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COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has warned the ANC and trade unions that without a “new ethos” in the ruling alliance, the opposition DA could mount a serious challenge to the ANC’s power in 2019.
Vavi blamed leadership failures on a lack of political consciousness among “too many” union and political leaders who had become distanced from the people.
“Too many of our leaders stay in Sandton, in the former whites-only suburbs and a lot of them have become visitors in the theatre of class struggle,” he said in an unscheduled speech to the almost 1 000 delegates at the National Union of Metalworkers’ (Numsa) congress in Durban yesterday, “They spend six, eight hours – then they go back to the comfort created by their picking up the bones falling from the tables of masters… .”
Too many leaders had become distanced from those bearing the brunt of the jobs crisis and dysfunctional health and education systems, he said.
He called for “a new ethos” that would prevent the ANC having its name dragged through the mud or scoring the kind of “own goals” that lost it control of both the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape to the DA.
Vavi said the DA was showing increased confidence. That it had been able to mount a march on Cosatu headquarters involving some 3 000 unemployed African youth “means they are gaining confidence, they are smelling something and they are saying they want to take us on at some point, perhaps in 2019.
“They say, we will be so weak at that time… “
The ANC and its alliance partners were unable to “take back” the Western Cape, which it had lost through “a rain of own goals”, including divisions and factional battles. It had held off the DA’s attempt to win Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay metro) by only the narrowest of margins.
“Already the DA has five percent of people in the townships – something unheard of in the past,” Vavi said.
Vavi also gave the ANC notice that the federation
would discuss at its September congress putting a single demand before the ruling party’s national elective congress in Mangaung in December: the full implementation of the Freedom Charter.
Cosatu had been calling for 18 years for the changes that would lead to a non-racial, prosperous and democratic society, but South Africa was now the most unequal society in the world, he said.
Numsa, Cosatu’s second-largest affiliate, has already vowed to pressure the ANC to fully implement the Freedom Charter by nationalising the mines, banks and other key sectors of the economy. This position is not shared by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) the federation’s largest affiliate, however, and a position on nationalisation will have to be thrashed out at Cosatu’s elective conference in September.
Divisions within the federation and its affiliates were caused not by political or ideological differences but by a “battle for resources”. The ANC was also now “contested terrain”, Vavi said.
“We are at the point now where we must convince all of us… if we don’t change here (within Cosatu), this revolution is going,” Vavi said.
While in Europe there were daily protests in the street over rising levels of unemployment, in South Africa, where the crisis was far worse, with almost one in four people without work, it was Cosatu and its affiliates that were seen as being the crisis, Vavi said.
Where there were protests – such as the 10 or so service delivery protests a day – the leadership of the alliance was not in the forefront.
Within Cosatu, shop stewards committed to servicing the interests of workers without expectations of reward were “disappearing – fast”.
Lack of focus was “the most dangerous thing”.
“We are defocused completely. We fight for positions, our focus is on positions.”
“We have to create a new society a new ethos, a new principle in the organisation,” Vavi said.
Leaders accused of wrongdoing should step down rather than be forced to after “months of bringing the name of the (ANC) down”, Vavi said.
He referred – but not by name – to Gauteng MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, still in his post despite allegations that he’d abused his government credit card on hotel stays a few kilometres from his home, on suits bought in India and to pay McDonald’s thousands of rand, not for food, but for a painting.
He also referred – again, not by name – to Northern Cape ANC provincial chairman John Block, facing numerous fraud and corruption charges, yet who was likely to be re-elected at its conference this weekend and whose court appearance had seen members of the provincial government present in his support.
“If we don’t change here, so that a person like that can know he’s guaranteed of no support… knows that he must resign and stops us all the pain of committees of inquiry and months of bringing the name of (the) organisation down, if he can leave on his own – if we can’t do that then we will continue to face own goals,” Vavi said.
“Unless we change that, we are gone because our battles are about hands off and not about unemployment, poverty and inequality.”
Leaders did not have to spend hours waiting for a Panado at a public hospital because they belonged to medical aid schemes. “It’s a distant issue for them, they are not affected immediately,” Vavi said, to loud applause.
With their children in private schools, too many leaders were unaware of the “pain of dysfunctional schools” and an education system that each year marginalised thousands more young people entering the labour market without hope of attaining a skill.
“And what do we do? We come to conferences and make speeches that sound so nice and yet the situation of the working class does not change.
“Year in, year out, people remain trapped in their poverty… yet we clap hands, we sing the praises of our leaders,” Vavi said.
Most divisions in unions today were not ideological or political. Fights at congresses were about “a battle for resources”, said Vavi.
“So we go into this (Cosatu) congress, comrades, to say one big and central thing, there has to be a mindset change among the leadership and the activists of the federation as a whole and in the leadership of the ANC and the SACP.