Power vacuum makes alliance ‘dysfunctional’

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Thursday warned that its alliance with the African National Congress is “dysfunctional” because of “confusion” over power.

Cosatu was seeking a “pact” with its alliance partners, the ANC and South African Communist Party, to quell the disorder, said its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

“We have reached a stalemate on the pact and the issue of the alliance as strategic political centre.

“These conditions will lead to the return to the marginalisation of the alliance,” he said after briefing after Cosatu’s central executive committee meeting.

Referring to a low-point in Cosatu’s relationship with the ANC in 2001, Vavi said “the one common feature with that period is that the alliance is again dysfunctional”.

He said the alliance’s problems were being worsened by corruption and individuals using the government for personal gain.

“The emergence of a new tendency focused on taking over the ANC and using access to the state for a selfish accumulation agenda disrupted the emerging unity of purpose which has led to a paralysis in both the alliance and government,” said Vavi.

He said this “paralysis” was preventing a summit between alliance partners because of contestations over power.

“The alliance is unable to convene an alliance summit for fear of an implosion, as a result of fundamental differences on the question of where the power lies,” said Vavi.

He also criticised the South African Communist Party’s “visibility and capacity”.

“We shall demand of our vanguard party of the working class, the SACP, that it address weaknesses we identified in our discussion including its visibility and capacity.”

Vavi also laid into politically connected businesspeople, likening them to “hyenas”, and said they were leading South Africa into a “predatory state”.

“We are heading rapidly in the direction of a full-blown predator state, in which a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas increasingly controls the state as a vehicle for
accumulation.”

Vavi singled out the recent ArcelorMittal deal, in which President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma was a beneficiary, as “outrageous”.

The long alliance has been put through one of its toughest tests by a massive state workers’ strike.

The following are some implications of Cosatu’s statement and how the country’s political system could change.

Kiss and make up?
Despite the intense acrimony now, the ANC and Cosatu need each too much for political purposes and will eventually patch up their differences to maintain some kind of alliance.

This marriage of convenience comes at high cost because it delays what analysts say is a much-needed crackdown on unions and introduction of reforms to tackle massive unemployment that has been dragging down the continent’s largest economy.

Zuma, who was boosted to the presidency in large part through the help of organised labour, is not seen by analysts as decisive enough to break ties with Cosatu. But he might bend, and push them further away from policy decisions.

Cosatu does not have enough members or money to function as a viable political opposition party and gains far more influence by keeping its alliance with the ruling party.

But Cosatu has proven enormously effective at dragging the economy to near halts through strikes, meaning the ANC faces enormous political risks from ostracising its traditional ally.

Policy changes
Two policies pushed by Cosatu that will likely be given less prominence are its calls to weaken the rand to boost exports and for the central bank to scrap inflation targeting to give it more flexibility in setting interest rates.

Zuma, who is set for a bruising battle at the ANC’s mid-term policy setting meeting next month by various factions angered at his government, would welcome any support. He may cosy up to the anti-union elements in the party.

Zuma may reconsider a policy he proposed a few years ago to ease measures that would allow companies to hire temporary workers, which economists have said is vital for allowing greater flexibility in the country’s rigid labour market.

There are also worries about the agenda of anti-union forces in the ANC who want to keep a system to increase the power of the black majority over the economy that critics said have benefitted the politically connected and raised worries of chronic cronyism.

Rigid labour laws
Economists said one of the greatest threats to the economy are rigid labour laws — favoured by unions — that make it difficult for employers to offer low-wages and flexible employment to the country’s poor. These measures could ease the country’s alarmingly high official 25% unemployment rate.

The country’s labour laws have been cited as a factor limiting foreign investment. – Reuters, Sapa

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Jon Herskovitz
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