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Sending a message of honesty

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

It was refreshing to hear a president of the country who goes to a Cosatu national congress and does not pretend to speak like he was one of the federation's shop stewards.

Make no mistake, President Cyril Ramaphosa - in his capacity as ANC leader - went to the federation's congress on Monday with a clear intention to win hearts and minds.

He is a politician after all, and there is an important general election coming up in a few months' time. Besides, which ANC leader would not want the more than 1.5million Cosatu members on his side, especially given rumours of a plot to weaken and undermine his authority within his party structures?

But we appreciate the fact that, despite all of this, Ramaphosa did not seek to mislead the federation and the workers in general by feeding them a diet of false promises and misleading information.

Among its many problems, Cosatu went into its national congress anxious over talks that the government is planning to retrench thousands of public sector workers due to the public purse being unable to cope with the rising civil service wage bill.

Although Ramaphosa was adamant that his government has no plans for huge retrenchments, he was honest about the need for the restructuring of the public service. Hopefully, this kind of honesty and openness, long missing in the dialogue between government and labour, will lead to a frank conversation over what the country can afford given the current state of its finances and the many service delivery demands from the rest of the population, especially the poor.

But it is merely the first step. What is required now is for public sector unions to unshackle themselves from their strongly held ideological positions and to start thinking creatively about possible solutions that would keep the vast majority of their members employed while not bankrupting the already struggling national fiscus. We realise that finding a middle ground would be difficult, especially considering that Cosatu is facing a challenge for membership from rival unions.

But in the long run, it is in the interest of both civil servants and the government that a common solution is found soon.

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