Cosatu-led marches were less about graft and more about its chosen candidate,says Clyde Ramalaine
THE PRESIDENTIAL contest for the ANC’s 54th conference from December 16 to 20 is in full bloom if we observe the positions taken by a variety of stakeholders. Organised labour, we are told, exists to work itself out of existence, yet that might have been the historical and noble ideals of plausibly the first generations of organised labour from a Eurocentric evolution.
Organised labour, as understood by Cosatu and the SACP and as part of the tripartite alliance, has long nailed its colours to the mast by choosing an ANC presidential candidate. Its candidate is ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
On Wednesday, Cosatu and the SACP staged nationwide marches claimed to be against state capture, corruption and job losses.
On the surface, any march against corruption, state capture or an incessant job-shedding economy would be justified.
The saying goes that there are neither permanent enemies nor permanent friends in politics.
We lived through it again when we saw the strange bedfellows – Cosatu, the SACP and Business SA – teaming up and abandoning ideology, rhetoric and symbolism because they collectively took refuge in a candidate for their own reasons. As perhaps a historic first, business (which is defined in the disparity of clear-cut white ownership) endorsed the Cosatu-led march.
They agreed on two things: Jacob Zuma must go and Ramaphosa should be appointed to lead as soon as possible. Yet it isn’t rocket science to decipher the centrality of politics in ANC elections as the real reason for the marches.
Since Cosatu’s last event in May, when it denied the ANC president the right to speak and chose to boo some of the top six while it honoured others, the federation has pretty much been an observer of the unfolding presidential election tussle that includes eight candidates, the most since 1952 when Albert Luthuli was elected.
It was therefore only a matter of time before Cosatu would organise an event in the 90-odd days left before the conference. Anybody who didn’t anticipate the orchestrated mass action does not follow politics.
The marches were less about the cited themes, which no march can address or alter in one day, and more about its chosen candidate – Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa.
The aorta of the ANC-led tripartite alliance is anchored in mutual respect of members’ autonomy and independence to pursue their rightful constitutional aims. The independence affords each member the right to develop its own policies and stage unfettered elections since none ought to attempt to direct the other.
While the ANC has attempted to uphold the principle of members’ autonomy in not directing its policies or candidate choices, Cosatu and the SACP often attempted to direct the ANC in its choices of leadership. Gwede Mantashe, as the secretary-general for the past decade, has often been at pains to reprimand the alliance partners for their over-eagerness to want to direct the ANC – even through blackmail.
The alliance, in principle, exists to further the aims of the agreed national democratic revolution and must remain vigilant and cognisant of the diverse policy aims of each as individual partners.
Let us first afford Cosatu and the SACP the right we afford ourselves to have a preferred candidate. However, there was no need for Cosatu and the SACP to deceive us with the reason for their nationwide marches. They should have been honest with us, as South Africans, to say we will stage events to persuade the decision-makers to opt for our candidate. We would have welcomed this in an elective season.
It is to be expected that Cosatu, like the SACP, would seek to have its own representation in the ANC’s top six. We have seen that the last three secretaries-general – Ramaphosa, Motlanthe and Mantashe – all came from the organised labour fold of the National Union of Mineworkers, a Cosatu affiliate. The state of NUM confirms a sad reality of an old wounded lion teetering on irrelevance and directionless leadership, ravaged by the work of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and even now the South African Federation of Trade Unions. NUM has suffered damning losses in its representation in, for example, the mining sector.
Cosatu, as with its current general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, attempted to convince us in its claims that it knows Ramaphosa and he gave up his life as young attorney to start the NUM.
With this background, Cosatu believes its candidate must be rewarded for his role in forming organised labour.
One can appreciate the passion, yet it also is misplaced since the ANC conferences aren’t about either rewarding someone or acknowledging organised labour leaders as entitled.
Why would Cosatu and the SACP choose the themes of state capture, corruption and job losses as the reason to take South Africa to the streets? You guessed right.
These are all sexy and hip contemporary themes, emotionally loaded and easily defensible themes to rally people. State capture is the subject of investigations on many fronts, among them the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Hawks and the legislature. We also know that the president has committed to a judicial commission, which is held up in review since the previous public protector’s instructions that the commission must be constituted according to constitutional experts presents a plausible case of encroachment on the presidential constitutional prerogative.
To stage marches on state capture is misleading, since they cannot hasten the investigative processes.
At a Cosatu event in Limpopo recently, Ramaphosa fell for the populist rhetoric that something must be done when he accused the NPA and Hawks of resting on their laurels with regard to state capture. A week later when informed of his populist rhetoric, he regained his sanity and asked that the NPA and Hawks be afforded a chance to do their work.
State capture, as dramatised in our classically conditioned minds as a political tool aided by media craft, will conjure emotions, especially since Zuma is a soft target while not even in the race for a third term.
Corruption, the unwelcome staff rider, is often assumed to have joined itself to us in 2007 as some mischievously seek to direct our thinking. It is a given that corruption in our democraticgovernance sojourn mirrors the lifespan of development of infant to adult: Under Mandela it was an infant (for two to four years), it was a pubescent under Mbeki (for 12 years), its voice broke under the brief stint of Motlanthe (for eight months) and it became an adult under Zuma (for nine years).
Corruption must never be defended. However, several ANC conferences have pronounced the need to eradicate this parasite of our democracy.
The onus is on Cosatu and the SACP to explain why they assume that Ramaphosa, who is part of the ANC leadership, is capable of dealing with this demon and effecting ANC resolutions that appear to have had no impact. How was he helping workers when he concluded a R3 500 minimum wage as the best offer?
Tell us how he will transform the economy from its pale male ownership and monopolised context in which whites rule. They must tell us how radical economic transformation will be made a reality with Ramaphosa at the helm.
The SACP must also tell us how it can ideologically reconcile with the capitalist stance its rhetoric condemns. It cannot be about the reinstatement of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas or the job security of other SACP cabinet ministers. It has to be about the upliftment of workers.
There is an interesting claim that suggests that the reason for job shedding is linked to the president.
The recrafting and glaring attempt of snapshot analysis forgets that South Africa is a democracy with the brittle economic legs of agriculture (highly subsidised under apartheid) and mining that has been shedding jobs since the 1990s.
Even during the smoother era of global economics, the era Mbeki and Clinton presided over, South Africa was always a jobless economy. It is therefore dishonest to frame job shedding in post-2008’s global economic reality as related to the incumbent.
Another dimension of job shedding is Cosatu’s fault; organised labour seldom owns up to its role in crippling job creation – it assumes its tasks at Nedlac and other platforms are to register its own self-interest. Organised labour must own up to its role in the state of our economy because it has been co-governing with its deployed ministers, deputy ministers and people in key positions across the state. It must admit to the business of unionism.
The marches were about Ramaphosa’s candidacy and nothing else. We expect the SACP’s lame Red October campaign to be fashioned along the same topic. It appears that the SACP, once the vanguard of workers’ rights, has abandoned its just cause and replaced it with a new mandate of being a cabinet guard.
I never knew the day would come when I would agree with Zwelinzima Vavi of Saftu, although for different reasons, that Cosatu and the SACP cannot claim the moral high ground when they have been part of the ANC government.
The marches have come and gone and nothing happened. This some of us anticipated long before the event that there would be rallies for Ramaphosa’s candidacy.
Nothing wrong with that, just don’t deceive us about the reason for them – a political agenda to influence the ANC presidential elections outcome. Ramailane is a political commentator.