Post-budget, Vavi comes out swinging

By Branko Brkic 19 February 2010

Cosatu comes out fighting over inflation targeting. What does this mean for the alliance? Hell, much more than that, what does it mean for Zuma’s ANC?

Zwelinzima Vavi has clearly had enough. First there was the sidelining of Ebrahim Patel in cabinet. Then, for him at least, the disappointing State of the Nation address that spoke nicely about job creation, but didn’t actually say much. Wednesday’s budget was the last straw. Pravin Gordhan had been unequivocal, “I wish to confirm that the mandate of the Reserve Bank is to target inflation in the band between three and six percent”. He’s done some furious spinning afterwards, detailing how he’d written a letter to Gill Marcus explaining her mandate now included economic growth, but that the inflation target remained.

For Cosatu, this is a slap in the face. And if you’re slapped in the face, an appropriate response could be Cosatu quoting Diane Kohler-Barnard, word-for-word.

Doing away with inflation targeting has been one of the major planks of Cosatu’s support for the ANC. During the election campaign it became such an issue that Gwede Mantashe couldn’t avoid it, no matter where he spoke. It wasn’t the basis for Cosatu’s decision to support Zuma at Polokwane, but inflation targeting was one of the major acts of the “1996 class project”. Before you reach for your Leftist Alliance Dictionary, that means the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (Gear) policy, and vaguely conservative economic policies. In other words, the big decision by the ANC to pretty much abandon socialism. And that is anathema to Cosatu. And to make matters worse, Cosatu was consulted on the budget. Vavi actually met with Gordhan before it was announced. The issue has come up again and again in alliance meetings. Now, after the Budget was announced, Cosatu has a distinct feeling of agreeing on the pre-nup and finding at the altar that you’re actually in community of property.

And, as the political wind has shifted of late, they must now be considering their support for Zuma quite intently. Vavi has a way with words, and here’s how he put it on Thursday: Cosatu can no longer afford to “place all the eggs in the basket of engagement”. Yip, that means a more general action. Let’s see, if you’re a union federation with literally millions of members, what kind of general action could that be? If you guessed strikes, we’ll give you a free subscription to the online edition of the African Communist.

But Vavi’s way too savvy to allow himself to be painted as striking over this. Firstly, it’s tricky to convince all his affiliates to strike over what is quite a complex issue. Secondly, he can’t be seen to be taking on the government he had a hand in installing. So Cosatu’s going to “fight practically” with a general strike aimed at labour brokering and unemployment. But you can bet Gordhan’s Budget is the real enemy.

This new development is not happening in isolation. The union movement generally is getting antsy about the current ANC leadership. Now, the Metalworkers Union has entered the fray. They’ve told Julius Malema to lay off Mantashe. They’ve also asked why Zuma is being quiet while Mantashe is being attacked. Interestingly, they also claim that Malema is only attacking Mantashe because he’s a communist. Talking about drawing lines between the alliance partners.

Numsa can get pretty aggressive when it wants to. Its leaders are not shy about anything; they want Kelly Girl banned as a labour broker and have wondered aloud about whether the property clause in the Constitution should not simply be abolished. So, in a sense, they’re well placed to do battle with Malema. When it comes to public displays of sheer anger, Numsa can match him pound for pound. As said earlier, it was always just a matter of time before someone rallied to Mantashe’s defence, and he’s clearly decided the time is right for him to go on the offensive. The only slightly odd thing is that it wasn’t the National Union of Mineworkers, which he led for a lengthy spell. Perhaps it would have looked too transparent if they’d come out first.

Now that Mantashe has finally hit back, fun and games are in the offing. Here at The Daily Maverick we’ve always been of the opinion that youth and skill are no match for age and guile, and we don’t really see Malema as being hugely skilful, just very, very loud. (And while we’re here, who’s paying for his lifestyle? (Ideas to news@thedailymaverick.co.za, please – Ed.) So stand by for action.

For the next few months we’re still going to hear about “the alliance being the strongest it’s ever been” and the usual canards about there being more to unite them than divide them. Much of it will actually be true. But Vavi and company are beginning to get really tired of being mucked around. They will be a general strike in October. It may still be too early to know what it’ll look like and how it will be directed. It may be directed at inflation targeting, or at something else that’s popped up in the meantime, maybe publication of lifestyle audits. But Pravin Gordhan, guided “hand-in-hand by President Zuma and Deputy-President Motlanthe”, in his own words) has called Vavi’s bluff. And the Cosatu secretary general has no option but to show his cards.

And just a reminder: Cosatu hasn’t yet “taken a decision” on whether to back Zuma for a second term. The succession battle is over. Long live the succession battle.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

Photo: Better days: Jacob Zuma chats with Zwelinzima Vavi, during the SACP rally in Bekkersdal outside Johannesburg, December 9, 2007. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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