THE tripartite alliance was formed after the unbanning of political parties in 1990.
Strategically, the ANC saw Cosatu and the SACP as organisations that could mobilise grassroots support and manage working class antipathy towards the liberation movement.
Cosatu and the SACP saw the ANC as their vehicle to power and an assurance that they would achieve influence over macro-economic policies. The alliance has pledged to be biased towards the working class in general and poverty-stricken Africans in particular. This means that the alliance was formed as an interdependent movement with the ultimate goal of serving the poor.
Yet recently, Cosatu has been amplifying their criticism of the ANC's policies to the extent that they have threatened to disrupt the World Cup if the ANC-led government does not address their grievances regarding electricity tariffs.
To make matters worse, there is the niggling issue of the disciplinary action against Zwelinzima Vavi - for expressing his concerns over the manner in which corruption has been dealt with by the ANC. Cosatu threatened to break away from the ANC if they continued with their disciplinary hearing. This threat is real but it is not new.
Tensions rose in 1996 when the government launched Gear (the growth, employment and redistribution) policy without consulting their alliance partners. When Cosatu and the SACP asked to debate this policy it was put to them by the ANC leadership that Gear was non-negotiable.
Philip Dexter, who was a member of Cosatu's September Commission, quoted by Reuters, said "(the threat) was only one of several possible scenarios considered by (Cosatu's commission). If the economy deteriorates and the government does nothing to assist workers, then workers will have to consider a new party".
Mosiuoa Lekota, the former chairperson of the ANC, was booed at Cosatu's 1999 congress in Midrand after he took Cosatu to task for criticising privatisation policies. Therefore, the threat of a split is just history repeating itself.
The difference is that in the past Cosatu and the SACP always felt sidelined from debate and decision making on macro-economic policies. But now, not only do the "leftists" suppose that they are being sidelined, but they also believe that the ANC's leadership is undermining them by attempting to silence their leaders, and that is what makes the current threat seem much more authentic.
So if the SACP and Cosatu want to jump ship, what is stopping them? First, the goals of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), the principles of the alliance as defined by Lenin, and second, the teachings of Karl Marx.
The main goal of the NDR is for the oppressed class to unite and progress towards total economic transformation and democratic representation.
The "leftists" want the ANC to move towards the advancement of blacks but the ANC has been more comfortable with a balancing act to avoid a Zimbabwe-like situation that may see the NDR become the NDE (National Democratic Evolution).
The other reason the "leftists" may think twice before breaking away is that, according to Marxist theory, the working class must have allies to avoid being isolated. With the ANC as an ally, Cosatu remains in the dominant alliance.
But if they leave, this falls away and may even lead to their destruction by the ANC and possibly the rebirth of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, the ANC's original union federation ally.