South Africa

South Africa

All Gwede’s horses and all Gwede’s men… can’t put Cosatu together again

All Gwede’s horses and all Gwede’s men… can’t put Cosatu together again

If Friday night was the night that Cosatu expelled Numsa, perhaps Monday was the day that Cosatu actually split. Seven unions that supported Numsa said they would “suspend their participation” in Cosatu structures, while also “engaging” with the federation about the expulsion of Numsa. It’s hard to see how they will suspend their suspension. That there are many losers in this process is obvious. One of those with the most to lose is, of course, the ANC as a political entity. And its Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, for various reasons, has much to lose personally. And there’s nothing they can do about it. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

There is probably no one alive today with the intimate knowledge of all the organisations of the alliance that Gwede Mantashe possesses. He’s been Chair of the SACP, Secretary General of the ANC, and general secretary of Cosatu’s now biggest affiliate once more, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). He is the central point in the alliance, in a fashion. So when he says that the expulsion of Numsa is “bad for Cosatu, bad for the alliance, bad for the ANC, for progressive forces, and society in general”, you know it’s, well, bad. What makes it worse is that Mantashe and the ANC have done all they can to try to keep Cosatu together.

But, again, probably more than anyone, Mantashe will have been aware of how impossible it was going to be to keep Cosatu together. Even if in public he proclaims that this is not irreversible. Sometimes politicians just say things they have to say. He says to fix this, several leaders would have “to swallow their pride, and give up things that are important to them”. Well that, of course, is true. In Numsa’s case, it would be the decision taken almost a year ago at its Special Congress to withdraw its support for the ANC. It is pretty much impossible for that to happen, because it was a democratic decision taken by members, not leaders.

Which is something Cosatu’s CEC can’t claim of its decision to expel Numsa.

All of that said, Mantashe says that the ANC task team which has failed rather dismally so far to fix Cosatu is still available should anyone want to consult them. It seems likely Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to have more success in Lesotho than he is going to have here.

But Mantashe is keeping his options open. The last few days have seen some serious language directed his way, as the Numsa leaders have openly attacked the ANC. Mantashe is not rising to the bait, saying his party will “avoid violent polemics”. But he has been forced to respond to some of Numsa’s claims by saying that the party has not strayed from the Freedom Charter. In fact he claims, in a quote that could become famous one day, that the “National Development Plan is a plan to implement the ideas of the Freedom Charter”. Really. The Charter says, in plain English, that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil… shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”. The NDP seems to use rather different language, as Ben Turok is probably going to remind Mantashe when they next meet.

Mantashe is being remarkably consistent on his claim that if Cosatu were to have a Special Congress, as demanded by Numsa and its allies, that gathering would probably be the end of the federation. At the beginning of the year he said such a conference would probably end in a fight. Now he says it would simply end with one faction beating the other faction, and thus would still be the end of Cosatu. He is probably right. But you have to ask if that is any more “right” than denying the members of Cosatu a chance to have their say on all of this. The fact remains Friday night’s decision was taken by leaders in a rather well-appointed boardroom on the first floor of Cosatu House. It’s certainly more comfortable than most workers would experience in their day-to-day life.

But this particular issue probably holds lessons for the ANC as well. For years the party’s leaders and elders have spoken out against the use of “slates” during leadership contests. First seen on a large scale at Polokwane in 2007, slates occur where a group of leaders runs together for various positions against another group of leaders. Zuma had a slate that beat Mbeki’s slate. Which meant that no one supported by Mbeki’s supporters entered Luthuli House, which meant they were more likely to rebel against the new leadership than to unite behind it. The same thing happened when Zuma’s slate beat that of Kgalema Motlanthe in Mangaung 2012. This means a very similar thing Mantashe is warning Cosatu about will probably continue to tear away the ANC and its allies’ loosing slates; that process holds serious dangers for the party. (Of course, it seems impossible to stop winners from using slates, because they’re so darn successful at winning power in the party.)

And then onto Mantashe’s claim that this is all “bad for society as a whole”. Is he not conflating what’s bad for the ANC and the alliance with “society as a whole”? He claims not. Obviously this move is likely to lead to more political competition. That is bad for the ANC. As Professor Steven Friedman pointed out on Monday, the ANC is just 12% from losing power. A new workers’ party could make a serious dent in that (it is more complicated than that, of course: many workers’ party supporters could well be those who voted EFF last time around). Mantashe’s claim is that it’s bad for society because this will be “violent polemics” rather than a debate.

At the risk of being labelled an “enemy of the alliance” the next time I see him, that’s surely not a good enough argument. We have “violent polemics” now from one Julius Malema, and the country hasn’t exactly shuddered to a halt, though the Parliament did. “Violent polemics” are surely not as disruptive or dangerous as, say, Eskom’s failure. And even as the National Assembly did briefly stop working, and we were probably just fine for a while with that. (One does hope the ANC leaders realise just how inappropriate is to appoint its chairwoman as the Speaker, and sometime soon.)

Mantashe, of course, was asked what he makes of the seven unions who are “suspending themselves” from Cosatu. His answer was that he is “not competent” to answer; Cosatu must answer. But he does say he doesn’t understand how you “can suspend yourself, and then say you’re looking for engagement at the same time”.

The impact of all this on the ANC is going to be difficult to measure. It’s also going to be a long process. It was back in 2012 that Cosatu held a mad un-contested election that saw both Zwelinzima Vavi and S’dumo Dlamini re-elected in an agreed process to stop the tensions between them from flaring up into open warfare. More than two years later, we are finally seeing the outcomes of these tensions.

But surely the one absolute is that our politics is now changing. While the ANC is still the biggest player, it is probably now going to start losing its position of dominance over our politics. It will win elections, but not dominate them in the way that it has up until now. And Mantashe and company will just have to make their peace with that. DM

Photo: ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe speaks at a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday, 10 November 2014 following the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) from the Congress of SA Trade Unions. Mantashe said the expulsion of Numsa was bad for Cosatu, the ANC, the alliance and society. However, he said the ANC could not tell Cosatu to reverse the expulsion. “We are in the alliance as independent parties, we don’t dictate to another alliance partner what to do.” Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA


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