We may still be thinking about the Tripartite alliance as a structure that would last forever. But sometimes, the parties involved, and the country as a whole, could do much better on their own. In this, pre-World Cup South Africa, Cosatu could just be that party.
It’s hard to think of an organisation in this country that is actually more ready than Cosatu to turn into a political party overnight. It has branches everywhere, members everywhere, a coherent ideology with policies on everything, that actually contradict each other less than most other political organisations, and crucially, it is quite organised. It has a strong media team, structures that ensure effective leadership and name recognition. And, all importantly, it has “struggle credentials”.
The ANC will know this, which is why we don’t think it will allow Cosatu easily to split from the alliance, whatever the actions of its national working committee. Yet, it is fun to play what-if. It also gives us a view into the balance of power in the Tripartite Alliance – ANC, Cosatu and SA Communist Party.
First off though, it is rather important to consider the position of the SACP. We are talking about the one political party in this country that hasn’t actually contested an election. First, it wasn’t allowed to, and then… well, it again wasn’t allowed to: The ANC, in its bid to get consensus on everything made sure the Communists were dragged in to the alliance before the 1994 elections. As the SACP’s motto is “socialism in our lifetime”, we think it may just be frustrated enough with the ANC to go along with Cosatu. And before we forget, it shares digs with Cosatu, in Cosatu House, in fact, and so probably would have to look for another place to live if it disagreed on what would be a fundamental issue. But we can’t see them not siding with Cosatu.
So, what would Cosatu and the SACP post-ANC-separation life look like? Pretty good actually.
Firstly, Cosatu is getting its groundwork right. Its main campaign issue would probably be corruption. And it would draw a great delight in pointing out how consistent it’s been on this. How it had the balls to take on cabinet ministers. How when the ANC decided to take action against Zwelinzima Vavi, it was ANC members that hid in the shadows and refused to say anything, while Vavi made sure the disinfectant of sunlight was shone on everything he said. And look at what he’s saying, how he wants to know what is happening within the ANC, how he’s writing letters to Gwede Mantashe and making sure they’re properly leaked as well. He’s doing this by the book. Crucially, he’s taking the nation with him, by explaining himself every step of the way. And, he’s shown maturity by not losing it, no Malema-style exclamations. You could say, it’s been a slightly calculated reaction. Or even planned perhaps. Either way, a lot of thought has gone into this.
But once he really got going, Vavi would be able to show how it was people who are themselves perceived as corrupt who led this action against him. And that would just get him started, because he could then move on to what they’re actually accused of doing. And he has the best intelligence network ever, having had so much time in the ANC.
So with that as a launching pad, the stage would be set for a massive “stop corruption” campaign. And there’s no doubt, it would work. Shouldering the anti-corruption drive would be another obvious campaign over the issue on which the ANC has failed miserably: service delivery. It would be the alternative to the ANC that is for people who love the idea of the ANC, but not the people running it. This would be its huge strength. Cope’s leaders looked like bad losers, both of them as it turned out. But Vavi and Cosatu would look like they’ve taken a stand on principle, defending the original idea from the usurpers. It would be about the idea, the vision they have. And, finally, there would again be a leftist party based on policy rather than personalities.
Any such party would probably get support from what communists call the “waged”, those with jobs. Which makes them virtually middle-class by South African standards. These would be people with at least a high-school education, and a regular job, probably on weekly wages. They would believe Cosatu when it says inflation targeting must go, and generally would push for a more “worker friendly” economic policy. They would want higher taxes, and wouldn’t worry too much about investor confidence. And if Cosatu ever came to power, Robert Mugabe would be outta there.
Oddly, this would leave the ANC with its core supporters, the really poor, those hovering on the poverty line. The people who live on government grants. So its policies might also change to reflect those voters. Virtually the entire political spectrum would shift to the left. That’s not great for business, needless to say.
But it’s probably a small price to pay for the main goal that would be achieved, competition in the political sphere. This is what is missing from our national politics (apart, of course, in Western Cape). The fear of losing an election would ignite the ANC, it would force it to act against corruption, leaders who cannot lead would be forced out, as they lose the confidence of their members. That would be the end of the arrogance of power and complete belief into avant-garde role of cadres, regardless of delivery. The party wouldn’t be able to afford that kind of behaviour against real opposition.
For Cosatu, it may even want to form a coalition with the ANC after the election. But it would be able to do so from a position of power and not with cap in hand. It is far easier to get the ANC to do what it wants the ANC to do, and to get government to follow its policies, if Cosatu itself controls parliamentary seats.
So far nudging from within hasn’t worked, although it has seen Vavi threatened with disciplinary action. Cosatu in Parliament could support the ANC on policies it liked, and vote against those it did not. And it wouldn’t take that much actually. If the ANC were to lose roughly 15% of the vote, it would not have a majority. It could form the next government, but could only pass legislation on a bill-by-bill basis. And that would give Cosatu real power. Which is what political parties want. Just ask Nick Clegg.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)