Oh, it’s so difficult to get along in politics without a good enemy. Remember the good old days? First there was the awful apparition apartheid, then the terrible trouble that was Mbeki. Right now, it’s the alliance that sucks.
After the ANC and Cosatu’s brutal session in Boksburg, Cosatu is leading the charge against the ANC. And this is how it’s going to be for a long, long time. What’s gobsmackingly obvious about this week’s “bilateral”, is that they spent about nine hours in a room together and emerged with no hard and fast resolutions. No areas of dispute were cleared up. Instead, it seems, they basically shouted and screamed at other.
Oh, sorry, let us rephrase that using our handy copy of the “The Updated, Updated Tripartite Alliance Lexicon: April 2010”. The older version used the phrase “fair and frank exchange” a lot. Then, earlier this year, we had the introduction of the word “candid”. This most recent meeting will be remembered for introducing the word “brutal”. (You’d be forgiven for instinctively thinking Julius Malema had written it.) But Jackson Mthembu came up with the soundbite of the day, “there was blood on the floor”, he said. You know, sometimes we think Malema’s dictionary has just taken over the whole world.
So there are some big areas of dispute that will not be cleared up. Economic policy is the biggie. After Zimbabwe and Aids, which Zuma, hopefully, is busy sorting out, it’s the longest-lingering sore. Cosatu doesn’t like inflation targeting, Zuma hinted he didn’t either, then, oops, actually he does. And this is not an area on which you can really compromise. Either you target inflation or you don’t. Sure, there are some tweaks you can make, but Zuma is simply not going to bend that far left.
The other major issue, at the moment, is Cosatu’s claim that there is a plot afoot to unseat Gwede Mantashe and, whisper it, possibly JZ himself, at the ANC’s national general council meeting in September. Of course, this is really a version of that old Cosatu tune, “How do you solve a problem like Malema”. Hum it, it’s catchy.
And that takes us to what was probably the most priceless political scene none of us saw this year. Malema being “engaged directly, comrade to comrade” within this meeting. Basically, he got crapped on by Cosatu, in full view of the ANC’s national working committee. And yes, Kgalema Motlanthe was the most senior person in the room, and yes, he’d be less than human if he didn’t allow it to go on a little longer than was strictly necessary.
Chancellor House and the Hitachi/Eskom dispute is another big problem. The ANC is withstanding the pressure from just about everybody on this. Mantashe simply won’t get it, publicly, that for the ANC to hold this stake is wrong. When Cosatu first spoke about it, Zwelinzima Vavi used the phrase: “If this is true, that the ANC has this investment, then God help us all”. Strong stuff from a supposedly atheist commie.
But he wasn’t at the press conference (although he was most definitely in the meeting). His deputy Bheki Ntshalishali has a little less fire and spoke carefully about how Cosatu had really wanted more information about the stake. And about how Cosatu watched over its own investment company to make sure it didn’t get into the labour-broking business. That sounds a bit more moral than Mantashe’s “the ANC doesn’t make these decisions, it’s up the Chancellor House board”.
The real problem here, as it always has been, is that Cosatu cannot force the ANC to do its bidding. It can’t even really force the ANC to do in government what it’s said it will do in alliance meetings. It’s an abusive relationship. But Cosatu will keep coming back for more, because like the beaten wife, they think the ANC is the only game in town. Who would they fight without it?
The meeting on Tuesday may have been a session of screaming and shouting between the ANC and Cosatu, and yet, it may serve them well in the short term. Letting the steam escape could certainly be good for the alliance’s collective psyche. And the marriage.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)
Photo: A composite of Reuters and The Daily Maverick
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine