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Cosatu’s document of gloom; we read it so you don’t have to

Cosatu’s document of gloom; we read it so you don’t have to

Finally. After a wait of two weeks we get the hard copy of Zwelinzima Vavi's secretariat report to Cosatu's central committee. Some of it we've heard before from the Sunday Times’ draft copy, some of it we haven't. It is, essentially, the world according to Cosatu. And being Cosatu, it requires less decoding than most alliance documents. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

This is a humdinger: Vavi’s full report runs to 252 pages, and it’s bound in bright red. It’s long, it’s detailed and much of it is political. An awful lot of it is also about the economy. And if we were a nasty proudly capitalist website, and we were forced to tweet this entire doorstopper it would be thus:

“@Cosatu We want more. Power and money and control. And eat the rich.”

But that would be unfair, because Cosatu is about so much more.

Let’s begin with the politics, it’s why you’re reading this anyway. The criticism of the ANC, the lashing of its Youth League. Okay, here we go “…we cannot close our eyes to the reality that some within the ANCYL are driving an opportunistic programme devoid of any principle aimed at presenting themselves as custodians of the correct congress line and not to reposition the ANC to deepen change, but as a way of winning unsuspecting and politically immature constituencies for accumulation and tenderpreneurship agendas.” Translation: Julius sucks. 

You’ve heard this claim before, that Malema wants to nationalise the mines because he’s in hock to some BEE capitalists. And, in case Vavi’s point isn’t crystal clear, just above that paragraph is a Zapiro cartoon of Malema breathing life back into the snake of Thabo Mbeki. And yes, that bit you read about in the leaked version, that we would become a banana republic if the League was able to depose Gwede Mantashe next year, well it made it into the final draft. So clearly, Vavi means it. 

The Youth League comes in for more stick than anyone else in this document. But the ANC gets its fair share. There’s plenty on leadership issues, and particularly the economy. This is to be expected. The chances are if you are a worker who’s a member of  Cosatu, you’re probably not too chuffed with how things have panned out. Vavi himself makes this point very vividly when he says that if the economy is not re-structured by 2014 the entire “left-wing project” could be seen as a failure by voters. One way of looking at that could be to claim Vavi is suggesting the ANC could lose votes by the bucket load in that year’s national elections. But that would probably not be how he would interpret it. He also claims if there’s still no change by 2018, we are at risk of North African style revolutions.

Then there’s Cosatu’s perennial fight with the ANC over the role of their alliance. In short the ANC says it’s the “centre” of the alliance, Cosatu says the alliance is the “centre” of the alliance. Sounds childish, but it’s really about who’s in charge. Oh, and power, of course. There’s plenty here about how the ANC is not treating its partners properly and the whole bit. We’ve heard it all before, we’ve written it all before and no doubt we’ll have other opportunities to do so again, so we won’t bore you further.

A major gripe of Vavi’s is the constant “zig-zagging” by government and the ANC on economic policy. He paints a picture of how any progressive plan is blocked by conservative bureaucrats in the treasury or elsewhere in government. He says this “dithering” by government contributed to the number of jobs lost in the recession. For him, this is all about political will within the alliance. Of course, he’s right there, it really is about how the ANC hasn’t grasped the nettle of the big economic issues.

There’s a link between this and Zuma. Vavi says he cannot be relied upon to settle contests “within the state on the side of the working class… because he is pulled in contradictory directions”. Is it just us, or has Vavi found a polite way of saying Zuma is the ditherer, and that he is not doing anything? Hmmm, it’s the kind of comment you could hear in any wood-panelled boardroom.

Of course, Vavi is using that old trick of his. He is not judged on what he does, but on what he says. Governing is hard, and he hasn’t had to make the hard decisions Zuma has had to make. So some of this criticism could be a little unfair. Or maybe not. It pretty much depends on your view of Zuma.

The economic part of this report is interesting, but much of it is contained in Cosatu’s economic plan launched in 2010. There’s plenty on how the economy favours the rich, how many years of work it would take a lowly cleaner to earn what a CEO earns in a month, that kind of thing. There’s a fair amount on the National Health Insurance proposals; Cosatu is very much in favour of those (their economic plan actually wants to do away with private schools… so enjoy this rugby season while you can).

There’s also a full examination of the New Growth Path that was floated by economic development minister Ebrahim Patel last year. He’s a product of the union movement, so he would have expected some support from Cosatu. He gets some, but grudgingly.

It’s easy for this proudly capitalist website to be a hard on Cosatu. We are capitalists and they are socialists. But we ignore them at our peril. Here are some well-researched numbers, backed up by people who know their stuff, from independent sources cited in Vavi’s document.

  • More than 40% of workers earn just enough (after commuting costs) to buy a loaf of brown bread a day. That’s around 6 million people.
  • Last year 24% of households had “inadequate access to food”.
  • In 2009 that figure was just 20%.
  • 60% of those unemployed have never worked in their lives, or haven’t worked in the last five years.

Someone needs to do something. And the big question that isn’t fully answered by Vavi, is whether he reckons Zuma is that someone. DM

Grootes is an EWN reporter.


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