(File image) Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

 Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is building a power base from which he will attempt to capture the tripartite alliance at the ANC’s 2017 conference, DA leader Helen Zille told students at the University of Stellenbosch on Tuesday.

Zille said in a speech that it was time South Africans saw through Cosatu, which wanted to “keep unemployed people excluded from jobs and economic opportunities, to protect its power base”.

“As the internal battle in the ANC heats up, and Cosatu jockeys for more of the power, it has cleverly tried to paint itself as the 'internal opposition' inside the tripartite alliance,” Zille said.

“It is clear that Zwelinzima Vavi is engaged in a campaign to construct for himself a power base, from which he will attempt to capture the alliance at the ANC’s 2017 conference.”

Zille said if Vavi wanted to run the country, he should “put his name on the ballot and stand for election”.

“We already have an electoral mandate from three million South Africans – something Mr Vavi does not.

“If he wants to run this country, then he should put his name on the ballot and stand for election. But I’m not holding my breath.”

Zille said Cosatu was the main block in the road to job creation and redress for millions of South Africans.

“I say it may seem irrational to many because Cosatu has built up a brand over the years as being the defender of the poor, supposedly acting with their interests at heart.

“But is this brand accurate? It is not.”

It was clear, Zille said, that President Jacob Zuma's government was in office, but it was not in power.

“The truth is that Cosatu exercises a veto over government policy in education, labour and economic reform.

“Every serious economist in South Africa agrees, as does the National Planning Commission; virtually every think tank, university and even a significant portion of the ANC that certain key interventions are required to really kick-start development and job creation.”

South Africa, she said, needed a more flexible and responsive labour market, where wages responded to productivity and industry needs, while still protecting workers.

It also needed to give young people a chance to work and to get a foot in the door of the job market.

“The restrictive centralised bargaining regime currently enforced in South Africa means that massive corporations and tiny start-ups are subject to the same wage bargaining process.

“This is a massive disincentive to start businesses, and a huge financial burden for existing small businesses.”

Cosatu was “protecting their members, who are all employed and are working their way up the economic ladder”.

“Its animating purpose is solely to protect its own members’ interests. That is understandable and that is Cosatu’s purpose. But then it should not try to masquerade as the champion of the poor,” Zille said. – Sapa