Why Cosatu wants Cyril
Despite warnings from the ANC, the labour federation cautiously endorses Ramaphosa for president in 2017
Not even the ANC’s behind-thescenes efforts could stop trade union federation Cosatu this week from indirectly endorsing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as its candidate to replace President Jacob Zuma in 2017.
Delegates at the federation’s 11th national congress insisted on having their say in the ANC’s succession plan because the governing party was seen to be giving free rein to some of its senior leaders to punt African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as their preferred candidate, despite its stern warning that members should not discuss the 2017 leadership race.
Dlamini-Zuma, whose campaign was officially launched in August by the ANC Women’s League, with the support of ANC leaders in Mpumalanga, the Free State and North West, has subsequently gained the support of the ANC Youth League.
Cosatu leaders told City Press that ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe met Cosatu national office bearers on Tuesday with a view to persuading them that congress should not take a resolution on the ANC leadership race.
But after the five Cosatu officials met the general secretaries of its affiliates, his intervention was overruled as affiliate leaders insisted that Cosatu was an autonomous organisation that could take its own decisions.
Mantashe reiterated on Saturday that it was not for Cosatu to resolve how the ANC did things.
Asked about his intervention, Mantashe said: “We never talked in the congress. We kept quiet deliberately. You were there all the time. It was open.
“There were no closed sessions. I came late and left early every day.”
The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the third-biggest affiliate in Cosatu, moved for the proposal that the ANC deputy president was the natural successor in plenary on Wednesday.
This was applauded by most of the 2 500 delegates attending the national congress.
Unions that endorsed the proposal include nurses’ union Denosa, public sector union Nehawu, transport union Satawu and municipal workers’ union Samwu.
Sadtu said the “principle” must be observed for the sake of stability and to eliminate the paralysis within the alliance fuelled by speculation about who would succeed President Zuma.
Mine workers’ union the NUM expressed concern about the divisive nature of such a debate ahead of crucial local government elections.
The final resolution of the congress was that the ANC should follow its traditions and principles, which is a tacit endorsement.
The main reasons for supporting Ramaphosa were that he was a former worker leader and was known by workers. It was also felt that while many leaders were capitalists, this should not be used against him.
Furthermore, the fact that he had money could mean that he would not spend time trying to accumulate more for himself.
Newly elected Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali told City Press in an interview that it was the view of the workers that “it is better the devil you know rather than the one you do not know”.
Ntshalintshali said that “some members of the ANC had not dealt with the matter in a strict way”.
“The ANC has taken a decision that we must not discuss the succession debate because it is too early, yet it allows others in the ANC to make a posture.
“People might be feeling that those who are disciplined might be paying the price. Those who say we must keep quiet are allowing another faction to have a free run.”
ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize said Cosatu was an independent organisation and had a right to discuss whatever issues [it wanted to]. However, he refused to enter the debate, saying the Cosatu congress was not an ANC elective conference where leadership was decided.
“All the ANC will do is to engage Cosatu in the right forum to deal with any of the issues that arise from the congress, including their resolutions – whether we agree or disagree.”
But Ramaphosa’s campaign was yet to be consolidated and still remained an effort by loose groups in different corners seeking to stage a challenge against the Dlamini-Zuma lobby.
Those supporting him say that the ANC’s Limpopo provincial executive committee was expected to lead Ramaphosa’s campaign, with Gauteng as well as the Eastern Cape joining in at a later stage.
Cosatu members who City Press spoke to said Ramaphosa’s background as a former trade unionist had earned him [the workers’] trust that he would be able to understand and be sympathetic to workers and their struggles.
Concerns that he is considered a capitalist have been thrown out of the window because “most leaders in the ANC are capitalists”.
“Cyril can be a capitalist or a billionaire, but what’s important is that he brings dignity. He is currently the underdog that brings hope to some who feel sidelined by the current regime,” said a member of one of Cosatu’s public sector unions.
“There is a feeling that with Nkosazana, we will see Zuma ruling from the grave.”
Police union Popcru president Zizamele Cebekhulu said fear had crept in and “we have to look at our future as workers”.
“Workers want someone who is workerfriendly,” he said, but added that it was way too early to talk about names because even Ramaphosa could opt out of the race.
“We can have nice strategies, but we need good leaders who can drive them,” said Cebekhulu.
Ntshalintshali agreed, saying Cosatu’s central executive committee would have to, among other things, “set criteria for leaders”.
He pointed out that while there were communists in the ANC, “they have not been in the powerful position of president. Instead, they get vilified and get people baying for their blood” – as was the case with Mantashe in 2012 and now SA Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande.
Ramaphosa has been a champion of the contentious National Development Plan, aspects of which Cosatu and the SACP have opposed.
There was a view that Ramaphosa will play a key role in dismantling corruption because he would not try to accumulate for himself and his cronies first as he already has his own resources.
“Whenever you give someone power, before they go any further, they start by setting themselves up first. By the time they move their focus to the country, it’s too late,” said an alliance leader.