SA labour should act now to prevent dictatorship – Vavi

JOHANNESBURG - The power struggle in South Africa between President Thabo Mbeki and the labour-left escalated rapidly this week when Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), said South Africa and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) w

ere ‘drifting towards a dictatorship’.
Vavi briefed the media after a meeting of Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee in whose name he made the statement. ‘Dictatorship,’ he said, ‘never announces its arrival. It won’t, like drum majorettes, beat drums and parade down the street to announce it has arrived’. The drift towards dictatorship was evident – in the use of state institutions – in ‘narrow factional fights’.
Vavi’s declaration is the most strident yet in the gathering storm over Mbeki’s presidency. Cosatu has 21 affiliated unions and 1.8 million paid-up members. The logic of Vavi’s remarks is that the labour-left should act now to prevent a dictatorship. The statement follows a similar warlike ‘discussion document’ issued last week by the South African Communist Party. Cosatu and the SACP are members with the ANC of the Tripartite Alliance in which the three groups are supposed to work in harmony for the country’s good governance. Following the Cosatu and SACP statements, the ‘Alliance’, already constantly feuding, exists in name only.
Vavi’s statement introduces urgency into the power struggle: that the labour-left must engage the enemy now. Before these statements were made (within days of each other), the timing for a showdown with Mbeki was that the labour-left would nominate a candidate at the ANC’s critical conference in December 2007 – the first opportunity within the ANC constitution to challenge Mbeki for the ANC presidency. Now Cosatu wants an immediate confrontation.
One way in which this could be achieved, according to Cosatu sources, is to force the ANC to call an early special conference – a mass assembly – not to tackle an insoluble conflict of ideology within the Tripartite Alliance, but to settle the leadership issue. Mbeki would totally resist such a call.
If defeated, he would have to step down as ANC president. This in turn would make his position as president of South Africa untenable. The labour-left candidate, presumably Jacob Zuma, would take over.
Calling for a special conference could be risky for Cosatu, because the ANC could manipulate the selection of many delegates. On the other hand, Mbeki has already experienced the ‘populist’ power of the labour-left. At the ANC’s National General Council meeting last June, immediately after Zuma had been sacked by Mbeki as South Africa’s deputy president, the populist pro-Zuma faction swept aside Mbeki’s agenda and protected Zuma from further demotion. It was a chastening experience for Mbeki.
‘Populism’ has become the unknown factor in the power struggle: whether loyalty to the ANC is the greater or the lesser factor in anti-Mbekism. There is also the three-months’ long strike by 140,000 security guards, which culminated last week in a section of them going on the rampage outside parliament, breaking shop windows and trashing cars. Some analysts think it was a predictable outburst, built into a protracted strike; others wonder whether it was an orchestrated demonstration of the havoc populism can wreak. Cosatu has declared its support for the strike, but not for the rampage on parliament’s doorstep.

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