Cosatu could have its first female general secretary if plans by some of the union federation’s leaders to elevate second deputy president Zingiswa Losi to the powerful position succeed.
Cosatu will hold its national congress next month, where the general secretary position will be hotly contested. The position became vacant when Zwelinzima Vavi was expelled after he rebelled against the expulsion of Cosatu’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).
Three senior Cosatu leaders told the Mail & Guardian this week that there was a strong lobby to elect Losi as general secretary. Another group in Cosatu, however, prefers deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, who has been acting in the position, to take over.
A general secretary from one of Cosatu’s affiliates, who asked not to be named because of fear of victimisation, said Losi’s lobby group enjoyed majority support in Cosatu’s leadership. He described Losi as “vocal” and “articulate”.
“We want someone who is vocal,” said the affiliate’s leader. “We need some vibrancy in Cosatu and she is the perfect person who can bring that. She is a very confident person who is good at articulating Cosatu policies. People agree Bheki [Ntshalintshali] is not a public person. He is very intelligent but prefers operating behind the scenes.”
The leader said his group was planning to approach Ntshalintshali to ask him not to stand against Losi but to remain in his current position for the sake of unity in Cosatu.
“We don’t need too much contestation, which will create divisions. We don’t want a situation where we end up with angry people who leave Cosatu to go and join Vavi and Numsa after the national congress,” the leader said. “As much as we support a democratic process, we are also mindful of how destructive it can be.”
A trained soldier, Losi cut her teeth in politics in the Congress of South African Students, according to Cosatu’s website. She also served in ANC Youth League structures in the Eastern Cape and worked for the South African National Defence Force for three years before joining car manufacturer Ford in Port Elizabeth in 2002 as an operator in the engine components and assembly division. She became a Numsa shop steward at the plant that year.
Losi, a close ally of Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, resigned from Numsa following tensions between the two Cosatu factions led by Vavi and Dlamini respectively.
Speaking from Brazil on Thursday, Losi told the M&G she was unaware of plans to elect her.
“It would be premature to talk about positions now. I have never been approached by anyone,” she said. “I would rather let the nomination process unfold before I can talk about that. I don’t want to be ahead of myself. When the time is right, I will respond internally.”
The M&G’s attempts to get comments from Ntshalintshali were unsuccessful, but a leader sympathetic to him said he is the perfect person to lead Cosatu in the general secretary position.
“He might lack charisma, but in terms of running the organisation he is good. He understands the animal that is Cosatu. The organisation needs less loud healing. The last term was very difficult,” said the leader.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said workers would be allowed to choose anyone who qualified to be elected a Cosatu leader.
“This is an elective congress. Workers can choose whoever they want. It’s a democratic process,” he said, adding that the nomination process for leadership would happen on the congress’s first day.