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Inside Labour: SA’s bloody political war is far from over

Nov 13 2016 06:00
Terry Bell

A major political battle has been won and lost in South Africa over the past few weeks.

But the war is far from over and it will continue to have severe repercussions, not least for unions in the midst of this internecine feuding.

The latest set-to, the badly planned and ham-fistedly executed attempt by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks to charge Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan with fraud, backfired.

But it did not fatally undermine the President Jacob Zuma/ANC establishment; the commanding heights are still under the control of the commander in chief.

So the war will continue, unless that small army of compromised politicians unexpectedly shifts their loyalties; in which case, there will be considerable tumult and things will continue in much the same way, with different faces in established positions.

Whatever happens, ANC-aligned Cosatu is likely to be a major casualty, especially if the SA Communist Party (SACP) leaves the tripartite alliance.

This seems probable if Zuma remains in charge and the SACP decides to leave the alliance and go it alone in the 2019 elections.

The possibility of the SACP and a rump or even the majority of Cosatu affiliates leaving the alliance was underlined last week, when the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) became the second Cosatu union to publicly call on Zuma to resign.

The general secretary of Nehawu, Fikile Majola, also serves on the central committee of an SACP that has become increasingly critical of Zuma.

However, Nehawu is unlikely to share the same fate as the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the first Cosatu union to call publicly for Zuma to go. Numsa also left the alliance and was expelled by Cosatu.

The prime mover in giving Numsa the boot, and doing the same to the also dissident Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, was Nehawu.

Despite reports to the contrary, Nehawu’s approach last week was not a call to leave the alliance. Like the SACP, the union leadership wants to retain links with the ANC and thinks this is possible if Zuma goes and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa takes over.

However, it admits that “it is clear that the revolution is taking a disastrous trajectory as it needlessly lurches from crisis to crisis”.

How having one of the country’s leading capitalists in the presidency would change the country’s economic trajectory to the “socialism” the SACP espouses is not explained.

But the statement is remarkably similar to one made by Numsa in December 2013: “The alliance is dysfunctional, in crisis and paralysed. It is dominated by infighting and factionalism.”

This is now clearly perceived more widely to be the case, with resistance coming from some Cabinet ministers and ANC MPs who, until now, have slavishly toed the line.

But they do not, in the final analysis, matter so long as the majority of the executive stays loyal.

The next crunch could come next month in Cape Town, when Numsa, as the nation’s largest union, stages a national congress that may see a further splintering of Cosatu if and when a new federation is formed.

terry bell  |  sacp  |  cosatu  |  unions
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