Herewith some comments on the latest political news. Apologies that I have posted so seldom here of late. I see a New Year’s resolution coming on. I see a New Year’s resolution exiting stage left.

Numsa, Cosatu and the SACP … and Jacob Zuma

During this past week the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) shifted closer to exiting the ruling alliance (and possibly Cosatu). The matter will be decided at a special Numsa congress from 13-16 December.

Meanwhile several distinct forces entered the fray.

Gwede Mantashe, the powerful ANC secretary general, argued that if pursuing Zwelinzima Vavi split Cosatu, then that strategy should be reconsidered. His general approach was supported by the President of the National Union of Mineworkers Senzeni Zokwana calling for sober heads and for the two main factions in Cosatu to ‘swallow their pride and solve their ideological and political differences’ (Business Day 3/12/13)

In complete contrast to this attempt to mend fences, Blade Nzimande, wearing his South African Communist Party secretary general’s cap on Sunday attacked the Numsa leadership, using strong and unbending language saying a “clique” within the union is manipulating rank and file members for  personal gain and should account for their personal wealth … that Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim and deputy general secretary Karl Cloete should submit themselves to independent lifestyle audits and that Mr Jim should explain his role in chairing the Eastern Cape tender board and should come clean on the work of the union’s investment arm.” (News24 02/12/13)

The Numsa leadership meanwhile continued with its formulation of a detailed criticism of the ANC performance in government – only parts of which have been announced – but will form part of the discussion about whether to stay in Cosatu and in the alliance at the special congress in mid-December.

The Eastern Cape provincial executive committee of Cosatu (PEC) has strongly criticised the Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini for failing to arrange the special Cosatu conference designed to address all the issues bedevilling the federation, including the suspension of Vavi and the relationship with the ANC. The Eastern Cape PEC was also strongly critical of the Communist Party’s attack on the Numsa leadership.

So what?

This is not only the untidy squabble it appears.

Jacob Zuma came to power backed by the SACP, by Cosatu, by the ANCYL, by disparate regional power-blocks and business groups who saw an opportunity to get the benefits of being at the high table, and by democrats within the ANC who believed Mbeki had become authoritarian and/or unresponsive to the changing requirements of the situation (with his failure to grapple with the HIV/AIDs question his most obvious failing.)

This alliance of interests and groups has long since fragmented (with the trajectories of Malema and Vavi the most visible signs of this), but the SACP remains up close and personal with Zuma, his family, his business friends and the security agencies he keeps firmly under his wing. That it is the SACP who has said: ‘let’s chase these Numsa fellows out’ is not a surprise, as the SACP is one of the main beneficiaries of the rise of Jacob Zuma … an attack on Zuma is an attack on the SACP.

(My implicit assumption, which might be wrong, is that the SACP probably has some socialist explanation or justification for what it is doing in bed with Zuma. However I must confess I cannot imagine a version of politics in which the struggle for socialism is best served by allying oneself with a corrupt, regional elite – with ethnic overtones – that makes free use of the state security apparatuses to secure its dominance. If you lie down with dogs you should expect to get fleas.)

Thus, the SACP appears to be pushing for radical intrusive surgery on Cosatu and Numsa. They hope to cut out the cancer and, supposedly, slowly repair the healthy body left-behind.

The most obvious dangers are inherent in the metaphor: namely that the cure could kill the patient. But the bigger danger is that what the SACP, and the faction within the ANC that backs the radical surgery option have, perhaps wilfully, mistaken ‘democratic criticism’ (albeit of a damning sort) for cancer. This was precisely the warning that Mantashe and Zokwana were giving when they were brutally cut short by Blade Nzimande wielding a meat-cleaver.

So Nzimande and the communists have an agenda tied much more closely to the narrow version of the Nkandla Crew (that nexus of commercial interests, regional Kwazulu-Natal politics, state-security agencies and crime intelligence that are all pushed up tight against their principal, Jacob Zuma). More closely, that is, than, for example, Gwede Mantashe

Where this is leading is uncertain. It seems likely that Numsa will split from (or be driven out of) the alliance and perhaps from Cosatu. Numsa might more explicitly move towards establishing  a ‘labour’ or ‘workers’ party, perhaps in alliance with existing left-wing parties and trade unions. Numsa itself  may split in this process, so that a vestige of its former self is left behind in Cosatu.

Numsa freed from the constraints of belonging to the alliance and Cosatu has strong growth potential, particularly in the mining sector and can be expected to flourish there. It is not inconceivable that a defected Numsa will continue to lobby Cosatu unions and will grow as structures and regions of Cosatu unions also defect.

It is always possible for the ANC aligned leadership to stop this process, but that would entail having to give free rein to Jim and Numsa’s brutal criticism of ANC corruption and economic policy. The Nkandla Crew have obviously decided this is no longer an option – especially in the lead-up to an election where their principal is already under attack for public resources being lavished on his Nkandla home. Time will tell if they are strong enough to hold the smaller fort they have built against the growing number of enemies they are createing.

Meanwhile we must remember that Numsa is the most radical and best organised union in Cosatu – and many businesses would find them significantly less playable than the unions to which they are accustomed.

The next step will be the Numsa special conference. I expect Numsa to resolve to insist that Cosatu holds a special congress before elections next year. It is not impossible that that Cosatu special conference does take place and that the pro-Vavi faction secures his return – although there are almost endless practical difficulties in making this happen. However, any return of Vavi and and outbreak of peace in Cosatu will be temporary – unless there are radical changes in the ANC as well.

 

Draft of the Public Protectors report on the Nkandla build was leaked by the Mail & Guardian

The leaked report states that Jacob Zuma derived “substantial” personal benefit from the Nkandla upgrade that went way beyond ‘security features’ and that he would be liable to pay back this money to the public purse. The features Madonsela identified as unrelated to security spending was a swimming pool, visitors centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, marquee area, extensive paving and new houses for relocated relatives. Public Works allowed Zuma’s architect ‘uncontrolled creep’ to broaden the project until another 4 firms that Zuma had privately engaged were effectively carrying out the Public Works’ security upgrade but without having tendered for the job  – and reporting back into Zuma and his architect (Mail & Guardian 30/11/13)

So what?

Mandonsela has come out strongly against the Mail & Guardian for having published the draft report. She says the confidential circulation of draft reports from her office is designed to allow interested parties to argue points and correct substantial errors. The Mail & Guardian argues that the public interest outweighed the internal processes of the Public Protector – given that the security cluster of government had regularly threatened to stop the report being published.

The more important question is how Jacob Zuma comes out of this. It is now impossible to avoid the fact that significant state resources were used on the President’s private residence and more and more details will surface as we head towards the elections in 2014. Leaks are appearing from the major party’s polling processes that suggest that the ANC is vulnerable around the Nkandla upgrade. If the ANC were to suffer electorally from the appetites of its president, and if it knew that its suffering was linked to those appetites, then we must assume that Jacob Zuma would be vulnerable. But vulnerable to impeachment or vulnerable to having his wings-clipped? It’s a big difference, but both should be items on our long-range screens.