JOHANNESBURG - Newly elected Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi is rather calm for a person in her position. She is the first woman to lead the country’s largest trade union federation last week at a time when unionism in South Africa is at a crossroad.
But Losi says the tasks ahead do not scare her. After all, she has been smashing glass ceilings all her life.
She says she had to live with being the only black and only woman during her time as an aircraft maintenance technician for the South African Air Force.
“I was among Afrikaans-speaking males and there was resistance and racism,” she says. “I experienced all of that.”
Leadership is something that comes natural in Losi. She born into a family of political activists in the Eastern Cape’s black townships that surround the country’s auto hub Port Elizabeth.
She cut her teeth in the student politics of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and also served in the ANC Youth League structures in the Eastern Cape.
Her activism would later take her into exile where her brothers had gone into.
In Cosatu, she has served as deputy president before being elected unopposed last week to head the federation that turns 33 in December.
Losi is well aware of what her responsibilities are in a country that is also battling depressed economic conditions.
She describes her election as a quite humbling feeling and experience and commends the work done by her predecessors in taking Cosatu to be where it is today.
However, she is quick to point out that she was not elected to the powerful position on the basis of her gender.
“One has to appreciate and understand that it is not just an election of a leader but there is a group within the working class that expects that the voice shall be heard even louder because we have a woman at the helm,” says Losi, adding that with her at the helm, workers should expect a more grounded Cosatu.
“We can expect a Cosatu that is going to be on the ground. We have started to hit the ground running. There are low hanging fruits we are going for them.”
She says the federation’s constitution, which was amended at the congress, gives its central executive committee (CEC) more teeth.
“We are going to make leaders to account. It’s our mandate from the congress. The constitution has now been amended. It gives us powers to make interventions.”
Cosatu, she says, also wants to work closely with its alliance partners, ANC and SA Communist Party.
“But we are not going to shy away where we disagree,” says Losi, who is a member of the ANC national executive committee.
That some Cosatu unions have been accused of unlawfully expanding their scope by poaching members from other sister unions could soon be a thing of the past, if things go according to Losi’s plans.
She is considered an ally of President Cyril Ramaphosa after she unsuccessfully ran for the position of ANC deputy general secretary under Ramaphosa’s slate.
Losi says she will not go easy on Ramaphosa either.
“I appreciate the fact that she appreciates that. I supported President Ramaphosa towards the Nasrec conference because it was the mandate of the federation. It was not a personal campaign. It was driven by the CEC. We are here now, Nasrec is gone. We want to work now.”
Losi says Cosatu’s call for one industry, one union, one country, one federation, is possible, and quickly points out to the wage agreement achieved by metalworkers’ union Numsa, Solidarity and National Union of Mineworkers at Eskom. All three unions belong to different federations.
“As long as we separate our personalities from the issues that our confronting workers, workers will be united,” she says.
- BUSINESS REPORT