The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – South Africa’s biggest workers group, says it is disappointed that President Jacob Zuma has failed to implement policies to improve the living conditions of its members.
The group has publicly announced it is endorsing Cyril Ramaphosa for president. Ramaphosa is the country’s deputy president and the deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Sizwe Pamla, spokesman for COSATU, says members of the group plan to decide if they should continue the alliance with the ANC.
COSATU played a key role in backing Zuma to become the county’s president after the ANC decided to recall former president Thabo Mbeki in 2007.
But critics have questioned the rationale behind the decision to endorse Ramaphosa. They questioned why a workers union would back a very wealthy businessman who is unlikely to fight for the “common man” in workers’ demands for better conditions, particularly when he is part of the current administration led by Zuma.
Pamla says the group has confidence in Ramaphosa that he would not betray the workers since, he says, the deputy president had previously worked for the betterment of the working class.
“COSATU is very disappointed by what the current president of the country has failed to do for the workers,” said Pamla.
“With Ramaphosa, we have someone who is a founding general secretary of the National Union of Mine Workers. We have someone who is a principal negotiator during the drafting of the South African constitution. But we also have a businessman… We are not looking for a leader of the workers or the working class, we are looking for a leader of the country, which means there can be no discussions that say somebody is overqualified to be the president of the country. A billionaire or a millionaire, for us who has a background in the working class movement, is the right person to take us forward because …We don’t believe that he would be surrounded by the level of scandals that are surrounding the current president.”
Pamla says COSATU affiliates are expressing concern that the 20-plus-year alliance with the ANC appears to not be working. COSATU, ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have been in a tripartite alliance following the demise of apartheid.
He says the ANC has betrayed COSATU adding that officials of the workers group are planning to open a debate about the relevance of the alliance with the governing ANC. Pamla also says the ANC has become an elitist institution that has become pro-business that appears to have forgotten about the well-being of workers and the working class – a charge the ANC denies.
“There is no naivete on our side as to the failures of the African National Congress as a ruling party two decades later,” said Pamla.
“We are currently saddled with the implementation of the national minimum wage and the national health insurance, we acknowledge that. But if we want to hand over an organization that will listen to its own membership, we can’t have our own personal feelings and decisions to be organizational decisions. So, while we have done a lot of analysis about the impact and the effect of the ruling party on the life of the workers, we still owe it to the workers to be allowed to make that determination as to whether to break ranks with the alliance or not.”
“A number of affiliates refused to take part in the debate about the alliance because they said unless you opened the debate about the relevance of the alliance, we are not going to participate, Pamla continued. A number of the affiliates said they were not interested as to who takes over the African National Congress going forward. [They said] all we want to hear is how do we extricate ourselves from the shackles of the alliance politics, the so-called palace politics. They were very clear and they were very explicit,” added Pamla.