Africa’s stance at the World Trade Organisation is now more worker-friendly and the government has agreed to a R2.4-billion training scheme to ease the lot of retrenched workers.
But in Cosatu’s quest to show its members why it was important to fight the “Battle of Polokwane” — even if it was at the expense of shop-floor issues — the federation has tough decisions to make now.