South Africa

On the road to nowhere: ANC, SACP, Cosatu economic summit heads for deadlock

By Ranjeni Munusamy 26 June 2013

The tripartite alliance is meant to hold an economic summit from 4-6 July. To prevent this summit from ending in a stalemate – which it is destined to do – the alliance partners need to do a little kissing and making up beforehand. Trouble is, Cosatu is still wrecked by its own internal divisions and therefore might not go to the summit with a unanimous position. Cosatu and the SACP also need to work out their differences or they might end up butting heads at the meeting. And of course there’s the matter of the ANC sticking to its guns on the NDP, which the other two oppose. All the makings of another talkshop with no hope of a solution to the country’s economic morass. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

You can always read trouble in a political statement by what is not said, rather than what is. On Monday afternoon, a bland joint media statement was issued by trade union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) on a bilateral meeting they held earlier in the day. The statement was short on detail on the issues discussed at the meeting and agreements reached, and therefore received minimum media coverage on Tuesday.

The bilateral was attended by the SACP’s Central Committee and Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), which is made up of representatives of all its affiliate unions. Considering the bad blood between the two alliance partners in the recent past and the fact that they were heading for an economic summit with their lead partner, the ANC, in a few days, this meeting should have had significant outcomes.

But it appeared as if the scripters of the media statement battled to find something tangible to put in it as there was no real result to the meeting.

“On preparations for the alliance economic summit, it was agreed to focus the discussion on what the ANC 53rd conference called the Second Phase of Radical Economic Transition, which calls for a fundamental restructuring of our economic growth trajectory,” the statement said.

However, one participant at the meeting said: “Nobody even remembers what the second transition thing was about, let alone discuss it now,” referring to ANC’s strategy and tactics document adopted at its 2012 Mangaung national conference. The fact that this was included shows some desperation to present a united front.

“The two formations agreed to collaborate closely on policy development and mobilisation around, amongst other things, rural development, land reform and food security. The meeting also agreed to work on policy perspectives on transforming the financial sector and to call for a second financial sector summit.” In other words, all the non-contentious issues which they already agree on.

Daily Maverick has learnt that in order to prevent the meeting from breaking down, it was agreed that all the controversial issues causing tensions between the SACP and Cosatu should be kept out of the meeting. These include the SACP disapproval of Cosatu’s critical stance towards government and Cosatu’s view that running of the SACP was being neglected through an overrepresentation of its senior leaders in government.

What, then, is the point of holding a bilateral meeting to work out their differences if they decide to take their differences off the table? Apparently, it is better to meet and talk about nothing of substance than not to meet at all.

This is what happened with Cosatu’s two biggest affiliates, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) who were supposed to hold a bilateral meeting on Monday. The two unions have been at loggerheads as they lead respective factions within Cosatu as well as over accusations that Numsa is poaching members in sectors NUM operates in.

The NUM-Numsa bilateral was not held as there was no hope of a resolution from the meeting. Both unions are sticking to their respective positions and attempts by the Cosatu leadership to broker a settlement have not worked. The problem is, of course, that Cosatu is now hamstrung by the standoff between its two biggest affiliates. Its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is also still under siege until the investigations into allegations of impropriety against him are concluded and deliberated on by the Cosatu CEC.

So Cosatu is hardly in the position to negotiate and lobby with the other alliance partners if it is a house divided with no resolution on the horizon – certainly not before the alliance summit.

The statement on the Cosatu-SACP bilateral also had interesting phrasing on their positions on the National Development Plan (NDP). “The two delegations agreed that our organisations held broadly convergent views on the National Development Plan, in particular that the chapter on jobs and the economy requires serious reworking.”

And yet, while the NDP has come under fire from Numsa and Vavi, Cosatu still has to come up with a consolidated position on the plan. Cosatu’s last CEC, which was supposed to deliberate on the NDP, was abandoned on the second day following heated discussions on the Vavi issue. It appointed a political commission to assess outstanding issues, including the federation’s position on the NDP.

Numsa, however, has taken an extremely hard line on the NDP, rejecting its tenets on trade and financial liberalisation, labour market deregulation, the limited role of the state, fiscal austerity, tight monetary policy and Central Bank independence. Numsa wants the plan to be rejected and the Freedom Charter to be adopted as the government’s economic policy manual.

While the SACP initially came out in support of the plan, it has only in the last few months raised issue with parts of the NDP, particularly on economic policy and its approach to the relationship between economic growth and transformational development. In its discussion paper on the NDP, the SACP said it also wants the National Planning Commission (NPC) to be dissolved after the 2014 election, arguing that a “more organic state planning capacity should be established”.

“We cannot have a free-floating NPC, with an apparent presidential endorsement and using the budget of the presidency, playing a lone-ranger game. While we need to encourage public engagement, including critical engagement with our plans and policies, we cannot have a free-floating presidential National Planning Commission effectively playing a factionalist game,” the SACP paper said.

While the two alliance partners want to engage the ANC on reworking the NDP, the ruling party seems to be digging in its heels on the plan. President Jacob Zuma this week reaffirmed the NDP as the centrepiece of government’s long-term policy planning, even as the foreign policy chapter has apparently been abandoned by the Cabinet. In a statement at a breakfast meeting with editors on Monday, Zuma said the ANC would be discussing the implementation of the NDP at its forthcoming meetings, as well as part of preparatory work for the development of the party’s election manifesto.

Zuma said he noted “debates” on the NDP and that these should be welcomed as part of the South African culture of democracy and open debate. However, he did not say that his government was ready to change parts of the NDP or would delay implementation due to disagreements from the ANC’s allies.

All these issues are the ingredients for an economic policy summit on the road to nowhere. With the country in desperate need for policy certainty that would stabilise the economy and increase growth, the wrangling in the ruling alliance could not have come at a worse time. If the alliance economic summit ends in uncertainty or disagreement, it could do great harm to domestic and investor confidence, and cause further turbulence in the economy.

If this did not have to do with the future and wellbeing of the nation, it could all be quite comical. But as it stands, South Africa is destined for only more political and economic uncertainty as the ruling party and its alliance partners wade through a muddle of complex issues.

It is not as if the alliance partners are unaware of the implications of the summit reaching a stalemate. It is believed that the SACP and Cosatu are angling that the summit be postponed in order to work through the issues of contention. And as their positions could be past the point of reconciliation, they have no other choice than to take the contentious issues off the table and agree that remaining in the alliance is of greater importance than anything else.

Of course, whatever the solution that Cosatu and SACP agree upon, the ANC still has the option of disregarding their views and using the NDP as the blueprint for its election manifesto. This means that despite their objections, the unionists and communists will still have to campaign for the ANC policies they do not uphold.

And yet, as in every abusive marriage, they stay. Because the alternative, to be locked out of power after 19 years of being allowed to taste it, is unthinkable.

So expect more of the same the next time the alliance partners meet, and the next time. Before anything else, the goal is to stay in power, no matter what the price. DM

All photos by SAPA.

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