Picture: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Cosatu says contrary to reports that it supports privatisation, it remains firm that the government must maintain a controlling stake where privatisation is necessary.

The largest labour federation sent out shock waves over the weekend when it was reported that Cosatu was backing the partial privatisation of some state-owned companies, such as SAA.

The stance was seen as a major shift from its established policy of anti-privatisation.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said in the early days of freedom they listed nine critical sectors where they did not want any form of privatisation. Some of these sectors included water, electricity and education.

“Then we said where there is a compelling case for private sector involvement, we will be willing to consider them, but we still have a condition, even in those nine strategic sectors: the state has to remain a majority shareholder. Which means we are not considering outright privatisation,” Pamla said.

The SACP, the vanguard party of the working class and a member of the tripartite alliance, said it would wait for Cosatu’s central executive committee decision before it commented on the decision by the labour federation to back partial privatisation.

Asked whether the SACP backed the call, spokesman Alex Mashilo said they would wait for the federation to communicate its “key outcomes” before the party would comment.

“We are looking forward to the outcomes of the meeting. We will take things from there and engage within the alliance, which is where the federation said they would detail their proposals for consideration.

“We prefer not to speculate what the outcome of its central executive committee will be,” Mashilo said.

The general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, a man who once led the call for the federation to leave the alliance, said Cosatu was “getting more irrelevant by the day”.

“We are not surprised that the once-mighty (federation), seen as the hope for our democracy, is now championing privatisation and the strengthening role of capital in the economy.”

Political analyst Xolani Dube, from the Xubera Institute, said what was surprising in the change of stance was not that Cosatu was backing privatisation, but that it was saying so publicly.

He said Cosatu had always been used by its leaders to get deployments in the government while pretending to fight for the working class.

“Cosatu was bought prior to the (ANC) conference (in 2017). Cyril (Ramaphosa) bought Cosatu, and so there is nothing we need to expect from Cosatu, because they were bought. Workers have to understand that they are on their own,” Dube said.

Political Bureau