By being soft on Cosatu, Cyril is dooming SA to hard times
The Cosatu conference was a time to get real about SA's troubles, not only take polite swipes at his comrades
It does not seem to take much for President Cyril Ramaphosa to be a crowd pleaser.
Ramaphosa has been applauded for putting his detractors on notice, warning those in the ANC plotting in “dark corners” to desist from doing so.
It was not expected that Ramaphosa would confront his comrades by commenting publicly on the Sunday Times reports that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule had secretly met former president Jacob Zuma and a number of other disgruntled characters who want to reverse the outcome of the ANC’s December elective conference.
But the president took the opportunity at Cosatu’s 13th national congress to address the issue, in the presence of a squirming Magashule and the rest of the ANC’s officials.
Ramaphosa was characteristically polite in his swipe against the “plotters”.
“If there are any plots those plots should be directed at eradicating poverty and not playing marbles,” he said.
The ANC prefers to hide its dirty laundry so for Ramaphosa to give credence to the reports appears to be a radical move. This came after Magashule publicly denied that his meeting with Zuma was to plot against the president.
Perhaps Ramaphosa believes that by publicly shaming his opponents in the ANC, they will retreat.
But the reason they will not is because of Ramaphosa’s approach in the rest of his speech.
These are uncertain times with the economy in recession; unemployment, debt and the cost of living rising, and the crime statistics and social discord further reflecting the parlous state of society.
It needs a firm line of march – something Ramaphosa thinks he is giving but is really not.
At the end of July the president announced that the ANC would amend the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation. He also announced that the government would introduce an economic stimulus package.
Seven weeks later, there is still no clarity on these announcements, other than indications that the fiscal stimulus will include a large infrastructure fund that Ramaphosa discussed with business and labour leaders last week.
Addressing Cosatu, Ramaphosa said he had urged business not to be “too hasty to retrench workers, especially in these difficult economic conditions”.
“In the coming days, government will come up with measures that will lead to the reprioritisation of government spending within the current fiscal framework,” he said.
Ramaphosa also assured Cosatu that the government has no plans to retrench public servants.
Was the president really in a position to give such assurances? Was this not the opportunity for some straight talk with the ANC’s alliance partner about what needed to be done to rescue the economy?
The unions continue to hold government hostage on wage negotiations and will persist in doing so for as long as the ANC leadership thinks pacifying its ally is a bigger priority than financial prudence.
Addressing Nedlac last week, Deputy President David Mabuza said the state might have to implement “surgical and difficult austerity measures” due to the lagging economy and lack of growth.
If this is true, when is Ramaphosa planning to inform Cosatu? If not, why would the deputy president hint at austerity measures if these were not under consideration by the government?
It seems that the president might have been worried that his reception at Cosatu would have been less than cordial had he broached such difficult issues.
But the moment we find ourselves in requires some tough talking. This is particularly the case on the issue of state capture.
The president asked Cosatu to keep up its “principled stance” against corruption and called on all those with knowledge of state capture to cooperate with the Zondo commission.
But some elements in the ANC and Cosatu appear to have adopted a nebulous if not adverse approach to the inquiry.
While there was general support for the establishment of the inquiry into state capture, the revelations so far have caused discomfort. This is particularly so regarding the political culpability of ANC leaders.
Some people, such as the now former Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, appear to believe that supporting the inquiry will serve another agenda. In his written speech to the congress, Dlamini said: “As Cosatu we support and actually lead the fight against corruption and state capture, but currently the fight against corruption coexists with a clear policy programme meant to create space for the heightening of a neo-liberal agenda.”
No explanation was provided.
Ramaphosa cannot be oblivious to the fact that there is growing antipathy towards the state capture inquiry because of the skeletons falling out. There also appears to be a lack of appreciation of the extensive damage caused by 10 years of state capture and why it is necessary for the government to embark on a massive clean-up campaign – particularly in the state-owned companies.
Some people believe that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan is on a personal crusade and is purging people randomly at SOEs without support from the rest of the cabinet. Others who had vested interests in the capture network are being impaired by the clean-up.
For as long as Ramaphosa peddles softly on such issues, he will continue to be undermined and second-guessed.
In as much as the Cosatu congress was the opportune moment to ambush the ANC plotters, it was also the chance to get real about the state of the nation. Playing nicely is not the way to lead SA out of the morass.