Whither ANC-Cosatu links?

Two contradictory statements have been mouthed by tripartite alliance leaders on the economic policy stance the ANC will follow after the 2009 general elections: that "nothing will change" and that "something will have to change".

Two contradictory statements have been mouthed by tripartite alliance leaders on the economic policy stance the ANC will follow after the 2009 general elections: that "nothing will change" and that "something will have to change".

If these opposing statements are a sign of the way relations will be between the next ANC government and Cosatu when the post-Polokwane leadership assumes power next year, let's brace ourselves for a blood-on-the-floor scenario for the next few years.

There are clear signs that though ANC president Jacob Zuma was elevated on a pro-poor ticket with the help of the left, he may not dance to Cosatu's tune when he finally gets to the Union Buildings.

Both Zuma and ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe are on record as saying nothing is going to change in the current economic policies.

Both didn't say a word when Trevor Manuel refused to zero-rate certain basic food stuffs and paraffin and when Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni stressed that his inflation targeting need not be touched.

While the SACP seems to be less vocal against Zuma, Cosatu wasted no time rapping the ANC over the knuckles for its thinly veiled pro-business economic rhetoric. But Zwelinzima Vavi may not be with the working class long enough to sustain the pro-poor fight.

It is a fait accompli within the labour movement that he will join the Zuma government next year. In anticipation of his appointment, trusted Cosatu leaders know that Vavi will not be available for re-election at Cosatu's next congress, but Zuma's statements on the economy are Vavi's dilemma.

"He sees this as ANC betrayal of the poor. He would not like to be co-opted into neo-liberal policies; the last thing he wants is to be seen as a sellout by the workers," says a senior Cosatu official.

However, another view in the labour movement is that Vavi is careful not to pronounce now about his plan to quit Cosatu because that would "lock him out" from influencing the outcome of the federation's elective congress next year.

This is because Vavi would like to anoint his successor before quitting. More than anything, Vavi is worried that Silumko Nondwangu, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), might enter the race to succeed him. Nondwangu, who is highly respected within the labour movement, has the edge over Vavi's choice, Fikile "Slovo" Majola, the general secretary of Nehawu.

Nondwangu, along with former Cosatu president Willie Madisha, was accused of supporting Thabo Mbeki after their names appeared on the Mbeki list prior to Polokwane. Cosatu wanted to "discipline" Nondwangu but Numsa members stood up and fought for their leader, daring the Cosatu chief to charge him or face a workers revolt.

"He has been advised to keep quiet about the move to government until he has made sure that Nondwangu, who is the only credible and rational leader for the federation's secretariat chief, has been dealt with once and for all, before the Cosatu congress.

"Once issues associated with finding the 'right successor' are finalised, then a last-minute announcement could be made to ensure that the federation remains in their hands," said a senior Cosatu leader.

Vavi is determined to accomplish his two-pronged battle to find a "right successor" and to right the wrongs in the ANC's economic policy. He demands "change now" and wants the ANC to address the plight of workers and stop its utterances that are meant to allay the fears of big business.

"We are sick and tired of getting the message from the leaders from Polokwane that there will be no change in economic policy. We didn't vote for no change; we want those changes now. We want the ANC to help us change the macroeconomic policy. We hate that inflation targeting and we want it to be scrapped," Vavi told a crowd in Cape Town recently.

Two questions are worth asking. Will Cosatu realise its dream of making the second decade of democracy, a "decade of the workers and the poor"?

And, is wealth accumulation still going to remain in the hands of a small elite who benefited in the first decade of democracy?

This is explained more vividly by Mazibuko K Jara in a paper he penned just after Polokwane, titled The ANC in the aftermath of Polokwane, implications for policy and governance: it's not merely policy, it is the political conditions that set the stage.

Jara, a leftist analyst, publisher and former SACP national spokesman who foresaw this dilemma, says it is simply not enough for the "after-Polokwane relieved, triumphalist and hopeful to rest on their laurels now that they have their man in the driving seat, even if the man in the driving seat was the correct horse to ride.

"This is such a moment where popular and progressive forces can either make strategic advances or calamitous mistakes, a moment wherein popular forces can either reclaim or yet again lose the political process to the elite interests. There are opportunities and yet dangers lurk."

But, despite the left's wailing, the ANC seems determined to keep its economic policies intact in 2009.