Veteran unionist and National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana has echoed ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe's call for leaders belonging to the two main factions in Cosatu to swallow their pride and solve their ideological and political differences.
"We need sober minds to save Cosatu. The federation must be defended by all its leaders," said Zokwana. His plea comes two weeks before the special congress of Cosatu's largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), at which members will mull over whether to split from Cosatu.
Numsa is also expected to discuss whether or not to campaign for the ANC ahead of next year's elections. Numsa has been at loggerheads with Cosatu leaders over the suspension of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Cosatu's apparent failure to implement radical resolutions taken during the federation's national congress last year.
On Wednesday, Mantashe also appealed to supporters of Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini to find a political solution to their differences with Vavi.
"You can pursue Vavi if you want to. But if the price you must pay for pursuing Vavi is to split Cosatu, it is not worth the price. Try something else," said Mantashe.
'Spare no effort'
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian on Thursday, Zokwana, who is also an ANC national executive committee member and chairperson of the South African Communist Party, said Cosatu leaders need to put their differences aside and find a solution regarding Vavi.
He warned that the threat by Numsa to pull out of Cosatu could spell disaster for the 2.1-million-strong federation.
"We should spare no effort [in trying to rescue Cosatu]. Numsa's split from Cosatu will result in many unions splitting. If we need to look at the Vavi issue to bring about unity, then let's do that. We must swallow our pride. The ANC has appointed a task team to assist us. But that engagement needs Cosatu leaders. We should not go to a meeting with a view that this or that must happen. We must find a way to deal with Vavi.
"This alliance has history. Many people have lost their lives. If you go to a meeting with a view of finding peace, you can't go there with preconditions. Vavi has a role to play as well. He must be seen as a unifying figure," said Zokwana.
Other senior Cosatu leaders – including the federation's second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi, South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu) general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu and Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim – all expressed different views.
Losi said the call by Mantashe is vague and needs to be interrogated.
"I listened to Gwede. What he said could mean anything … unless he clarifies it. What I know is that we are dealing with internal issues of Cosatu. They should be respected. The SG [Mantashe] must talk to the federation through internal processes. We can make sense of what he says only when we are in a meeting. Is what he said the view of the ANC task team assisting Cosatu to resolve its problems? If this is the case, we should hear it. The task team must engage with affiliates and everybody."
Sadtu's Maluleke said he believes the investigation against Vavi should proceed.
"We took a decision that, where there are allegations, they must be proven. The [Cosatu] constitution provides for that. We are not immune to political solutions, but you can't talk about political solutions when there are [corruption] allegations. You need to clear people's names. If you think that you will hide things and build unity, it won't work. Unity is painful. We can't reduce everything to political solutions. Let internal processes take place."
Writing in his political report presented to the central executive committee this week, Satawu's Mahlangu argued that the problem in Cosatu is that individualism has preceded collective leadership.
"This has resulted in individual leaders who have grown above their own shoes in the federation. Once a leader believes he is superior to all his peers in the organisation, it means that he has failed drastically to serve the organisation. It means that he has always served the interests of his personal ambitions and grandiosity," wrote Mahlangu.
Numsa's Jim suggested that Mantashe has no idea of the root cause of the tensions in Cosatu.
"Mantashe basically feigns ignorance of neoliberalism and pretends to have completely forgotten about Gear [the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy], which he now defends. We can't accept that.
"He [Mantashe] talks about cushioning the working class, but he does not even mention what class force is responsible for the suffering of our class. This is because some of [his] colleagues in [the] top six of the ANC are capitalists. He misses things completely when he says trains are exempt from e-tolls. Where have you seen a train on a highway? He is being ridiculous," said Jim.
Strike-hit economy gives rise to a plea for reason
The South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu) has admitted that the unions are increasingly encouraging workers to demand "unreasonably" high wages at the expense of jobs.
The admission appears in a secretariat report delivered at this week's central executive committee meeting by the union's general secretary, Zenzo Mahlangu.
His report said: "The biggest threat for the entire trade union movement in the country is the populist opportunism.
"The noble struggle of the working class is being hijacked by the centrist, Trotskyite and ultra-leftist populist, opportunistic rhetoric that incites workers to demand unreasonably higher wages from monopoly capital at the very expense of the workers' immediate livelihoods."
South Africa's economy grew at the slowest pace in more than four years in the third quarter of 2013, an annualised 0.7% compared with a revised 3.2% in the three months to June. Workers' strikes were found to be one of the major contributors to the slow growth.
The month-long automotive industry strike has been blamed for curbing output from an industry that accounts for almost 10% of the economy. The strike cost the industry $2-billion in lost output.
Two weeks ago, the Reserve Bank cut its 2013 economic growth forecast from 2% to 1.9%.
Mahlangu took a swipe at the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which led the mineworkers' strike in Marikana near Rustenburg, and at Satawu's fellow Cosatu affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which led the automotive industry strike.
Mahlangu said in the report: "This ideologically empty, unguided, new-found militancy has exposed the lives of workers to the wrath of state violence and gave rise to bloody divisions on the shop floor.
"We must quickly move to dispel the culture of making unreasonable and unachievable demands that incite workers and, when we fail to achieve such demands, we cannot convince workers to settle, hence the recent expressions of anger and lawlessness by workers, resulting in the maiming of their fellow workers.
"At the end of the day, the very same workers we mislead [with] populist opportunistic demands and rhetoric will be bearing the brunt of poverty and hunger in their families once they have lost their wages or have shut down their companies."
Mahlangu told the Mail & Guardian that his union is worried about the consequences of the Marikana strike. "We saw a lot of retrenchments and there are still going to be some," he said.
A year after the Marikana massacre, Anglo American Platinum announced the planned closure of three operations, with 4 800 job losses. Lonmin, which was the employer of most of the Marikana victims, had already mothballed a shaft last year. Because of the automotive sector strike BMW South Africa lost a contract for the production of a new model that would have created hundreds of new jobs.
Mahlangu said unions should find a balance between fighting for a living wage and being honest with their members about how realistic wage demands should be.
"There should be more transparency from employers, including on the [issue of] finances, so that we can make informed decisions. That transparency can even help avoid some strikes."– Mmanaledi Mataboge and Matuma Letsoalo