ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe is not so happy with the “oppositionist” posture that Cosatu and some unions within the federation take when dealing with the ruling party.
The veteran former unionist surely feels that “as comrades with same revolutionary parent (read goal), let us talk gently and say our opprobrium behind closed doors, not in the presence of our nemesis”. You can’t fault Mantashe for his concerns. In the last couple of months, the ANC has endured sustained attacks from within and without. The left nexus feels the party is shifting right while the right feels the party is not right enough. Some people feel this leadership is the weakest in the history of the ANC and has completely lost the radar. In the meantime, the DA has grown bolder and more assertive, believing it can even take Gauteng out of the ruling party. Once the DA used to engage in what others call “clicktivism” (internet or social media activism) but they are now bold enough to march to Cosatu house and even … wait for it … Nkandla. Why? Because they think the ANC is more vulnerable now than any time in history.
The ANC, on the other hand, feels that they are being blamed for everything under the sun. I assume that when the party’s head honchos meet for drinks they take a look at the political scene and the media’s offensive and conclude “those (the media) must be ignored, they never accepted us right from Polokwane anyways”. I can imagine my favourite secretary general, Mantashe, remarking to Cyril Ramaphosa somewhere in Sandton that “while the ‘white’ media, ‘white’ opposition and imperialists hated Thabo Mbeki, they could tolerate him because he was seen as an intellectual who they could sit up and listen to. With us, they can’t accept how we chose an uneducated man to lead Africa’s biggest economy and how we ousted their favourite ‘president’. So relax mchana, the media has a reason to hate us but the people on the ground love and will vote for us”. With this they sip their favourite whiskey and enjoy the day without a care in the world. Let’s be honest. The ANC, and just about any government that can take over in this democracy, is actually irritated with the media. It’s good, though, because where the media and the government are bedfellows then that’s a banana state. So in the eyes of our “revolutionary” leaders, the media’s criticism is easy to ignore and rubbish. After all, no leader of the ANC worth his salt would not have been taught that “counter revolutionaries use the media to subvert revolutions”.
And then there is the criticism from those who have a “post-Polokwane hangover”, as Blade Nzimande would call them. Those are dismissed as having sour grapes and refusing to accept they were defeated. Those are personified by the likes of Ronnie Kasrils. I am sure when his name pops up in conversations within the corridors of power, he is simply dismissed as just a rumble in the jungle. Even those who have genuine things to say about how the republic is run have cowed into silence because they know it will be difficult for them not to be seen as having sour grapes. Talking of which what happened to Joel Netshitenzhe?
Then there is the traditional opposition, whether Agang, Economic Freedom Fighters or the Democratic Alliance, those are just not taken seriously. They are just that: the opposition. What would be their relevance if they didn’t find fault in everything the ANC does anyway? So our dearest secretary general does not worry about them as much. They can criticise the ANC for all they like, it is like farting in water.
But try criticising the ANC from within and you rile up Mantashe. He could not take it when this was done by the Malema youth league and will definitely not take it when it’s being done by an important alliance member like Cosatu. That is why he emphasised at the Popcru conference that the federation needs to talk to the ANC gently and they will listen. He even suggested that there could have been at least 10 Cosatu leaders in the ANC NEC had it not been for the Cosatu “problems”. But what Mantashe misses is that with an “oppositionist” Cosatu who needs the DA?
To the average person, there is no need to vote for an opposition in South Africa because Cosatu raises the things the DA and society at large complains about … and the ANC listens. Or do they? The alliance is good enough with a strong and stinging Cosatu. With a lapdog Cosatu the DA would be riding at the crest of the wave on e-tolls, corruption and maladministration and people would rightly consider voting them. But with an “oppositionist” Cosatu people feel there is no need to vote for the opposition because Cosatu will raise the things they complain about and in a pro-poor way. Reducing Cosatu to a labour desk will therefore open space for the opposition and has long-term consequences for the ruling party.
It is better to have a troublesome child within the family than an outsider because no matter what he or she says or does, once an outsider joins in he or she defends the family wrongs and closes ranks. With the youth league officially silenced, Cosatu divided, an SACP too deeply embedded in the ANC, who will become the conscious of the once mighty revolution?