South Africa

Cosatu: Beware the Ides of Mantashe

By Ranjeni Munusamy 23 September 2013

The tribe might not have spoken but Gwede Mantashe has. A Cosatu special congress would be “the worst thing”, the ANC secretary general has been quoted as saying. Mantashe is part of a high-powered eight-person task team deployed by the ANC to intervene in the Cosatu crisis. It is not a PR exercise; this is one team that aims to produce results. The stakes are too high for the ANC to watch its labour ally fall to pieces ahead of a crucial election campaign. But the crossfire in the alliance is intensifying and Hurricane Gwede is on its way. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

With the 2014 election campaign already stepping into high gear, the ANC would not despatch four of its top six leaders on mission unless it was really important – to the ANC – and it aimed to achieve a result. The ANC announced last week that its national working committee (NWC) had appointed a team led by its deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to “engage” Cosatu “with a view to assist in resolving the challenges facing the federation”. The team includes ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, chairwoman Baleka Mbete, treasurer Zweli Mkhize and four Cabinet ministers.

“It is the view of the NWC that it is in the interest of the ANC, our alliance partners and broad mass democratic movement to find a lasting solution that will allow Cosatu to unite and continue to lead the struggle of the workers and the labour movement broadly,” the ANC said.

Ramaphosa might be the most senior ANC leader on the team, but anyone who understands the dynamics in the ruling party would know that it is Mantashe who holds sway and who has the hotline to Number One. And the ANC secretary general has made his feelings clear about demands for a special Cosatu national congress to deal with the federation’s problems.

Mantashe was quoted in City Press as saying: “The worst thing (we can) do is go to a congress because we are fighting. Basically, when you say so, you say: ‘Let’s fight.’

“To say: ‘Because we don’t agree, let’s go to a special congress,’ what you are saying is: ‘Go…fight it out. The faction that wins takes it all, and the factions that don’t win must disappear and collapse.’”

Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini is charged with calling a special national congress after nine affiliates of the federation requested in writing that he do so. However, at a Cosatu media briefing last week, Dlamini said he would “apply [his] mind” to the requests and give and report back to the federation’s central committee meeting in November. Dlamini and his allies are, however, opposed to the idea of a special congress as it is expected that the Cosatu membership would favour embattled general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi over him.

Dlamini’s faction in Cosatu is backed by the ANC and SACP, who are opposed to the idea of a special congress anytime soon because of the turbulence it might cause in the alliance, particularly if a divisive election battle ensues in the federation for the positions of president and general secretary.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim has already accused Mantashe and SA Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande of being instigators behind the warfare in Cosatu. Mantashe’s comments are bound to infuriate Jim even more now that he is openly pronouncing that the congress is a bad idea. Numsa is the chief proponent for the convening of a special national congress, as they believe that only the broad membership of the federation can rescue Vavi.

Speaking at a Numsa march in Randburg recently, Jim said his union would not seek advice from Mantashe and Nzimande on Cosatu matters. “No, we take our mandate direct from metalworkers. We want to tell Mantashe that we are watching his poisonous tongue,” Jim said.

On Sunday, Nzimande also upped the ante: addressing SACP and Cosatu members at Folweni south of Durban, Nzimande said those union leaders who want to leave Cosatu should do so immediately. He said union leaders who have their own agendas have no place in Cosatu.

“We can see that there are some leaders in some of the unions who are considering maybe leaving us. We want to say to you as workers if they want to go, let them go with their own jackets not together with you as workers of this country,” Nzimande said.

Numsa has released a position paper adopted by its recent national executive committee. The document gives Numsa’s reflection of the situation in Cosatu and the alliance, effectively throwing down the gauntlet, attacking both the ANC and SACP and justifying the ANC Youth League’s (under Julius Malema) position on nationalisation:

“The concrete situation that we face today, in 2013, is that the ANC leadership is not just bureaucratised, it is also united in resisting the expropriation of imperialists. The Party (SACP) itself managed to suppress the property question by diverting attention away from nationalisation. Cosatu emerged ideologically incoherent as some of its affiliates were pulling in different directions, while many of its affiliates simply ignored the debate, despite clear resolutions on this matter.

“That situation to us, on the watch of the vanguard party, constitutes a real defence and advance of imperialism,” the Numsa document states. It says that by “embedding itself in the state”, the SACP leadership “has itself been swallowed into the capitalist strategy”. “Any criticism of the state is now ‘oppositional’, the SACP itself has long ceased to criticise state policy. Since 2009, the SACP has not produced single critique, not even one, of state policy,” the document says.

