Cosatu leaders lock horns over Zuma

Union federation Cosatu is expected to make a decision at its next central committee meeting on whether to back the re-election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president in 2012.

This comes as Zuma’s support within the alliance appears to be waning, with the ANC Youth League leading the charge to replace him with his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.

Although Cosatu was one of the key ANC allies to push for Zuma to replace Thabo Mbeki as ANC president in 2007, the federation has in recent months become one of the fiercest critics of Zuma’s leadership style in both government and the ruling party.

In an interview this week the federation’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, said Cosatu was unhappy with the ANC-led government because of its poor performance, particularly with regard to job creation and in combating corruption.

“That’s why we’re so critical of everybody. We want the movement, and the leadership in particular, to pull up their socks,” Vavi said.

“When you look at the past three years, they have made mistakes, they put us on a back foot. But do those mistakes amount to abandoning the project? We want to have a decent discussion about that.” Vavi insisted that he was not referring to Zuma as an individual.

Vavi and certain leaders of Cosatu’s affiliates, including Irvin Jim of metal union Numsa and Thobile Ntola of teachers’ union Sadtu, have been accused of opportunistically criticising the Zuma-led ANC and government.

Other Cosatu union leaders, notably National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Frans Baleni and Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, are seen as being closer to Zuma and his strong left arm, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande.

Raising the issue
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Baleni launched a veiled attack on Vavi and Jim for wanting to push Cosatu affiliates to support Zuma’s removal. “It can’t be that when some are happy we must smile and when they are angry we must be the same,” Baleni said, without mentioning names.

Baleni said NUM had raised the issue that Cosatu should be careful about how it chooses leaders. “Some who didn’t understand us then are now changing their tune,” he said.

The faction that was strongly behind Zuma in 2007 was now disintegrating, said Baleni. “People had certain expectations. They thought they would benefit. When they didn’t benefit, they started changing. We don’t want to mention names.”

Said Vavi: “We won’t be blackmailed into silence and being unable to discuss our challenges as the working class. Where we are wrong, we should be told that we are wrong.” Cosatu, he said, would communicate fearlessly what it believed.

“When we think the leadership is not tough on corruption, as we believe now, we say it. We won’t run around reassuring people that we have no plans to topple anyone. That would land us back in the Mbeki era, where people had to release statements distancing themselves from the leadership race.”

Vavi called the current ANC leadership “our project”. “We [workers] are the ones who made sure there was a Polokwane revolt and that the conference resolutions were absolutely progressive—pro-poor and pro-worker.” Those gains had to be protected.

“If that project fails, our political strategies have failed. We should push and push for these leaders to deliver. They must be beaten into it.” While voicing support for the ANC leadership, Vavi said Cosatu needed “ammunition” to go back to communities in 2014 and campaign for the party.

“I want to go to people and say we’ve moved from A to B and they must be able to see it.” There was no pressure on Cosatu to take a position on the ANC’s leadership contest, he said. “That’s opportunistic and far removed from the real issues of service delivery.

“The pressure should be about what we saw during local elections—people not having water and electricity.” Baleni said it was important that the ANC-led alliance invest in organisational programmes and policies instead of giving priority to the leadership race.

“We must assess serving leaders based on delivery. You can’t choose leaders like it’s a beauty contest.”

Vavi has been criticised for communicating through the media instead of through alliance structures. But he defended himself this week. “The difference between me and some people is that I have no fear of talking. I fear no one in the world. For that I’ve got many admirers and I’ve made many enemies.”

Every public statement he had made was backed by a Cosatu resolution, said Vavi.

Numsa’s Jim said Cosatu would discuss the ANC leadership issue when the time was right. Numsa’s position was always to defend the Polokwane resolutions. “Where there’s a need to criticise, we’ve done that,” he said.

He rejected allegations that he was part of the group that wanted to remove Zuma, calling them “malicious” and their politics “dirty”.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice.
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    Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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