On Thursday, the general secretaries of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, the South African Communist Party (SACP), Blade Nzimande and trade union federation Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi, shared the stage at nursing union Denosa’s seventh national congress in Boksburg, East of Johannesburg.
Although curt and diplomatic, the three top guns of the alliance gave contrasting diagnosis so as to what led to the divisions in Cosatu and the alliance.
Mantashe was up first. Nurses present at the conference gave him a lukewarm reception, but listened to his speech nonetheless.
His message was clear: Don’t blame us for your problems.
“If Cosatu does not implement congress resolutions don’t look for a scapegoat in the ANC,” Mantashe told delegates.
He said the ANC had no business in Cosatu besides the fact that it was part of a joint struggle against apartheid.
“Wake up, do your work, you are a trade union movement … Don’t look for someone to blame. Unity should not be negotiated.”
Divorce in the alliance
In his somewhat scattered address, Mantashe appeared to take issues raised by metalworkers union Numsa and Vavi.
He mentioned that some people were anticipating the divorce of the alliance.
“There will be no divorce between the alliance because there was no marriage on a piece of paper. We fought together.”
Numsa has called for Cosatu to break away from the alliance.
On the contentious issue of labour brokering and the friction as a result between the ruling party and the trade union federation, Mantashe said it was an “imaginary fight”.
He said the law had outlawed temporary work for more than three months.
But it was on leadership struggles in Cosatu where Mantashe was the harshest. “We have a situation where secretary generals manipulate things … they make presidents irrelevant.”
When Nzimande took to the podium the delegates were a little more receptive to him but not overly enthusiastic. He did not hold back.
“There would be no Cosatu today if there was no worker organisation led by the SACP,” Nzimande said.
He said upfront that the SACP did not want to interfere in Cosatu but would continue commenting on it.
This appeared to be in response to allegations by Numsa that the SACP was responsible for the divisions in Cosatu.
Nzimande further took a jab at Numsa saying that if they left the alliance the union would inevitably split.
“Any union which wants to walk away from the alliance will divide itself.”
‘Cosatu weaker than ever’
But the star of the day was Vavi himself who received a raucous welcome by the delegates.
He said Cosatu was weaker than ever. “I am extremely exhausted and unable to sleep because of the palace politics and boardroom shenanigans that have sidelined the interests of the general membership.”
Vavi did not hold back from taking a dig at his opponents in the ANC, SACP and Cosatu.
“Workers will start to walk away when leadership slaughters one another,” he said. “It is time to fix our house … to avoid reducing this federation to irrelevance.”
He said Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC was not more important than South Africa. “As much as we love the ANC and the SACP… and the alliance they are not more important than South Africa and the country.”