04 March 2008

It's payback time, says Cosatu

The Congress of South African Trade Unions wants a quid pro quo for its support of Jacob Zuma at the ANC conference last December.
clipped from www.thetimes.co.za
The past week has been marked by high drama for the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Not only did it fire its president, Willy Madisha, it had to fight openly with ANC president Jacob Zuma and agitate loudly for additional seats on the new ANC national executive committee.

Vavi declared the Zuma-Cosatu honeymoon over: “The campaign to save the ANC from the clutches of the technocrats who sought to bureaucratise the liberation movement is far from being over. The ‘rescue mission’ post-Polokwane is on.”

Zuma’s trilogy of sins included business-friendly statements at the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, clear support for the Budget tabled by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel despite Vavi’s concerns, and a business- friendly interview with the Financial Mail post-Budget.

These were seen as cardinal sins given the unconditional support the trade union movement gave Zuma in the mighty succession struggle .

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Raenette Taljaard thinks that this will be bad for South Africa and concludes by saying in The Times - Article:
This week at least Cosatu loudly proclaimed what it wanted — which it has a right to do. But what all South Africans undoubtedly want is a leader who is not fundamentally weak and beholden to group interests, a leader who can truly lead without having to weigh every word to assess its “payback” consequences, a leader who can adjudicate a multitude of competing interests in a complex society, not one who simply makes decisions based on loyalties.

Which is true, of course, and was obvious right from the moment that Jacob Zuma was elected ANC president at Polokwane in December. It was clear that Zuma's primary merit was not that he would be a good leader, but that he would be an electable one. Cosatu could have found lots of more capable candidates who could promote its interests, and perhaps do so out of conviction rather than out of a sense of obligation. But it is doubtful whether enough support could be garnered from other groups for such a person to be elected.

The problem is that for the last 14 years Cosatu has been neglected by the ANC leadership, except at election time when its support is needed. Though Cosatu was part of the tripartite alliance, its voice has been ignored, especially when it comes to issues such as the ANC's Thatcherist privatisation policies.

I don't know how many courses of action were open to Cosatu, but I can see at least two. One would be to break from the Tripartite alliance and form a new left opposition party. The advantage of that would be that it would bring a touch of reality to South African politics, with a real political alternative. If Cosatu had done that, I might have voted for them.

The disadvantage is that it could drive South Africa down the same road as Zimbabwe, driving the ANC even further to the right, so that it might, if the worst came to the worst, resemble Mugabe's ZANU-PF. One should always remember that Cosatu represents the same constituency in South Africa that the MDC represents in Zimbabwe -- the urban workers.

So I'm not very surprised that Cosatu did not opt for that course. Politics is the art of the possible, and if the possible is a broad coalition of interests backing a candidate who needs to repay favours, then that's the way it must be. That's the way it works in most democratic countries anyway.

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