South Africa, Politics

Top 10 battles raging within the tripartite alliance

By Osiame Molefe 3 April 2012

Silly season in South African politics might appear a year-round event, but during an election year the media leaks and other shenanigans go up a few notches. This year has been no different. With 37 weeks to go until Mangaung 2012, OSIAME MOLEFE put together a countdown of the top 10 battles raging within the alliance.

Whether staked on personalities or issues, real and made up, the battles heading into the ANC’s elective conference will dominate headlines until 23 December, when the conference ends and the tallies of winners and losers will be known. This is high-stakes wrangling. The battles typically determine who will hold key government positions come the next national election and who will be sentenced to political purgatory over the next five years for backing a losing horse. It’s hard to keep up, amid the increasingly bruising and frenetic jostling, so a top 10 list might come in handy.

10. Pro-Zuma vs anti-Zuma Cosatu

The labour federation could, in the end, back Jacob Zuma for a second term as ANC president, if only for lack of a candidate sympathetic to their cause (see 1). But that hasn’t stopped speculation of a rift between Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Dlamini roasted the ANC Youth League for using Cosatu’s march against toll-roads and labour broking as a platform to poke fun at Zuma. The Youth League, in turn, wrote to Vavi to have Dlamini retract his remarks. Dlamini this weekend, according to a City Press report, again denied he was leading a campaign to have the labour federation back Zuma. Vavi, too, denied leading an anti-Zuma campaign and blamed the media for the speculation.

But deny as they may, Cosatu is in the alliance to have a say on who leads it and how those leaders run the state. There are many contradictions to overcome (see 5), but as unappetising as Zuma may be, Motlanthe might prove more so, forcing the unions instead to focus on having their favoured candidates take up key positions on the ANC’s national executive committee.

9. Cosatu vs SACP on leadership within the ANC

Cosatu and the SA Communist Party see their ability to influence the ANC’s leadership structures and policies differently. Whereas the SACP has no qualms over its leaders occupying positions in national and provincial government, Cosatu has taken a dim view of this. Recently Vavi said the SACP should recall Blade Nzimande because he has been unable to lead the movement effectively since being appointed higher education minister. Irvin Jim, general secretary for the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Metalworkers of SA, tore into SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin, also deputy transport minister, for “vulgarising Marxism”.

Cosatu would rather “swell the ANC” at the branch level, meaning its members would be in a position to vote for the candidates the union believed would best advance labour interests. This strategy leaves its own leaders free to speak out, without contradiction, against corruption, privatisation and other maladies they perceive to be ailing government. Zuma’s invitation for union leaders to serve on the NEC, however, appears to have caused divisions on this issue, as Numsa president Cedric Gina called for Vavi’s refusal to stand for an ANC NEC position to be discussed at the next Cosatu central executive committee meeting.

8. Anti-Nzimande SACP vs pro-Nzimande SACP

Cosatu might not be alone in thinking Nzimande has been an ineffective leader since his appointment to government. The Sunday Times reported that the SACP’s Gauteng provincial congress tabled a bid to create a second general secretary post, alongside that of Jeremy Cronin. This would keep Nzimande in charge of the SACP without being encumbered by administrative duties, allowing him to also keep his job as higher education minister. All of this being an attempt to thwart any internal challenges to Nzimande, based on the effect of his government post on his ability to lead.

But with a large portion of the SACP’s national executive deployed to government, it’s all a case of “let he who is without sin…”.

7. Cosatu vs factions using state security apparatus to fight party battles

Vavi was emphatic at last week’s hearings into the Protection of State Information Bill. He said Cosatu’s position on the matter was not linked to factional battles within the alliance. Cosatu had been engaged with the matter since 2010, long before the jockeying for leadership positions began, according to Vavi. Still, he voiced the union’s concern that the state’s security machinery was once again being used to fight party and personal battles – an occurrence that could worsen under the veil of silence should the bill pass in its current form, he suggested. Other than his having been head of what the unions dubbed the “1996 class project”, it was Thabo Mbeki’s alleged use of state security to fight internal party battles that caused Cosatu to turn on him, costing him the presidency of party and state.

Vavi grumbled about Richard Mdluli’s abuse of power as the crime intelligence boss now looks likely to escape unscathed because of his political connections. There must be some sheepish faces in the labour movement when Zuma’s name is brought up, because despite their anti-corruption and anti-abuse of state resources stance, the man they backed appears to be doing the very things they campaign against. But will that sway their support? (see 1.)

