The exclusion of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi from the programme of the four-day congress of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) next week has exposed deep divisions in the labour federation a few months before the crucial ANC elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Vavi on Thursday denied allegations that he was deliberately being marginalised for factional reasons, but several leaders in Cosatu said it was clear that the line-up of key speakers was planned well in advance to give a platform to ANC leader President Jacob Zuma and his supporters.
This will be the first time since he became Cosatu general secretary that Vavi has not featured on the programme of Cosatu’s largest affiliate and his former union.
Among the key speakers is Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande, former South African Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary and Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, Public Enterprise Minister Malusi Gigaba, and NUM general secretary Frans Baleni, all of whom support Zuma’s bid for a second term.
Vavi has in the past few weeks avoided appearing on the same platform with Zuma. During the Workers’ Day main event in the Free State, he chose to address workers in the Eastern Cape instead.
In recent months Vavi has proved to be a thorn in the side of senior ANC and government leaders, including Zuma, for accusing them of failing to implement the Polokwane resolutions and pursuing policies aligned to the Democratic Alliance. This week, Cosatu supporters clashed with DA marchers over a proposed youth wage subsidy. Whereas the DA and Zuma’s administration believe a youth subsidy would reduce unemployment, Cosatu believes it would lead to more exploitation of workers.
In an interview this week, Vavi downplayed allegations that he was being marginalised and blamed them on individuals in the alliance who he said were campaigning using his name.
“I have been addressing every NUM conference and it was time to give someone else a chance. Yes, an invitation was sent to the Cosatu office. We distribute the tasks among ourselves. I’m naturally closer to the NUM. It is my home and it is an important conference, but Sdumo [Dlamini] has not had an opportunity [to address the NUM]. We sat around the table to discuss who would attend [the conference] and he volunteered,” said Vavi.
“There is a theory that Frans Baleni is against me and that he is aligned to the Zuma camp and I’m not. It is nonsense. People are trying to create distance between Frans and me. It’s all just rubbish, honestly. Some fellows are campaigning using my name. I’m under attack from these fellows. I hate factionalism – it destroys the organisation.”
Meanwhile, in a frank assessment of the ANC-led alliance, Baleni said the movement was at a crossroads because of public disagreement over leadership and key policy issues. If these tendencies were not nipped in the bud, the ANC would “implode”.
Orgy of public bickering
“Instead of forging ahead as a unified force, we are engulfed in an orgy of public bickering and ill-discipline. Unless we arrest these internal scuffles within the democratic movement, it is not far-fetched that this movement built over many years will implode,” said Baleni in his political report, which the Mail & Guardian has seen.
“The lack of purpose, of unity within the democratic movement and the inability to resolve differences in a constructive manner constitute a real obstacle to progress. Leadership contests within the broader movement regularly threaten components of the movement instead of these being used as moments of renewal of the popular mandate. Leadership positions are now conceived as stepping stones to a better life for the few elected leaders and, in some cases, leadership contests have become deadly affairs.”
Baleni further condemned what he called a “modern, narrow nationalist tendency” that sought to hijack the ANC and steer it to serve the interests of the new black elite.
He described nationalists in the ANC as reactionary and elitist and accused them of attacking the deployment of SACP leaders to the government and ANC structures.
The deployment of SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande as minister of higher education has caused divisions in the alliance, with some calling for him to resign and return to the head office on a full-time basis to grow the party.
“All of a sudden it has become a problem to be a leader in the SACP and the ANC. All of a sudden it has become problematic to be a leader in the SACP and government. This attack was intended to marginalise the communists in the ANC as happened prior to Polokwane in 2007.
“Comrades, we must be ready to defend the gains we have made and win support of leaders in the ANC who are not part of this narrow, self-centred African nationalism,” said the report.