South Africa

Cosatu Congress: Fifty shades of irony as Ramaphosa’s flag is raised

By Ranjeni Munusamy 25 November 2015

If ever evidence was needed of the glaring contradictions in Cosatu and the tripartite alliance, it was on display on the second day of the federation’s 12th national congress. The route to socialism via the ANC, which is not fighting for socialism, the attack on capitalists, who happen to be funding the congress, and the ringing endorsement of Cyril Ramaphosa for president, who represents what Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) consider to be the enemy of the working class. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

On Monday night, President Jacob Zuma said in an address to the Cosatu national congress: “People forget the ANC not fighting for socialism. The ANC is fighting for national democracy.”

Funny that, as this is what Cosatu’s political report had to say, ironically in a section on the federation’s support for the ANC in next year’s local government elections:

“We are clear that every time the ANC wins elections we come closer to the dream of a future South Africa painted in the Freedom Charter which to us represent a direct route to Socialism.”[sic]

The report also states in its recommendations:

“One of the challenges that face Cosatu (and the SACP) presently is to concretely translate its commitment to socialism into a practical and understandable programme. While this is clearly no easy task, our commitment to socialism remains unwavering.”

It is one of the many contradictions and ironies about the Cosatu congress and the relationship between the alliance partners.

In his address to the congress, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande warned of the threat of corporate capture facing the ANC (Nzimande serves on the national executive committee) and those in government (Nzimande is Minister of Higher Education and Training). He too emphasised the struggle for socialism, which his employer, the president, emphatically renounced. “Let us not lose sight of the fact that ours is a struggle for socialism, and we have to pay close attention and seek to deepen our relationship,” Nzimande said.

Cosatu has acknowledged that the alliance is weak and that the federation tends to be neglected in the ANC’s decision-making processes.

The political report states:

“The biggest challenge regarding the functionality of the alliance has not been the holding of meetings but it has been the fact that all the progressive decisions taken at the alliance meetings were never implemented. This has remained one of the most worrying trends about the functionality of the alliance.”

“The second worrying trend about the functionality of the alliance is the decision by the ANC to exclude Cosatu and the SACP in the meetings of the ANC strategic subcommittees such as the economic transformation committee,” the report states.

Battered wife syndrome in a political dimension.

The other striking paradox is that while the congress documents and delegate inputs affectionately refer to “our government”, other times there are bitter complaints about the state as “the employer”. Many of the public sector unions have grievances against government, but there is continued vacillation between the ANC government they claim ownership of and the state that oppresses them.

Several pages of political report are dedicated to corruption and how it is being spread in alliance structures and in society. “Over the years there has emerged within the components of the liberation movement a grouping which uses the policy and political space provided by our organisations to advance their own selfish interests.” Cosatu goes on to warn how corruption “manifests in factional fights for leadership positions, used to build relations with captains of industry and pursue a BEE-type business unionism on the basis of workers’ collective power”.

Despite these concerns about corruption, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) motivated at the congress that Cosatu stop financially supporting Corruption Watch, arguing that the organisation is trying to delegitimise the state. Popcru wants Cosatu to withhold funding for Corruption Watch, which the union says is about a million rand a year, as it believes the anti-corruption body has intentions to “bring down” the government.

On the issue of leadership positions, despite Cosatu’s concerns about captains of industry and “BEE-types”, the running favourite to be the next ANC leader is Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. While ANC succession is not formally on Cosatu’s congress agenda, the issue was raised during the debate on the political report.

Teachers’ union Sadtu, which has been pushing Cosatu to pronounce its favoured candidates for leadership positions in the ANC, was the first to raise the succession matter. Sadtu deputy general secretary Nkosana Dolopi said the principle of the ANC deputy president becoming the president should be upheld. Dolopi said Cosatu had taken a similar position in the run up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007 when it backed Zuma, then ANC deputy president, for president. Dolopi said agreement on this principle would prevent instability in the ANC and the alliance ahead of elective conferences.

Dolopi’s input received rousing applause but Cosatu second deputy president Zingiswa Losi warned that this was not yet the federation’s agreed position and the matter still had to be debated. Thereafter Sadtu’s proposal received support from nursing union Denosa, the clothing and textiles workers’ union Sactwu, transport union Satawu and the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu). Nehawu is now the biggest union in Cosatu following the expulsion of metalworkers’ union Numsa.

Strangely, the union from which Ramaphosa hails, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), is not at the forefront of the campaign for his election. The NUM believes that Cosatu and the ANC should focus on the 2016 local government elections and deal with succession issues after that. But most of the unions are pushing for the Cosatu congress to endorse the principle of the deputy president becoming the president.

If this position is adopted by the congress, it will mean the biggest organisation in the alliance, with 1.9 million members, will be behind Ramaphosa’s candidacy. Although Cosatu structures are separate from the ANC branches that will be involved in the election of the next president, there will be some overlap of members.

The endorsement of Cosatu will also be psychologically significant for Ramaphosa as, up to now, he has not had any formal structures or constituencies back him. On the other hand, the other proposed candidate, African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has the support of the ANC Women’s League, ANC Youth League and several provinces behind her.

The fact that Ramaphosa eschewed trade unionism and became one of the richest men in the country due to black economic empowerment was not mentioned once at the Cosatu congress. Neither was his controversial role in the events in Marikana in August 2012 as a shareholder in Lonmin.

Such blinding ironies are difficult to miss at the Cosatu gathering.

A rather comical moment was when Nzimande finished his speech and workers stood to sing a song in praise of communism. As they did so, the logos of all the private sector companies that came to the cash-strapped federation’s rescue were displayed on the big screens. It is thanks to the sponsorships of these big bad capitalists that the delegates are able to wear Cosatu-branded t-shirts, have food and drink, and can read the congress documents on which the anti-capitalist rhetoric is written.

On all the covers of the congress books, the words of Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica and the socialist anthems, “Solidarity Forever” and “The Red Flag”, are printed. The last stanza of The Red Flag reads:

Then raise the scarlet standard high.
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying high.

Socialism might be a moving target but irony certainly is not. DM

Photo by Vumani Mkhize/EWN.

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