Cosatu wary of Sisulu’s tough attitude towards unions

Also in the ANC a few months ahead of the party’s elective conference in Mangaung.

The Mail & Guardian takes a look at some of the new appointments.

Lindiwe Sisulu has been handed a tough assignment as the new minister of public service and administration – part of her job will involve negotiating with restless public-sector unions.

Her hostile attitude towards unions when she was defence minister has earned her several enemies, especially in union federation Cosatu. Senior Cosatu leaders told the M&G they were unhappy about Zuma’s decision to redeploy her.

In 2009, she fired more than 1000 soldiers who embarked on strike action over poor living conditions, including paying R500 a month to rent filthy rooms without working showers or toilets. The tough Sisulu effectively neutralised the soldiers’ unions when she established an ombudsman’s office in the military.

Unlikely to budge
Sisulu’s new appointment comes a week after public-sector unions declared a dispute with the government over wage increases. The unions, representing more than 1.3-million workers, declared a dispute following government’s failure to meet their wage-increase demand of 8% and a housing allowance of R1500. The government is offering a 6.5% increase and a R900 housing allowance.

Many in Cosatu fear that Sisulu is unlikely to budge on the current offer. This could result in a massive strike, an embarrassment for Zuma just months before Mangaung.

“We warn her that her new portfolio will need a new orientation on her part if we are to have a cordial relationship,” said Sizwe Pamla, the spokesperson for health and education union Nehawu.

The Cabinet has taken on a deeper shade of red with the appointment of Ben Martins as transport minister. Martins, a member of the South African Communist Party’s central committee and politburo, takes over from S’bu Ndebele, who was demoted to correctional services. This follows his fumbling over the implementation of e-tolls. It led to the downgrading of roads agency Sanral by ratings agency Moody’s, which in turn pushed up the agency’s cost of borrowing.

The e-tolling saga
The immediate task for Martins, who was deputy minister of public enterprises, will be to provide leadership on the e-tolling saga. Next will be to ensure the smooth roll-out of the multibillion-rand, state-led infrastructure projects in roads, ports and rail. His biggest test will be to see that multimillion-rand tenders are not abused for patronage.
Martins has been described by a senior government official as “politically experienced, astute and a great parliamentarian”.

At 28, Mdu Manana, the new deputy minister of higher education, is the youngest Cabinet member since the dawn of democracy. Many have voiced concerns about his capabilities and relative youth.

Manana became an MP after the 2009 election. He served as ANC whip of the National Assembly committees on transport and public service and administration as well as cluster whip for governance and monitoring.

He was elected on to the ANC Youth League’s national executive committee in 2008. Critics say his promotion was a reward from Zuma for his defiance of the youth league executive’s decision to support its expelled president, Julius Malema.

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