The tripartite alliance summit afoot in Centurion, Gauteng, is looking into issues facing the alliance with utmost honesty, the ANC’s secretary general Gwede Mantashe has said.
In a bid to iron out deepening divisions, the ANC-led alliance that comprises Cosatu, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) is holding a five-day retreat.
The summit, which is attended by national leadership of the allied organisations including President Jacob Zuma – who called it, kicked off on Saturday. Many other heavyweights of the ANC were seen at St. George Hotel, where the talk-shop is being held.
“What we’re trying to do is to be honest in unearthing what are the weaknesses, what are the source[s] of irritation [and] what are actually the basis of the divisions of the alliance,” Mantashe told reporters at the sidelines of the summit.
“When we deal with those issues the starting point is honesty in critiquing ourselves. If we’re critiquing ourselves honestly, we’re likely to come up with a formula that will help us pull ourselves together when we answer the question ‘what is to be done?’”
Zuma called for this summit in March when addressing a crowd gathered for the reburial of struggle stalwart JB Marks in Ventersdorp, North West.
At this gathering an emotive Zuma chastised leaders who sow divisions in the alliance, the Mail & Guardian reported. “We can’t as leaders stand and say I don’t care what happens as long as I disagree with so and so it is the end of the story … unconsciously you are dividing the very poor people,” said Zuma at the time.
“We cannot continue [like this]. You are not aware how much our enemies are mobilising to destroy us. If we are divided we are easy prey.”
Zuma’s polemic and the call for summit came at a time when tensions had already reached boiling point in Cosatu, especially between the federation’s president Sdumo Dlamini and its now axed general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
Just a week after the call by Zuma, the federation announced it had fired Vavi. Cosatu cited gross misconduct and failure to perform duties including boycotting central executive committee (CEC) meetings for the move.
But many argued that the writing was already on the wall that Vavi’s days in the federation were numbered. He was ostensibly unsupportive and critical of Cosatu’s vote to expel the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) from its fold.
Mantashe was not forthcoming to reporters that these specific aspects of the conflict in Cosatu were central to discussions of the summit, saying they would only be tackled if raised from the floor.
He could only concede “when one alliance partner is in trouble, everybody is in trouble”.
“That’s why we say if those issues come out in the discussion we’re not going to run away from them. We’ll confront them because it is in our interest for Cosatu to be as strong as it can be.
“We’ll deal with them as part of the problem facing an ally and actually contribute in debating them and actually developing an approach to resolve them.”
Also at the sidelines of the summit, Dlamini told journalists Cosatu came to the gathering conceding its weaknesses. “We’re discussing the unity of the alliance [and] critical issues that are causing irritations and some divisions that we think are a problem,” he said.
“We’re dealing with constructive criticism here [in the summit]. Cosatu is the very first organisation to agree upfront that we’re faced with challenges. We’re coming to our allies to listen to how they see us, and how we going to be helping each other to strengthen Cosatu but also to [strengthen] the allies themselves because we need each other. “Cosatu is upfront to agree to its own weaknesses. If Cosatu is weak you can therefore not expect that the other allies are stronger. We have to be strong.
“If the ANC is weak, Cosatu will be weak. If Cosatu is weak, the [South African Communist] Party will be weak. We need each other. That’s the centrality of the whole thing.”
Dlamini said Cosatu also wants to leave the summit “clearer … [on] how do we influence [constructively] within the alliance the positions that we hold, engaging within the allies because we belong together”.
“We think we have come now to a time and a point where we should say the centrality of the alliance as the leader of society is going to be seen.”
Asked of ideal political outcomes of the summit, Mantashe said: “A more united alliance driven by a programme that is workable for all of us rather than a competitive alliance where people emphasise disagreements over agreements.
He said such was “therefore the programme [that] would be based on issues of agreement. If there are issues where we disagree we’ll bring those issues together [and] deal with them over a period of time.”