Vavi attacks Zuma at Numsa memorial lecture

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. (Gallo)

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. (Gallo)

Suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi launched an attack on President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday, saying his administration spectacularly failed to reverse the crisis of unemployment in the country and was turning a blind eye on increasing corruption within government.

Addressing a memorial lecture of the late National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) president Mtutuzeli Tom in Boksburg, Vavi questioned the spending of over R200-million in upgrading Zuma's homestead in Nkandla. He also questioned the spending of R65-million on security upgrades of ministers' homes in Cape Town.

"As you were preparing for this [Numsa special] congress, the public protector issued two damning reports: one on the former minister of communications and the other one on the minister of agriculture. We are aware of a third report that will be released in January.
While we are not yet aware of her recommendations, there is no dispute over the fact that well over R200-million was spent on upgrading the security features of the president's private residential home. Last year we learnt that about R65-million was spent on security upgrades of ministers' homes in Cape Town, with R15-million spent on the minister of rural development. How could anyone keep quiet when these grotesque amounts of money are spent on individuals while so many continue to live in poverty," asked Vavi.

He said corruption has become endemic to South Africa.

"It has become a matter of life and death, literally and metaphorically. In parts of South Africa today, people are being intimidated or even killed for exposing and preventing corruption. The flood of corruption scandals and the spread of the culture of greed and self-enrichment are threatening to unravel the fabric of society and to undermine all the great progress we have made.We face the nightmare future of a South Africa up for auction to the highest bidder – a society where no one will be able to do business with the state without going through corrupt gatekeepers.

"Factions are increasingly formed not around different ideologies or political views, but around access to government power that brings leaders closer to state tenders. Honest and talented individuals who cannot play this dirty game of 'survival of the fittest' will increasingly get sidelined, as slate politics imposes the worst, inefficient and corrupt individuals on us. Mediocrity and chaos will surely be the result if we do not stop the rot while we can," said Vavi.

'Inappropriate' neoliberal policies
Vavi accused the Zuma administration of continuing with "inappropriate" neoliberal policies notwithstanding the 52nd ANC policy package that promised that all policies would centre around the need to create decent jobs as the deliberate policy choice to attack poverty and inequalities.

"It is obvious that the post-Polokwane administration has spectacularly failed to reverse the crisis of unemployment. It is also obvious that this administration has failed to deliver on one of the basic promises of the 52nd conference of the ANC, which was to create decent work. These failures have occurred within the context where Cosatu proposals have been ignored and the alliance is practically dysfunctional. This administration has also failed to make decent work the primary focus of macroeconomic policy, and continues with the hymn of neoliberal inflation targeting, dismantling of exchange controls and a hands-off approach to the macro-economy, especially the financial system," said Vavi

He said the difficulty in dealing decisively with these obvious aspects of poverty lay in the fact that the underlying colonial and capitalist power relations in the economy had not been transformed. 

He said as the Reconstruction and Development Plan stated: "Poverty is the single greatest burden of South Africa's people, and is the direct result of the apartheid system and the grossly skewed nature of business and industrial development which accompanied it".  

"Business is still grossly skewed, industrial development has regressed and the overall patterns of apartheid underdevelopment remain entrenched. It is no wonder that there is little progress in realising the demands of the Freedom Charter. Agricultural land-ownership also remains concentrated and colonial. Estimates are that black people own between 13% to 16% of agricultural land in South Africa. Only 10% of the 30% of land earmarked for land restitution has been transferred to black farmers, the target date for the 30% is 2014. To make matters worse, it is estimated that more than 70% of redistributed land became unproductive after the reform process, due to the absence of post redistribution support. It is no wonder that South Africa is failing to even get out of racism."

Naive thinking
​Vavi warned that unless drastic changes were effected, the ANC-led tripartite alliance ran the risk of falling out of favour with the majority of the working class.

"It would be naive of us to think that a national liberation movement that presides over neoliberal capitalism will always enjoy the confidence of the very same people who are at the receiving end of the destructive impacts of neoliberal capitalism. The biggest challenge facing the ANC and the rest of the democratic forces is not a lack of ideas but our failure to implement what has been agreed to, and to have the political will to implement what we know is politically and morally correct."

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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