6. Cosatu vs e-tolling

After rallying almost 200,000 members and sympathisers to a march against e-tolling, Cosatu this week was called into a closed-doors meeting with government where it was confronted with evidence that its investment arm, Kopano Ke Matla, had a direct interest in the toll roads project. Cosatu has since instructed Kopano not to participate in any transactions involving privatising state assets.

The meeting was described as “fruitful”, but details are yet to emerge on who came out tops. We’ll know by 30 April, when e-tolling will either begin, pending court challenges, or again be postponed. While not tied to the leadership race, this skirmish served as a useful reminder of the power Cosatu wields and that anyone with aspirations of leadership in the alliance would be making a mistake to take an anti-union position.

5. Polokwane resolutions vs the status quo

By aligning itself to a political party with lefty tendencies, the labour movement thought it could waltz its policies into government, but has found the reality tougher going. Labour fought hard at the Polokwane conference for “an effective strategy of redistribution that builds a new and more equitable growth path”, and thought they had that through the Polokwane resolutions. Since 2009, however, after the end of what it has called an “alliance honeymoon”, Cosatu has been wondering what happened to the vows the ANC made.

Numsa has been particularly vocal on the willing-buyer, willing-seller approach to land reform, which the alliance in Polokwane agreed needed to be re-evaluated. The union would like to see the clause go, to be replaced by appropriation without compensation. So far, though, discussions on this have been discouraged on fears of chasing away foreign investors. Numsa recently said it would like to see the ANC secure a two-thirds majority at the next elections to allow it to amend the Constitution to remove the property clause. This will feature prominently at the alliance’s policy conference in July, with Numsa effectively picking up where the ANC Youth League left off.  

4. ANC Youth League vs Jacob Zuma

Smarting from several lashings at the hands of the party’s national disciplinary and appeals committees, the ANC Youth League is attempting to regroup to launch an offensive of its own from within the party structures. The Sunday Times reported that the league’s secretary-general, Sindiso Magaqa, wrote to Gwede Mantashe requesting that Zuma be disciplined for speaking out of turn on Malema’s appeal.

Magaqa’s request will go nowhere, but the Youth League knows that. They are putting together a case for unfair and disproportionate treatment to present to the ANC’s ordinary members at the December conference. When Mathews Phosa spoke out on the disciplinary hearing, Mantashe issued a scathing rebuke, but when Zuma did it, not a word was said, Magaqa pointed out. But expelled Youth League leader Julius Malema will not be winning himself fans with his response to the supposed unfair treatment.

3. Juju vs the ANC

Of course, Malema says it’s not his beloved ANC he is up against, but rather the ANC faction currently at the helm. The expelled Youth League leader, skilled at weaselling, used this excuse to back down on an earlier promise not to take his disciplinary matter to the courts. He’s also threatened not to participate any further in the disciplinary process, alleging he has been treated unfairly.

Malema has also been unabashedly vitriolic about Zuma, likening his leadership of the ANC to a dictatorship. Zuma is a master of fending off attacks and coming off as the aggrieved party, so Malema’s unfair treatment argument could become moot once he behaves like a grumpy child.    

2. Corruption vs the soul of the ANC

Several ANC leaders have voiced concern that corruption has tarnished the ANC. The issue was raised in a document to be discussed at the policy conference, but runs the risk of being paid lip service as leaders begin focusing more on their positions within the party. Still, rooting out corruption is no easy task. It’ll take wholesale changes in key leadership positions and loads of political will. The alliance is unable to do the former and has so far been unable to muster the latter.

1. Zuma vs Motlanthe

Weekend reports were once again filled with speculation on how the race for the top job in the ANC is shaping up, even though the challenger has yet to respond publicly to reports of his ambitions to unseat Zuma. Importantly, Motlanthe is yet to deny the reports as he did last July, suggesting some credence to the reports.

Scores of Youth League supporters wearing T-shirts branded with Motlanthe’s face filled Tzaneen’s Nkowankowa stadium last week to hear their pick for ANC president speak. Motlanthe scolded them for the T-shirts, but he surely could not have expected any different when appearing alongside Malema and sports minister Fikile Mbalula, Mantashe’s slated successor.

But the labour movement is unlikely to support Motlanthe, who backed the Walmart deal and is among what the unions call the ANC’s “centrists”. Instead, they might prefer to keep Zuma and surround him with an NEC sympathetic to their causes.

Zuma still has massive support in the alliance and, save for the emergence of a third alternative at this early stage, he looks set to win this battle. DM



Read more:

  • Analysis: And the next ANC president is… an April Fools’ joke, in Daily Maverick.

Photo: A supporter salutes as Nelson Mandela passes while leaving the final election rally for the ruling African National Congress party in Johannesburg, on 19 April 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly.

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