While longstanding issues relating to the expulsion of Numsa and Zwelinzima Vavi look to be largely behind Cosatu, the trade union still faces overwhelming internal dissatisfaction amongst many of its member unions. This is according to labour analyst, Tony Healy, speaking as the union hosts its 12th national congress in Midrand amid political uncertainty. Cosatu has sought to use the congress as a means of repositioning itself after several years of infighting and factional battles, by electing new leadership to take it forward.
However much of the union’s top leadership positions were retained uncontested during Monday’s election, including that of president, Sdumo Dlamini. A further three of the top six posts were also retained.
Another striking concern for Cosatu is a membership crisis that has brought about little growth; the union sitting with around 1.9 million members, nearly the same as 20 years ago.
Healy acknowledged there was a view amongst many that Cosatu were effectively becoming the “labour desk” of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
“There is no doubt that with Mr. Vavi and Numsa having gone, the Cosatu of today is a much more ANC compliant (tripartite) alliance member. Yes there are some utterances around objections to pension fund reform, but what we are going to see a new Cosatu that is more aligned to government and the ANC,” he suspected.
However with a growing disenchantment amongst South Africans towards the ruling party, Healy suggested this could prove internally problematic for Cosatu, with member unions already questioning the relationship due to criticism of poor service delivery and corruption on the part of government.
There is also a possibility that Cosatu will have to contend with a significant competing federation formed around Numsa.
“There is no doubt that there are potentially still unions within Cosatu that could split and join a Numsa-formed competing labour federation,” he said, noting the emergence of a more left-leaning interest group within the trade union federation.
The Cosatu National Congress continues on Tuesday. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)