Having established itself as the de facto leader and dictator to the ruling ANC-led tripartite alliance, Cosatu is battling to come to terms with the reality that it will not always have its way in the broad church that is the ANC.
With the ANC being the only ruling party in the world to house African nationalists, trade unionists, communists, liberals and other political ideologues under one roof, the battle of ideas is a daily pastime.
At times, with African traditionalists flexing their muscles, you would be forgiven for mistaking an ANC branch meeting for an Inkatha Freedom Party gathering.
Managing the alliance — ANC, SA Communist Party, Cosatu, and the SA Civics Organisation — therefore has become a full-time job.
More so under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma who believes in allowing the alliance partners space to let off steam regularly.
He learnt from his predecessor and political nemesis Thabo Mbeki that suffocating these players — some of them nothing more than parasites on the ANC — by stifling debate has the potential to raise the political tectonic force, described by Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi as a political tsunami.
The forces will gather again for the alliance summit this weekend with Esselen Park, in Ekurhuleni, as the battlefield.
At the top of the agenda is the political storm around National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel whom Cosatu has described as using his position to elevate himself into a de facto prime minister.
Also on the agenda is the review of South Africa’s response to the global economic crisis, the upheavals in ANC-led municipalities at local government level and the very nature of the alliance.
Zuma and ANC secretary-general general Gwede Mantashe will lead the delegation from Luthuli House, while SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande will lead the modern-day upwardly mobile communists.
Vavi, who leads a wounded delegation of trade unionists, has vowed to push for the rulers to clip Manuel’s wings.
The alliance summit also marks the return of forgotten players like Ruth Bhengu, the disgraced former ANC MP who confessed to stealing public funds in the infamous Travelgate scandal.
Her political star is rising as she returns to centre stage as member of the ANC national executive committee, a deputy mayor of Ugu District Municipality in the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast and leader of Sanco.
The summit comes as nationalists appear to have their tails in the air having successfully rejected Cosatu’s suggestion that Manuel was using his position to create “kitchen cabinets” inside Zuma’s kraal.
Closing Cosatu’s national general congress in September, Vavi charged: “We are opposed to the fragmentation of the state through building of fiefdoms or kitchen cabinets within the state. For that reason, we call for the withdrawal of the Green Paper on Strategic Planning. That said, Cosatu is not opposed to a discussion that clearly articulates a coherent planning process and machinery to ensure an effective state. We object to the marginalisation of the alliance and other key ministries in shaping this policy intervention prior to its public release. This is reminiscent of the past, where Cosatu and the alliance were like ordinary NGOs and not allies. This contemptuous attitude flies against the spirit of the recent alliance summit and engagement.”
Zuma refused to budge. And Manuel remains in charge — for now.
In our interview this week, Vavi seemed to suggest the nationalists who endorsed Manuel as chairman of the commission, may have won a battle but the war is still on.
The war cry being, “Siyohlangan’ eEsselen Park”.
Vavi told the Sowetan that the two-million strong labour force was hoping for victory by the time the delegates leave the Ekurhuleni venue.
“We are saying it would be wrong for one minister to be made a prime minister and for cabinet ministers to have no role in the national planning commission.
“In its current form as proposed, the NPC takes away the responsibilities of other ministers. Our other concern is that we never meant for the NPC to formulate policy. These are some of the things we will raise at the alliance summit.”
Since Zuma took over as president, Cosatu has successfully convinced him to allow the labour federation’s former national executive committee member, Ebrahim Patel, who is now the minister of economic development, to drive the implementation of the government’s micro and macro economic policies.
Zuma also winked at Cosatu’s suggestion that he should rule until 2017.
The federation also cowed the Zuma government into approving double-digit salary increases for public servants despite the raging global economic crisis.
It was these early victories that made Cosatu think it could be the tail that wags the dog.
* This piece is published with acknowledgment to and with respect for my employer — Sowetan Newspaper — which owns copyrights to my writings!