Editorial: Cosatu, get off the fence

Jacob Zuma at Cosatu's May Day celebrations. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Jacob Zuma at Cosatu's May Day celebrations. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

One of Jacob Zuma’s political legacies will be not only the factionalisation of the ANC but also that of its ally, trade union federation Cosatu, as well as various areas of the state. Despite all the recent calls for “unity” in the movement, it is irredeemably split – and Zuma did it. (And, besides, everyone knows that calls for “unity” are basically orders to support the incumbent.)

This is how Zuma has worked to grab and maintain power within the ANC and its allied organisations: getting them to support him by pretending he supports their agenda, but dumping them if and when they begin to see through him and withdraw their support.
He did this to both the ANC’s partners in the tripartite alliance and the then leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema.

Cosatu is still dancing on the fence, first saying Zuma should resign but then refusing to participate officially in any anti-Zuma marches; now its leader, Sdumo Dlamini, is under attack from within Cosatu because he displayed some very pro-Zuma tendencies recently. So Cosatu is still split, even if the “opposition” (Vavi, Numsa et al) have been thrust out of the tent.

It’s worth remembering that the unions were a massive part of the resistance to apartheid that finally brought it down. It was union activity, in the early 1970s, and preceding the students’ uprising of 1976, that first drove a new wave of anti-apartheid action within the country. In that, they fulfilled their historic mission of the moment. Now, in a new moment and a new context, we can only hope Cosatu regains its sense of historic mission.

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