Cosatu’s leaders wallow in myth
US writer and humorist Mark Twain once wrote, following an erroneous report of his death, that it was an exaggeration. The same can be said for labour federation Cosatu as it celebrated its 30th anniversary this week.
However, reports of the imminent death of Cosatu persist. And little wonder, given the attitude of Cosatu’s leadership and that of its allies.
Rather than address reality, they continue to wallow in myth, tinged with apparent paranoia that owes more to the Cold War past than to the present.
Take the speech by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini at the federation’s national congress at the end of last month, for example. He laid the blame for the recent turmoil and infighting in Cosatu on an apparent US-sponsored plot. According to Dlamini, “many of our union leaders have been taken to the US to undertake various trainings”.
These union leaders, Dlamini maintained, were “agents of the Americans”.
While he conceded that there had been a crisis within Cosatu, he told the assembled delegates that “without any ambiguity”, it had been “planned and driven from outside”.
In other words, the leadership of the federation was completely without blame or responsibility; they had merely been victims of a dastardly international plot.
Had any evidence been advanced to support such wild claims, it would have created a major international incident. But, of course, there was no evidence, merely rhetoric that added further confusion to an already confused environment.
And the speech to the congress by President Jacob Zuma did nothing to improve matters. Rambling and ideologically incoherent, Zuma indulged in some simplistic capitalist bashing on issues such as the price of bread and petrol. But while he maintained that the enemy was the capitalist class, he also stressed that the ANC was a “multiclass organisation”.
Perhaps, given this sort of analysis, it should have been no surprise that there was a strong move among Cosatu affiliates to support billionaire businessman and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma when the president’s term ends in 2019.
One reason advanced was that, because Ramaphosa already had so much money, he was unlikely to be corrupt.
That Ramaphosa was a director of Lonmin at the time of the Marikana massacre and sent emails in support of tough police action against the strikers did not appear to count against him. This was, however, a side issue, because the mere fact that Cosatu remains involved in the debate about the future ANC president indicates its willingness to remain allied to the ANC.
As Zuma explained, without any irony, a multiclass ANC was battling to bring about a “national democratic revolution”, which would include capitalists. At the same time, workers should fight capitalists to improve wages and conditions while the SA Communist Party strove to overthrow the capitalist order to usher in “the dictatorship of the proletariat”.
Each element of the alliance should, therefore, unite behind the ANC (“unity is the key”), said Zuma – despite their diametrically opposed interests.
This, it seems to me, is the major cause of the Cosatu crisis. So, I suppose, it will be a matter of fragmentation continua, although unto death is unlikely.