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Durban - The founding general secretary of Cosatu, Jay Naidoo, was at the helm of the country’s largest trade union with the goal of improving the lives of workers and fighting apartheid. Today, almost 30 years later, Naidoo is questioning the role of Cosatu in modern South Africa and its relationship with the ANC.
“The (tripartite) alliance was about reconstructing the core of democracy after apartheid, and I think that alliance died when they buried the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) and closed their offices when I was the minister of the portfolio,” said Naidoo yesterday.
Naidoo served as the minister in the Nelson Mandela-led government from 1994 to 1996.
“Cosatu was founded during a state of emergency, and what brought Cosatu together was the repression from the State.
“We built an organisation that could withstand those attacks, but in the evolution of Cosatu - when we could foresee negotiations coming to end apartheid - we came up with a pragmatic view on what we wanted for the future, and that was the RDP.”
Naidoo said he was instrumental in leading Cosatu into an alliance with the ANC and SACP.
“We had political aspirations and the way we could achieve them was by aligning with a political party,” he said.
“The alliance, though, has become a mechanism to get votes rather than about developing policies that would have an impact in tackling poverty and inequality. It has not fully fulfilled the objectives I had.”
Naidoo said the relationship between Cosatu and the ANC had led to political interference in the union, but this was not unique.
“In no country, except in Scandinavian countries, is there no political interference in trade unions. They are the vote banks in society and everyone who has a political goal or agenda will want to control them. The question is, how independent are they?”
The infighting and political interference at Cosatu was also indicative of the divisions within the ANC, he said.
Naidoo bemoaned the recent sex scandal involving the suspended general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelinzima Vavi.
“I think Vavi committed a cardinal error and it saddens me to see this happening at a time when we need decisive leadership.”
Naidoo was in Durban on Tuesday to receive an honorary doctorate in engineering from the Durban University of Technology, where he urged graduates to make a difference.
“We are getting into a deepening crisis and I do not believe we have leadership across the political spectrum, or the unions, or civil society, or business that is prepared to stand up and say, ‘We have a crisis, and how can we solve it?” he said.