Already the cracks are showing
By Stanley Uys
Why the Zuma coalition will unravel
President on a leash
Last week, I made a prophecy: “Whether the ‘wily Zulu’ Jacob Zuma survives or not, the political regime around him certainly will not. Before its five-year term of office is completed, it will either have changed its whole character, or just crumbled.... On balance, although the ANC Youth League has been Zuma’s most vocal supporter, the street muscle has come from Cosatu, with its 21 affiliated unions and combined membership of about 1.95million. As for the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Young Communist League, their strategy over the decades has been never to contest an election: rather to piggy-back into office on the ANC ... Cosatu does the rough street work, while the SACP does the Left’s long-term thinking and helps plot day-to-day tactics....”
The usual critics dismissed the prophecy in familiar flamboyant terms. But after reading Sunday’s newspapers, they might be singing a different tune. Let’s look first at City Press.
Under the headline Cosatu guns for policy change, Siyabulela Qoza wrote: “The comments made by Cosatu after its central executive committee meeting late this week were a clear indication that the country is close to a shift in economic policy. This comes at a time when the ANC has been assuring investors that there would be no shift in government’s market-friendly economic policies. Cosatu has become vocal in its criticism of the government’s inflation targeting policy and its call for increased government spending and lower interest rates. The labour federation has stated its preference for government policy to be driven from ANC headquarters in Luthuli House”.
A Sunday Times report by Wiusani Wa Ka Ngobeni under the heading, ANC at war with Cosatu stated: “Post- election relations between alliance partners are growing frostier, after Cosatu is accused of meddling in ANC business. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has lashed out at Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi for stating that President Jacob Zuma should run for two terms as ANC president, saying the matter was ‘none of Cosatu’s business’. Mantashe yesterday launched a scathing attack on Vavi, saying he was ‘behaving like a lobby group’.”
Recalling that Vavi spoke to reporters after a meeting of Cosatu’s central committee on Thursday, the Sunday Times quoted Vavi as saying: “Two terms, and no discussions about it – and we are very happy.”
The Sunday Times commented: “Mantashe’s latest attack follows an accusation he levelled at trade unions last week, when he said they were trying to undermine Zuma’s administration with threats of strikes. Vavi was earlier this week quoted at the same press conference as saying that the alliance – not the government – would determine policy. We are the policymakers... and the government implements. The Sunday Times has established that Mantashe ‘was very angry’ after hearing about Cosatu’s statement calling for Zuma to serve a second term....
“An ANC national executive committee member told the Sunday Times that Vavi’s statement had the ‘potential to divide the movement’. ‘Vavi is already inviting divisions right at the beginning of President Zuma’s term. We know what the succession debate did during Thabo Mbeki’s presidency’.”
While the ANC combatants slugged it out, analysts like Eddie Webster, professor of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, weighed in. It was not surprising, he said, that Cosatu was flexing its muscle. “Clearly this is the moment when labour is seeing that the door is open and they are walking through it. They are not going to proceed uncontested but they have a higher chance of success given that they have made their set of demands clear to their alliance partners and they supported the leadership change in government.” Cosatu was applying pressure within government and also outside of it towards the implementation of its policy preferences.
There is a further pointer indicating support for my prophecy. The Sunday Times claims that “Mantashe, who is also chairman of the SACP, phoned Vavi and Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini to express his concern about what he perceived to be Cosatu’s attempt to influence succession in the ANC”. The interesting bit here is Mantashe’s chairmanship of the SACP, which repeatedly has shown that it is teamed up with Cosatu to try to take control of the ANC. Cosatu and the SACP are what one would call an item, which raises the question just how many SACP members support Mantashe and how many support Vavi. The YCL has been particularly active in the pro-Zuma campaign.
With Mantashe, as secretary-general of the ANC wielding the whip, both Vavi and S’dumo Dlamini agreed that Mantashe’s criticism of a joint statement they had issued was “fair”. This was a rather grovelling admission. But Dlamini went even further to offer the lame explanation that “We are not saying Zuma should take two terms as ANC president. We are referring to his two terms as State president.... Alliance partners cannot be barred from talking about that issue.”
But this is not what Mantashe thinks. He insisted that “the matter of how many terms Zuma would serve was none of Cosatu’s business. That is the decision of the ANC branches.”
Happy family, eh?
Mantashe muddied the waters further by declaring that “The debate on succession must not be started now. Once an alternative (to Zuma) is presented, it can be followed by lobbying, which could distract us from focusing on service delivery.”
What Mantashe lets slip is that there is already infighting in the tripartite alliance over who should take over from Zuma, either as ANC president in 2012 or as South Africa’s President in 2014.
As for Zuma himself, predictably he is steering a course exactly down the middle of ANC politics. He told the SABC: “Whether the term is one or two, that is determined by the ANC. The ANC will say what happens.”
In my prophecy, I said that at the heart of the alliance infighting was the economic issue: whether South Africa should shift leftward or stay where it is at present. According to City Press, Vavi had words of wisdom to offer on this specific subject: “We have been advocating for a change in economic policy since the introduction of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy in 1996. We made huge advances in this regard at the Polokwane conference and at the alliance economic summit last year. The ANC manifesto adequately reflects that. We want to ensure the implementation of those shifts.”
Stanley Uys is an international correspondent and a former Sunday Times political editor.