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Cosatu comes clean on internal divisions

Trade union federation Cosatu has admitted for the first time that the ANC’s leadership race is sowing division in its ranks.

The Mail & Guardian reported growing rifts within the federation during its central committee meeting in June.

At issue is whether Cosatu should support the re-election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, supported by the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Irvin Jim, and South African Democratic Teachers Union president Thobile Ntola are pressing for leadership changes in the ANC. But Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, supported by National Union of Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni and National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Fikile Majola, wants the ANC leadership under Zuma to be retained.

Cosatu has previously denied internal divisions. However, Vavi, addressing journalists on the outcome of the federation’s central executive committee meeting at a media conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, admitted that the federation was split. “We felt it was time to address emerging divisions. We are becoming increasingly incoherent. This has been a major concern,” said Vavi, adding that the problems stemmed from the ANC’s succession battle.

“Matters of succession are affecting us. We warned before that the issue of succession was likely to take our eyes from the ball. We felt it was time to confront this,” he said. “Why should we move in different directions when the central committee guided us to push programmes in the interests of workers?”

Vavi warned that if the divisive trends were not confronted “they will destroy the federation altogether”.

While insisting that the political centre of the federation “continues to be located in a progressive consensus in the traditions of the organisation”, it would be a fatal error to understate the problems.

“They need to be confronted in the open, honest and critical manner, which has kept the federation strong over the years, or they will degenerate into a serious organisational crisis,” he said.

In an apparent reference to the ANC Vavi said that, unlike other organisations, Cosatu acknowledged the difficulties that it was facing.

“We spent a considerable amount of time [during the central executive committee] focusing on the challenge of building unity. We acknowledge there are problems. We don’t push stuff under the carpet. We confront challenges so that we don’t move with this into the future,” he said.

Vavi said it was premature to engage in debates about the ANC succession, “as this distracts us from the primary political tasks of taking forward our transformation mandate”.

“We will encourage our members to assess the leadership of all alliance formations at the right time,” he said.

Vavi also warned that the labour movement should not throw its weight behind a faction of the ANC out of support for individuals. “We need to continue to engage from a working class perspective, unapologetically pursue our class struggle and analyse our political challenges based on the material realities which confront us, rather than a narrow commitment to this or that grouping or leader,” he said.

Warning that Cosatu would approach the Constitutional Court if the ANC and the government refused to withdraw the Protection of State Information Bill, adopted by National Assembly this week, Vavi said the federation would meet senior ANC leaders, including Zuma, to persuade the ruling party to reconsider the legislation.

“The central executive committee remains convinced that there is a need to introduce a public interest defence that would maintain a balance between the restrictions legitimately placed on state information against disclosures and media publication of such information in the public interest,” said Vavi.

Dlamini said Cosatu needed to fight against negative perceptions that its members were preoccupied with gossip, rumour-mongering and character assassination.

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