Last week the Mail & Guardian reported how affiliates of trade union federation Cosatu are preparing to push for their highest decision-making body to take a public stand on the scandals involving President Jacob Zuma. At the same time, the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) looked set to defend Zuma from calls in the party and civil society for him to step down.
The next two weeks will prove crucial for the unity of the ANC and Cosatu as their respective NECs and central executive committees (CECs) meet. The presidents of these organisations are indicative of where they are heading, with the Zuma-led ANC steering the party towards its seemingly intractable fate and Cosatu’s president, S’dumo Dlamini, seen to be firmly in Zuma’s corner.
On Monday, Cosatu’s 17 affiliates will meet at the federation’s headquarters in Johannesburg where the public protector’s damning State of Capture report will be up for debate. The report recommends a judicial commission of inquiry be established, with a judge chosen by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, to investigate the alleged undue influence over the president by the controversial Gupta family.
Dlamini is to blame, according to dissenting voices in Cosatu, for the federation’s reluctance to challenge the ANC leadership. He has appealed to the unions to unite behind the ANC, but the affiliates have confirmed that their branches are fiercely debating Zuma’s fate. Dlamini believes that joining the public debate on Zuma’s leadership is unwise – a view that’s counter to Cosatu’s public statements.
The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union and Communication Workers Union have already called for Zuma to step aside and for his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, to take his place. Others such as the National Union of Mineworkers will hold their NEC meetings after Cosatu’s CEC and are unlikely to consult all their members about whether to join the call for Zuma to resign.
Cosatu’s CEC will put the federation and Dlamini at a crucial crossroad. Under his watch, the federation has lost more than half a million members through the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and Food and Allied Workers Union’s decision to leave the federation. Now, the SA Football Players Union and SA State and Allied Workers Union are also threatening to withdraw over internal divisions in Cosatu.
Dlamini will have to tread a fine line between appeasing unions who fear Cosatu has lost its independence and a decision that does not further polarise, or split, the federation.
Last week Dlamini told the M&G that the tripartite alliance is “pulling in different directions”. Over the past two months the South African Communist Party has openly disagreed with senior ANC leaders over the persecution of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and claims that the Gupta family has captured the state.
The Cosatu president’s insistence on placing the unity of the ANC and the alliance ahead of that of the federation will prove to be a double-edged sword.
If he successfully prevents worker leaders from pronouncing on Zuma’s fate, he risks destroying Cosatu. If he is forced to confront Zuma’s leadership as a result of a popular vote among affiliates, his usefulness in the dominant faction of the ANC’s NEC would have all but expired.
The top leadership of the NEC is facing a more daunting task – defending Zuma against a move by a growing faction intent on having him unseated. Yet the ruling party’s apparently unbreakable intent to have Zuma serve out his term of office sets the ANC on a dangerous path to losing power in the 2019 general elections.
The release of former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report should serve as sufficient ammunition to sway undecided NEC members that Zuma is a liability to his party and should be recalled. The M&G contacted 40 NEC members for their views but most refused to comment.
But Minister of Public Service and Administration Ngoako Ramatlhodi did state his intention to raise his concerns “without fear or favour”.
The likes of Eastern Cape MEC for co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Fikile Xasa, and the ANC’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, had called for an urgent meeting in the wake of report being released but will now have to wait until next week to air their grievances.
The NEC meeting is set to take place on November 25. Sharp criticism from prominent ANC leaders such as Mathole Motshekga, who called on the party to choose between the ANC and the country, appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Already the ANC’s provincial structures have sent signals that Zuma’s stranglehold on power will not be wrested from him.
“We believe that he must finish his term; there is nothing that requires the organisation to recall him,” said the party’s KwaZulu-Natal chairperson, Sihle Zikalala, who, with others, was instrumental in helping Zuma retain the presidency at the 2012 ANC Mangaung conference.
Other ANC provincial structures were vague about their views on the State of Capture report but remained resolute in their support of Zuma completing his term of office.
The uproar among South Africans over Zuma’s conduct and the calls for him to step down as president of the country mean nothing without the balance of power shifting in the ANC. As long as the president has the support of a majority of the party’s provinces – and by extension the regions and branches – he is safe.
The so-called Premier League (North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State) has saved the president’s skin time and time again and will do so again.
There may be murmurs of NEC members being lobbied to turn against Zuma at next Friday’s meeting, but the faction that opposes Zuma’s leadership has a track record of successive failures.
The next two weeks will be crucial for the ANC and Cosatu. Both organisations face a battle to unite their ranks and prevent splits; both scenarios hinge on what these organisations decide should happen to the country’s president. With Zuma’s detractors in the ANC not significant or strong enough to change the status quo, and the cult of personality still so prevalent, it is the ruling party and the labour federation that will suffer.