Trade union federation Cosatu is not giving up on President Jacob Zuma — at least for now. But the federation’s top officials still had scorching words for this week’s medium-term budget.
Cosatu’s efforts to shape the debate on the country’s new economic direction were dealt a major blow when Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget and government’s new growth path statement fell short of endorsing the federation’s own economic-policy preferences.
But, in spite of the Zuma administration’s repeated snubbing of the left’s demands for radical changes to economic policy, Cosatu’s two top officials this week expressed full confidence in the president.
Sdumo Dlamini, the federation’s president, and Zwelinzima Vavi, its general secretary, also said they hoped government would include the alliance partners’ proposals in its new growth path.
The proposals include slashing inflation targeting, reviewing the Reserve Bank’s mandate and bringing strategic sectors of the economy under state ownership.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Dlamini implied that though Zuma was the leader of both the government and the ANC, he was not in charge when it came to crucial policy decisions.
He blamed some within Zuma’s Cabinet who “would stop at nothing to maintain the neo-liberal policies introduced by former president Thabo Mbeki”.
Dlamini did not mention names, but Cosatu has in the past accused both Gordhan and Planning Minister Trevor Manuel of resisting the changes to government policies that the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane resolutions prescribed. “Zuma is not even voting on policy matters,” Dlamini said. “It would be unfair to judge him on what his Cabinet ministers say or do.”
‘Far better’ than Mbeki
But Zuma is still “far better” than Mbeki, who “marginalised Cosatu and even the ANC”, Dlamini said. “Unlike before, now there is consultation [with all alliance partners].
“We might not agree on whether the alliance or the ANC should be the centre of power, but we are happy with his [Zuma’s] leadership. We do not regret our decision to support him as ANC president in 2007.”
In spite of this week’s setbacks, Vavi said he was still hopeful Cosatu would influence the new growth path when it discussed it with the government.
“The president has assured us that they will talk to us. We believe that they will listen and meet us halfway.”
He said there was “no chance in a blue moon” that South Africa would create the promised 5 million jobs in 10 years promised in government’s growth strategy if fiscal and monetary policies did not change.
“We like acting in tandem with countries that have far less poverty than us and yet we want to be good boys all the time,” Vavi said.
“We should be boldly selfish. We are very good boys in the zoo and yet we are not gaining anything from that. We have political medals without the economic jewellery.”
Cosatu will not sign any social pact that will introduce wage moderation as another way of helping to create jobs, as proposed in Gordhan’s mini budget statement, Vavi said. “We can never, ever co-operate with anything that calls for moderation of workers’ salaries. We will remain militant, we will continue to demand better wages.”
Government must not force Cosatu “into the chicken and pig sacrifice where they decide to have breakfast and the chicken must donate an egg while the pig donates bacon”, Vavi said. “It is immoral to even suggest that, because the pig will be dead for it to donate bacon.”
Relaxing of exchange controls to encourage trade growth would be “a disaster”, Vavi said, arguing that South Africa would be dumping the strategy that had saved the country from being ruined by the recession.
“I cannot believe these neo-liberal politics,” he said, pointing out that Cosatu was “getting tired” of fighting the same battles with different government administrations.
Dlamini’s show of confidence in the opinion of Zuma contrasts sharply with Thobile Ntola, the fiery president of teacher union Sadtu, who, earlier this month, blasted Zuma for failing to deliver on promises made to the poor.
Unlike other Cosatu leaders who want Zuma to serve a second term as ANC president, Ntola said no one, including Zuma, was guaranteed re-election at the ANC’s elective conference in 2012.
“We will have to evaluate each and every ANC leader at the end of their term before we decide who needs to be re-elected,” Ntola told the M&G.
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, a former union leader, told the M&G that Cosatu and business concerns were both considered in putting the growth-path policy together.
“We see both constituencies as vital to its success,” he said. “The details of what all constituencies, including government, will need to do differently will be the subject of detailed and focused social dialogue.”
On Dlamini’s blaming of some Cabinet ministers for current economic policy, Zuma’s spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, said: “The president is part of the executive. The budget is a decision of a collective Cabinet that is chaired by the president.”