As news of the ANC’S top six gagging the insanity of trying to charge the leader of their biggest alliance partner filters out, it’s obvious the decision was not based on kindness or goodness of heart. The reality is that, for the first time in many years, the ANC has met an opponent it cannot beat.
It must be so weird to be a member of Cosatu and member of the ANC these days. Right there in your wallet are your two membership cards, with “An injury to one is an injury to all” uncomfortably close to “Working together we can do more”. You personify what the alliance is supposed to be, perhaps you even have an SACP membership card, making your wallet a kaleidoscope of yellow, black, green and red. You know exactly who your leaders are and you know they support roughly the same things. And yet, every day for the last week or so, each and every Cosatu affiliate has had a dip at the ANC. And your ANC card is getting badly jostled. And it doesn’t have anything to say for itself.
There’s something planned here. It’s about the tactics of transparency and the fight for the approval of the public. Ever since the ANC’s national working committee decided to charge Zwelinzima Vavi with “ill discipline”, the public traffic has all been one way. And, staggeringly for an organisation with the oft-quoted 2 million members, Cosatu’s discipline has been steely – Stalinesque if you will.
This is the kind of thing the ANC Youth League would have loved to have seen during its leader’s little brush with authority. Sure, there were statements of support from various provinces, but as half of them are now split down the middle, it’s obvious the unity was pushed a little too far and the leadership and membership not always in sync. Also, the League’s timing was way off. And as we know, timing in politics, like in every good comedy, is absolutely crucial. The League just couldn’t get it right. Some provinces issued statements, some didn’t, some forgot and none of them can spell.
Cosatu has no such problems. It was not just its provinces, but its affiliates too that roundly jumped to Vavi’s defence, with a fervour not seen for a long time in South African politics. And need we remind you, each union does have a mind of its own. So when the teachers, the chemical workers and the miners all agree on one issue in our politics, you know it is important.
The ANC’s protracted silence tells us far more about the itself and who is actually running the show than Cosatu’s boom-boom approach reveals about its true nature.
The mass display of unity by Cosatu must be partially responsible. Their approach of saying, “Look we’re not going to take this lying down and these are all the friends we can bring round to behind the toilets if you want to fight about it”, is working. Because now the ANC knows that if it really wants a barney, there’ll be one. And Vavi, who won’t run again for the post of secretary general of Cosatu is turning into a strong champion of a principled stand against corruption and the alienation of power.
And even if the current ANC working committee would think of using Cosatu’s succession issue to wait out the Vavi problem, the two front-runners are both backing their current leader to the hilt. The National Union of Mineworkers’ Frans Baleni is fully behind Vavi, as is the National Union of Metalworkers of SA’s Irvin Jim. And that tells you one of two things. Either Vavi is so popular in the trade union movement that no one dare go against him, or that this is a principled fight, in which case the ANC has a serious problem on its hands.
The options open to the ANC were limited anyway. With Vavi not backing down either to the NWC or to communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, they could either go ahead and charge him, and stress the alliance to the point of fracture. Or wimp out, which it appears they chose to do. Some of the NWC members may still cling to the hope that Nyanda’s threat of legal action inflicts some damage, but it won’t – this is an easy bluff for Vavi to call. Can you imagine Wim Trengove cross-examining Nyanda on his assets, on his business interests, on how he was able to parlay his position as commander-in-chief to comrade capitalist? We can barely contain ourselves at the thought. Even if Nyanda won legally, Vavi would emerge the victor.
Cosatu and Vavi, with the help of their affiliates, seem to have backed the ANC into a corner. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say the ANC has found its own corner, and backed into it itself. We look forward to the face-saving manoeuvre to come. And we’ll place heavy money and a ticket to the World Cup Final on it involving the words “media” and “speculation”.
But the picture of the ANC that has emerged from this whole sad affair is not an encouraging one. What has remained of the party that actually managed to break the back of one of the worst regimes in the history of the world? These days, no one is raising hands to say anything. The leadership doesn’t even have enough courage of conviction to publicly say what they stand for. Even today, they left it to Business Day’s Karima Brown to publish the news of dropping attempts to charge Vavi, instead of coming out and saying it boldly.
What does the ANC stand for today, except for being a group of people in power? What has the party of Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela turned into?
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)
PHOTO: African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma reacts during the announcement of the official results of South Africa’s election in Pretoria April 25, 2009. South Africa’s ruling ANC won a huge victory in the country’s election but fell short of the two-thirds of votes needed to ensure a parliamentary majority big enough to make sweeping constitutional changes unchallenged. Official results of the election, which will see Zuma becoming South Africa’s president on May 9, showed on Saturday that ANC won 65.9 percent of the vote. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko