This week’s Cosatu National Congress has turned out to be the great election battle that never was. It was meant to be a face-off between the trade union federation’s biggest affiliates, but the matter was settled on day one without any fuss, with all the Cosatu officials elected unopposed. The Alliance camp battles will now move on to Mangaung, but as things stand, Jacob Zuma seems to have won over Cosatu members. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Delivering the keynote address at Cosatu’s 11th National Congress in Midrand on Monday, President Jacob Zuma said the way the trade union federation had avoided a divisive election battle gave the ANC “hope”. Straying off the prepared text to congratulate the newly re-elected office bearers, Zuma said the manner in which the election was handled showed that “when challenges are there, this federation brings back unity”.
He said he needed to thank Cosatu delegates for preventing those who wanted to “deplete” the federation from taking control of the congress. “No matter how intense the contestation is, once congress takes a decision, it is a decision that binds us all,” Zuma said.
All the pre-congress predictions that supporters of Cosatu’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and president Sdumo Dlamini would square up came to naught. No other nominations were received for their positions, so the two men, who have been ensnared in the bigger ANC succession battle, will now have to work together for the next three years.
It is no wonder, then, that Zuma is complimentary of the example set by Cosatu. After all, it is the hope of Zuma and his supporters that the ANC’s Managung conference in December settles the succession issue in much the same way – that the current senior officials are returned to the posts unopposed.
But while the Cosatu election may look neat on the surface, it could have boiled over into an ugly battle. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, did not want Vavi to return as general secretary. It therefore did not nominate him for the post. Metalworkers’ union Numsa threw its weight behind Vavi, but did not want Dlamini to stay as the federation’s president. They wanted SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) president Thobile Ntola to challenge Dlamini for the post.
But both Dlamini and Vavi are clearly extremely popular among the delegates, and anyone wanting to oust either of them would have needed to work out the numbers game beforehand. Surprisingly, it appeared that Sadtu was not behind Ntola’s candidacy and was rallying behind Dlamini. The NUM had been planning to support Cosatu’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Zet Luzipho, to challenge Vavi; but apparently did not have a mandate from its members to do so.
Eventually Vavi and Dlamini were the only nominees for their positions. First deputy president and second deputy president, Tyotyo James and Zingiswa Losi respectively, were also nominated to retain their positions. Freda Oosthuizen was the only candidate nominated for the position of treasurer.
While delegates cheered to have the matter done and dusted quickly, police union Popcru objected, asking for nominations to stay open. But none of Cosatu’s 19 other affiliates were prepared to second Popcru’s motion. Its request was booed by other delegates, and Popcru’s last minute attempt to nominate Luzipho from the floor to challenge Vavi flopped.
While Numsa would have supported the motion to keep nominations open in principle so that it could propose Ntola for Dlamini’s post, its delegates remained mute when Popcru asked for support, as it was clearly unsure as to how the chips would fall in an election. The office bearers officially assume their new terms in office when the congress closes on Thursday.
It is not clear whether Cosatu will revoke at this congress a previous decision not to pronounce on the ANC leadership race. While Cosatu, particularly Vavi, has been extremely critical of the Zuma administration over the past three years, the congress appears to be leaning towards backing him for a second term as ANC president. Zuma campaigners have been lobbying individual union leaders, and scored a huge psychological victory when the militant Numsa came out in support of Zuma last week.
The support for Zuma appears to be based more on the fact that Cosatu unions are unsure about the candidature of Kgalema Motlanthe, as they do not know how he would relate to them as president. Zuma’s supporters in Cosatu claim that the president maintains good relations with the trade union movement and consults them on major decisions. Because Motlanthe has yet to acknowledge that he will contest Zuma at Mangaung, even those who support him in Cosatu are not able to make promises on his behalf.
While the ANC policy conference in June was an effective sing and dance off between Zuma and Motlanthe’s supporters, day one of the Cosatu congress was marked with songs in praise of Zuma only. Motlanthe, sitting with the ANC delegation, at the back of the hall, sang along to the Zuma praise songs. Some delegates held up two fingers, signalling Zuma’s second term, but the substitution sign associated with Motlanthe’s campaign was nowhere to be seen.
Motlanthe received a big cheer when Vavi informed delegates that he was in the conference hall, but the day definitely belonged to Zuma. The conference erupted when he sang his trademark song “Umshini wam”, the unofficial ditty of his election campaigns.
As things stand, two out of the three alliance partners now appear to be behind Zuma’s re-election (the SACP had already thrown its weight behind Zuma at its July national congress). And now, two of the three alliance partners have re-elected their leaders unopposed. If Cosatu does come out in support of Zuma, Motlanthe, the ever-reluctant presidential contender, may consider it too much of an uphill battle to wage his campaign without the support of the alliance. DM
Photo: Left to right: Zwelenzima Vavi (COSATU Secretary General), Jacob Zuma (South Africa's President) and Sidumo Dlamini (COSATU President) during the first day of COSATU's 11th National Congress, celebrated at the Gallagher Estate in Midrand.