Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini could face a motion of no confidence during the union federation’s central committee meeting for attending President Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday party despite Cosatu’s stance that Zuma should step down.
Several Cosatu leaders said this week that they planned to confront Dlamini, a vocal Zuma supporter, at the meeting scheduled to take place in Centurion from May 29 to June 1.
Other union leaders said they would consider a motion of no confidence in Dlamini for attending Zuma’s birthday bash, as this could be interpreted as the workers’ body endorsing the embattled president.
The meeting, which is attended by Cosatu’s provincial structures and affiliated unions, is the second-highest decision-making gathering after its conference.
One union leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the plan to challenge Dlamini at the meeting, and another senior Cosatu official said at least two affiliates were considering a no-confidence motion as an option.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union deputy president Mike Shingange said a collective decision had been taken not to attend the president’s birthday party.
“Because we made a call that the president [Zuma] should step down, we decided not to attend as Cosatu … So there is just some clarity needed on whether he [Dlamini] attended it as an ANC national executive committee member or Cosatu leader,” Shingange said.
Dlamini, who was introduced at the birthday party as a Cosatu representative, looked at Zuma, smiled and said: “I know that the workers of this country do wish the best for you; I’m here to say that.”
Shingange said: “If we don’t have any platform between now and the central committee to get clarity from [Dlamini], we certainly won’t hesitate or avoid raising the issue in that meeting.”
South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Bones Skulu said Dlamini should account for speaking on behalf of Cosatu at Zuma’s birthday party if he had defied a leadership decision. “If, as national office bearers, they decide that they are not attending because of the call for the president to step down, and then he attends, he’s in breach of the collective decision.”
There have been warnings about the effect of the motion being heard at the central committee meeting.
“We don’t think Cosatu is ready for another showdown, especially something so high-profile that has the potential to tear the federation apart,” Shingange said.
South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu said he would not be surprised if Dlamini’s detractors attempted the no-confidence motion, but warned it would not be in the interests of workers.
“It will be the biggest blow. It will further divide us … I know that people are not happy with him going to Zuma’s birthday party [but] it will be issues of sucession and not worker issues. The new federation [mooted by breakaway unions and individuals] will take advantage of such a motion and [Satawu] will not support it,” Mahlangu said on Thursday.
Shingange admitted that Dlamini’s perceived defence of Zuma had created tension, following Cosatu’s decision to endorse Cyril Ramaphosa as the next ANC president. Zuma wants former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him.
After a setback to his presidential ambitions by failing to continue his initial criticism of Zuma, Ramaphosa appeared to relaunch his campaign this week at a Black Business Council (BBC) dinner, where he promoted radical economic transformation, which was “non-negotiable”.
In what seemed to be a jibe aimed at the Gupta family, Ramaphosa called for the country’s leaders to guard against the looting of state resources under the guise of radical economic transformation. “We will also not allow the institutions of our state to be captured by anyone, be they individuals, be they families who are intent on narrow self-enrichment.”
These comments followed statements he made earlier in the week critical of Zuma. Although treading carefully, Ramaphosa called on the country’s leaders to pay attention to the concerns being raised by anti-Zuma marchers nationwide.
Although the deputy president initially kept a low profile after the ANC’s national working committee resolved to put a lid on public criticism of Zuma, intensified campaigning by Dlamini-Zuma last week appears to have jolted him out of retreat mode.
It is understood that some ANC leaders are unhappy with the BBC giving Ramaphosa a platform to strengthen his campaign and continue his criticism of the status quo.
Satawu’s Mahlangu said not all Cosatu affiliates agree with the federation’s call for Zuma to step down.
He said the call showed Cosatu was “playing to the gallery and fighting the ANC. We can’t fight through some structures that are not part of the [ANC] family,” he said.