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Pretoria - Battles over leadership could leave the ANC so fragmented that it would be “too weak to fight” the 2014 elections, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has said - warning that if sanity did not prevail, more than mere positions could be lost.
Cosatu fears that the ANC’s Mangaung conference “might just become the place where we kill ourselves as a movement”.
Vavi cautioned that a fragmented party would be incapable of bringing about the radical transformation needed to create jobs and deal with poverty and made it clear a new leadership, which enjoyed the confidence of the “middle strata” as well as the rank and file, was needed.
Members of the national executive committee of the ANC needed to have “stature”, he said.
Vavi was speaking to Ben Turok in an interview published in a special edition, dedicated to the ANC’s four-day 53rd national conference in two weeks, of the journal that the veteran ANC MP edits, New Agenda.
The interview was conducted on November 13 and Vavi’s appeal comes as the fraught nominations process has laid bare the bitter extent of infighting and divisions in the ANC’s ranks, with the collapse at the weekend of three provincial conferences and the attempted assassination of the party’s North West provincial secretary, Kabelo Mataboge.
While President Jacob Zuma appears to have the numbers needed to win a second term, there are mounting concerns in the ANC and the broader alliance about divisions becoming more entrenched after Mangaung - especially if there is a purge of people seen to have backed leadership change.
“One of our biggest fears is that the conference may just become the place where we kill ourselves as a movement - instead of the place where we resurrect and move in the direction of radical transformation,” Vavi said, warning that union members were questioning Cosatu’s continued role in the alliance.
“There will be no radical transformation led by a fragmented party, one that is not fighting for jobs and against poverty, where those things only get lip service, symbolic treatment… We want transformation, and transformation must be led by clear cadres. We need a new… national executive committee, [one] that can be seen to have gone through the eye of the needle, that has stature.”
Cosatu was trying to get the ANC to agree to an “integrity pact”.
“We want them to agree with us before Mangaung, and if that’s not possible, we’re going to pursue it after Mangaung. We can’t continue on this route where so many of our leaders are conflicted by business and the overlap between their roles in political offices and in leadership [of the alliance organisations].”
Appealing for “unity in purpose”, Vavi said there was a lot at stake.
“Sanity must prevail. Everyone must see what we are facing as a society, and realise that we’re losing lots of friends that we shouldn’t be losing. The result is that we not only lose the national project, but the non-racial project, the gender project, and the developmental ‘better life’ project.”
But his urging that the ANC use the conference to take a critical look at itself was “falling on deaf ears”.
“Can we make this conference not a place where we have battles for leadership and come out so badly injured and fragmented that we inevitably become too weak to fight the 2014 elections? Can we use this conference to win back the confidence of our people, particularly the middle strata of society, to believe that we can be united around a correct platform of progressive developmental programmes?”
Vavi said Cosatu’s membership - at 1.2 million, larger than the ANC’s - was questioning its continued alliance with the ANC. While Cosatu remained largely blue-collar, it also represented young professionals, most of whom were sophisticated and articulate, and many of whom were militant and impatient.
They were “questioning (the alliance) all the time”, Vavi said.
“They are likely to be more intolerant… they have no patience, they read and they are quite up to date with what’s happening in the country. And they’re expressing their views about the alliance, including some of Cosatu’s traditional choices.
Cosatu wanted the ANC to agree at Mangaung that a new income policy was needed, to address poverty and the massive wage gap between workers and bosses.
“This ANC conference provides us an opportunity to present a package of policies that will include minimum living levels, wages and income gaps, the meaning of monetary and fiscal policies, tax policies.
“Without developing new income policies, we can shout against growing inequalities until we’re blue in the face, but they will continue to grow. We can have symbolic 12-month freezes at the top, but inequalities will not be arrested. So the ANC conference is absolutely critical…There is a lot at stake.”