Political Watch

ANC alliance unity has become a pipe dream

Zuma’s dream of unity shatters

It would seem as though the aim of the special summit of South Africa’s governing tripartite alliance to renew unity within its ranks has come to naught.

The summit was called by President Jacob Zuma in his capacity as leader of the ANC, the anchor member of the alliance. He did so in March this year at the reburial ceremony of liberation struggle stalwart JB Marks.

His proposal at the time was a week-long summit, the longest in the history of the alliance, of the leaders of the ANC, SACP and Cosatu, to have a frank discussion about divisions in the alliance.

It took place at the end of June/beginning of July, but before he could attend the summit, in fact, on the eve of it, Mr Zuma first had to meet with leaders of the ANC’s troubled eThekwini region in Durban to try and restore unity there.

At the start of the summit a leaked discussion document produced by among others ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, SACP general secretary, Blade Nzimande, and COSATU deputy general secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali, revealed how deep in trouble the alliance is.

It stated that not only are all the components of the alliance weak, but that internal fights “should be resolved with greater urgency as they weaken the movement and its capacity to defend the revolution”.

While the summit took place under the cloud of a split within the ranks of COSATU, a declaration at the end of the summit, among other things, stated:

  • “The alliance partners are united in defending the unity of COSATU along the    principle of ‘one union; one industry; one federation; one country’; and
  • “We believe that this Summit marks a turning point in the unity and cohesion of the Movement, working together in common action to realise the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution.”

What has happened since?

Less than a week after the summit, speaking at an event in the Mbombela stadium in Mpumalanga Mr Zuma found it necessary to warn members of the alliance that unity was crucial. He was alluding to an incident in KaNyamazane in January, when ANC and SACP supporters became involved in a street brawl. A war of words between functionaries if the two parties in the province has been raging since.

At the SACP’s congress last weekend its deputy secretary general and Deputy Minister of Public Works, Jeremy Cronin, took the ANC to task for interacting with people on the ground only during election time. He also complained that the ANC did not sufficiently support SACP campaigns, especially on land reform and finance.

COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini publically aired his dissatisfaction with how the Nkandla affair is being handled. It is has become a “political hot potato”.

This issue is also causing wider tensions, including inside the ANC itself, with Mantashe describing pronouncements about even further security spending at Nkandla by Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko, as “reckless”. The party’s Gauteng chairman, Paul Mashatile, in defiance of the official government and party line, has publically suggested that some of the money spent at Nkandla should be refunded.

At the SACP’s congress last weekend the prospect of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa becoming president of the ANC in 2017 and of the country in 2019 was partly behind a drive from mainly Mpumalanga delegates and the SACP’s youth wing for the party to take part in future elections under its own banner. Shot down for now, it will, however, be the subject of ongoing assessment by a special committee as part of ongoing evaluation of the party’s “power and influence”.

The Mpumalanga provincial leadership of the SACP claimed they were mandated to push for elections under an own banner from delegates who had resolved at a recent provincial congress not to campaign for the ANC.

State of affairs at COSATU

At COSATU’s two-day special congress last week, Dlamini said it was wrong for the federation to have endorsed Mr Zuma in the 2007 ANC leadership battle that saw the removal of President Thabo Mbeki.

More importantly, the congress, which was supposed to reunite the federation after the expulsion of its largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA), and former secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, saw:

  • It being disallowed by Dlamini to even debate that matter;
  • Of the eight unions that withdrew from federation activities in sympathy with NUMSA and Vavi only four pitching up;
  • The Food and Allied Workers Union, Fawu's deputy general secretary, Moleko Phakedi, saying the voting process on the debate issue had not been free and fair and they would not endorse the declaration document produced at the end of the congress;
  • The State and Allied Workers Union accusing Dlamini of only sowing more division in his opening address, with a similar complaint aired by the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union;
  • Fears expressed that with the door closed on dissenters, a competing federation, a battle for membership in its wake and the formation of an alternative political platform/party was now just a matter of
  • Communication Workers’ Union president Clyde Mervin saying he believed there was nothing wrong in the union working with other rebel unions.

The significance of these development lies in the fact that COSATU since the establishment of the alliance in the early 1990s contributed “organisational skills, material support and membership” to the alliance.

From the developing picture it is becoming abundantly clear that the efforts to reunite the alliance are but a pipe dream. And, especially on the labour front, the breakup has all the potential of becoming very messy and even violent.

It is also very likely that its impact on South African electoral politics will be experienced during next year’s nationwide local government elections.

by Steve Whiteman

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