Back off, ANC tells COSATU

Mandy Rossouw and Matuma Letsoalo, Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg, 14 March 2008

The new African National Congress (ANC) leadership has issued a stern warning to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) not to interfere in the ruling party's internal affairs.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe set out to define the boundaries of the relationship between the party and Cosatu.

"The ANC is not for sale," said Mantashe. His remarks signal the end of the honeymoon between the new ANC leaders and their staunchest supporters. They also debunk the notion that Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are using Jacob Zuma as the Trojan Horse that will enable them to take power.

"The ANC can't be manipulated into executing a programme taken by Cosatu or the SACP congress. The ANC has a responsibility and an obligation to execute the programme adopted by the ANC conference in December."

Mantashe shot down the labour federation's request to have some of its members sit in on ANC national executive committee (NEC) meetings as ex officio members with no voting rights.

"Does that mean we must have ex-officio status in the central executive committee (CEC) of Cosatu and in the central committee of the SACP? If it does not mean that, it means it only goes one way. We can't go there … it is a very selfish approach to engage with.

"Actually it is dangerous to them because we can say 'bring 20 [representatives]' and they get assimilated and basically co-opted and will keep quiet forever. We cannot encourage a situation where the federation takes half or a third of its CEC into the NEC of the ANC. Every time it raises an issue we will say, 'You have 10 people in the NEC of the ANC. What is your problem?'"

He pointed to the decision by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to decline a nomination to the NEC. "What has changed between December and now?"

The issue will not be discussed in the upcoming NEC meeting, which kicks off on March 14, he said.

Mantashe encouraged Cosatu to raise issues in the alliance if it wants to exert influence. "They will never sway 86 [NEC members] because they are six. Even if they stand on top of tables they will never do that. They have a better chance of influencing the ANC as a vibrant, independent labour movement."

He described the move by Cosatu's leaders to encourage the federation's provincial structures to identify and compile lists of leaders who should be in the ANC and future government leadership positions as "disrespectful, unprincipled and opportunistic".

"It is a terrible thing. If we want to mess them up, we will do the same thing when they go to their conference. Because they release a list they create an environment that says we should owe them something because they influenced our election. It is short-sighted actually. It's self-serving and defeatist in the sense that it gives them short-term satisfaction. That is very dangerous."

Mantashe said Cosatu should not expect rewards from the ANC for its support.

"You create the perception that you created kings and princes and therefore in return you want to be rewarded. It is the most dangerous thing. It is actually bordering on an ultra-left approach to politics that implies [they] will just come in and take over. It doesn't work in real life," he said.

He also dashed any hopes that Cosatu and the SACP might be able to convince the ANC to nationalise large companies such as Sasol and Mittal Steel.

"The ANC says we can have a state-owned mining company and state-owned bank. It does not say we should nationalise FNB or Anglo Platinum or Sasol. The resolution [taken at the Polokwane conference] is informed by the desire of the ANC to have more resources to enable its programmes to address the issue of poverty. When we do that the consideration will not be immediate satisfaction, joy and sensation about nationalising Sasol."

Mantashe also made it clear that the ANC will continue to support inflation-targeting and budget surpluses, the two key issues that irk Cosatu and the SACP.

"If you have a combination of a current account and budget deficit, the economy will face a disaster. If you look at the small surplus in the budget in isolation then you can get excited and say it's a bad thing. But if you locate it in the overall performance of the economy, you see that deficit is actually growing at an accelerated pace. You see that this is nothing, actually. We will wipe it out in no time.

"On inflation targeting, I think both Zweli [Vavi] and [SACP general secretary] Blade [Nzimande] came back and said, 'We are not fighting inflation-targeting, we just think the rate is too low.' [They] are not saying [they] hate inflation-targeting and will commit suicide [because of it]. They said … it is too narrow, it is too low, which is a debate we can entertain."

Mantashe appeared not to have any problem with suggestions about the flexibility of the labour-market because it has already reconfigured itself. He said the labour movement would have to accept the changes in the labour market and look at how best it can organise vulnerable workers.

Will the real Gwede please stand up?

Mantashe insists that there is no contradiction in playing dual roles. Members of the SACP have complained that he has become less visible and has devoted less time to the party since his election to the ANC NEC. They have raised concerns that the dual roles are not sustainable in the long term.

Mantashe said he will attend the crucial tripartite alliance summit in April as ANC secretary general. "If I am there as the ANC secretary general, I will articulate the policy of the ANC to the letter."

Asked if there is any purpose in his remaining chairperson of the SACP, he dismissed the question as unfair. "It is a question that should be put to the party itself. Do they think I add value? I was at the central committee of the party the other weekend. They can decide whether I add value or if I just sit there as a member of the ANC in the party.

"I was in the central committee of the party, I was the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and Cosatu, in a way. And I was a councillor of the ANC. The most important thing is the discipline -- of being loyal to decisions that you make in structures.

"If there is a view in the ANC and a decision is made, I can't go out there and have a second bite. I must be loyal to the decision. If I go to the central committee of the party and a decision that I don't like gets made there, I must be loyal to that decision. It is not my decision, it is a structural decision."

SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka confirmed the party was "comfortable" with Mantashe in both positions.

"The ANC is a multiclass organisation. They will not accept everything the SACP says. We will not achieve [our goals] through Gwede. We will look to the other 15 communists that serve on the NEC to campaign."


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