The ANC is meeting affiliates from Cosatu in the hope of preventing a damaging split weeks before the elections.
It met the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Wednesday. Officials were tight-lipped about the details of the engagement.
The ruling party set up a task team, led by its deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, to deal with the divisions in Cosatu, which have deepened despite the return of its embattled general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
The ANC’s intervention was reluctantly accepted after the two addressed an extraordinary Cosatu meeting earlier this month.
The two ANC leaders stepped in just in time, as the Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) meeting was going to discuss the expulsion of the federation’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa). It was expected that some would also push for Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to be suspended again.
The intervention comes against the background of a threatened breakaway by Numsa and the formation of a new federation. Many unionists have questioned the motivation driving the ANC’s efforts.
Both factions in Cosatu are wary of the ANC’s intervention. Their reasons include that it is exclusively aimed at bolstering the ANC’s electoral fortunes and ensuring Cosatu’s backing. In addition, some union leaders have linked the intervention to an early internal ANC presidential battle for 2017.
The ANC has given itself a month to mediate a truce in Cosatu, but leaders in the federation, who do not what to be named, are sceptical whether this is enough time, especially if the party plans to meet with all of Cosatu’s 19 affiliates.
The month ends after the elections, and until then, any action against Vavi and Numsa is on hold.
In spite of the mediation, some Cosatu’s affiliates such as the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union and the NUM, are steadfast that they will not accept proposals which could see Cosatu dropping its charges against Vavi, or not expelling Numsa.
Vavi’s disciplinary hearing is set for next month where he will face nine charges, including bringing Cosatu into disrepute and maladministration. Numsa is looking at life outside Cosatu because it went against a decision by the federation to support the ANC in the upcoming election.
A draft Numsa document, which will be tabled at its central committee next month, said there was much debate about whether Ramaphosa and Duarte should be allowed to present their proposals to the CEC.
“In fact, the NUM argued very strongly that the ANC not be allowed to address the CEC because they were not on the agenda and that discussion with them should take place outside of the CEC. Finally it was agreed to allow the ANC to make their presentation, but on the basis that the CEC was adjourned and would be reconvened after the ANC leadership had left,” the Numsa document reads.
“During the question and clarity session, Numsa made it clear in the meeting to the ANC that the current tensions in Cosatu are not about individuals who happen not to be in good terms, but that the crisis is as a result of the direction that the South African revolution has taken within the alliance led by the ANC… Numsa also made it clear that the ANC is directly involved in the raging factional battles that are destabilising Cosatu’s cohesion and unity.”
The ANC’s efforts to prevent the expulsion of Numsa and further action against Vavi are aimed at keeping the tripartite alliance, which includes the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP, intact. This alliance has allowed the ruling party to defeat its opposition for the last 20 years. Any formation to the left of the ANC could threaten its dominance of the political landscape.