The document also accuses Mantashe of driving a wedge between the presidents and general secretaries of unions. “The secretary general of the ANC cannot absolve himself from the crisis in Cosatu as well. The call to ‘isolate and defeat’ the lingering phenomenon (Nzimande stated at the SACP congress last year that there is a small, but lingering, phenomenon in Cosatu wanting to deliberately cause strain and divide the labour movement from the SACP and the ANC) happened during his watch, as the chairman of the SACP.

“He (Mantashe) was first to accuse Cosatu of being ‘oppositional’, when it was becoming clear that there is no shift away from neo-liberalism. The same ‘oppositional’ song has now been re-mixed and extended in the CEC of Cosatu by those who want the general secretary of Cosatu removed,” the Numsa document states.

It is a matter of time before Mantashe comes back guns blazing. The SACP will no doubt react to Numsa’s goading too, but hell hath no fury like a Mantashe scorned, as Malema and his cohorts can attest. While in public Mantashe comes across as a cantankerous uncle, behind closed doors he can pin his opponents down like a WWF wrestler who forgot the match was fixed. Cabinet ministers confide that there is nothing worse than being summonsed, grilled and dressed down by Mantashe, even though they are not directly accountable to him. Apparently being fired by Zuma is preferable to being walloped by Mantashe.

Mantashe and a few other ANC leaders, including Ramaphosa, have had consultations with the respective protagonists in the Cosatu war, but these have not yielded any success. The establishment of the ANC task team came as a surprise to Cosatu, according to Dlamini, who said there had been no formal correspondence with the federation about the nature of the intervention.

So what exactly will this team be doing? It is doubtful that this is a mediation team looking to find a cosy middle ground between the warring factions in Cosatu that has up to now been elusive. It is more likely to be like a special ops team, going in to seize control, free hostages and eliminate the troublemakers.

Mantashe has said on various occasions that the ructions in Cosatu are problematic for the ANC. This is more so now that the 2014 election is months away and the ANC will need all hands on deck to defend the ANC’s electoral dominance. The reason the ANC cannot risk Cosatu having a special congress before the elections is that it will put on the national agenda a whole range of government failings and weaknesses. So the ANC task team will be out to squash any probability of this happening.

The ANC will also be looking to silence those beating the war drums. Jim is unlikely to be coaxed into keeping quiet, especially since he has already shunned their intervention. The way the ANC might handle this is to isolate Jim from the pack, try to find friendly forces within Numsa to negotiate with and reduce his influence.

Numsa looks threatening heading towards its own special congress because of the impact of the discussions and decisions it might take there. If it decides to pull out of Cosatu and the alliance, other unions which have been siding with it could follow suit. But if Jim is anaesthetised before then, it will be a less confrontational meeting.

Vavi is a lot more complex to deal with. The ANC knows that he is a powerful campaigner and has been essential in previous election campaigns. Driving him away from the ANC to whatever path he might take would bite the ruling party as he has a formidable voice and following.

Vavi still has a deep affection for Mantashe and even recently tweeted pictures of the two of them together at a wedding in the Eastern Cape with the caption “Me and dear comrade and friend”. Mantashe said in an interview on PowerFM last week that he asked Vavi on that occasion, “When did you become anti-Zuma?”, which would have had the same effect as asking “When did you stop beating your wife?”

Mantashe knows how to press Vavi’s buttons. Vavi is unlikely to treat Mantashe with disdain the way Jim has. Mantashe either needs Vavi to back down and co-operate to negotiate a ceasefire in Cosatu or to go away quietly. In the same interview with PowerFM, there was a slight hesitation from Mantashe when asked by presenter Tim Modise if he was of the thought that both Vavi and Dlamini should step down in order to resolve the problems in Cosatu. It could be the last resort in Mantashe’s arsenal.

When asked at last week’s Cosatu press conference if he would be willing to go for the sake of unity, Dlamini said he would follow what the organisation wanted. He also said he would not be destitute as he was still employed as a professional nurse at Umlazi Hospital, which still paid his salary.

It is not known what options Mantashe and the rest of the ANC task team are considering, but their mission clean up the situation to prevent any further pressure on the ANC. It is unlikely that such a high-powered team would take on such an operation and eventually walk away admitting failure.

And unlike Jim and Vavi, Mantashe and his team know what they ultimately want. All that remains to be seen is how they get it. DM

Photo: ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe holds a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday, 22 July 2013 following the weekend’s lekgotla. (Werner Beukes/SAPA)

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