South Africa's Largest Trade Union Cosatu Supports ANCYL Campaign

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi says the trade union federation backs the ANC Youth League’s demands and will encourage people to join its marches on strategic centres of economic power later this month.

“We are fully behind the demands they are making, which are exactly the same demands we are making. Yes we will as a matter of principle – based on our congress and central committee – unite with the youth league and others,” said Vavi.

Vavi said he took cognisance of the political environment and the standoff between the ANC and its youth league. He said he was also aware that some in the league “may be pursuing other reasons in the decision to march by using legitimate demands to further other political motives”, but that Cosatu was not reacting in support of individuals but the “body of the organisation” and what it was calling for.

“We (have) picked up concerns, legitimate demands for economic freedom, job creation, education, skills development, banning of labour brokers – surely we react to the demands as legitimate demands,” he said.

Cosatu and the league in the run-up to the ANC’s watershed Polokwane conference united in a successful push to unseat former president Thabo Mbeki, elevating Jacob Zuma to lead the party and paving the way for him to become president.

The youth league recently announced it would lead mass marches to key economic centres of power. The protests, to take place on October 27 and 28, will start with a march to the Chamber of Mines to “demand nationalisation of mines and (an) equal share in the country’s mineral resources”, followed by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandton to “demand (an) equal share in the country’s wealth”, faster transformation of the economy and jobs for the unemployed youth, and will then proceed to the Union Buildings for a night vigil, which will culminate in the handing over of a memorandum of demands to the executive.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Vavi was, however, adamant that its support for the campaign should not be seen as Cosatu agreeing with the league’s push for a new ANC leadership.

“I understand the (politically tense) environment is supported by some members in the youth league who have inappropriately in the past pushed (a) regime-change agenda – removing of the president (Zuma) and the SG (secretary-general Gwede Mantashe – that Cosatu rejected. We are absolutely opposed to that,” he said.

Zuma and his allies have been hard-pressed to keep the lid on the succession debate as youth league president Julius Malema and his leadership have made no secret of their dissatisfaction with Zuma and have already backed former league president Fikile Mbalula to take over the reins from Mantashe.

The ANC holds its elective conference in Mangaung in December next year. It follows hot on the heels of Cosatu’s elective conference in October.

The trade union federation has also been battling to contain its own succession contest, with its leaders known to be divided over Zuma’s leadership of the ANC and whether he should be endorsed for a second term.

Vavi has previously said he will not stand for another term as general secretary, after having served four terms, but later said he would stand for re-election if Cosatu members called for it. The outcome of Cosatu’s leadership race will feed into that of the ANC.

Vavi said while the “youth league supports the agenda of regime change”, Cosatu was “fully behind the ANC” and applauded the mother body’s decision that the succession debate was off limits for now because a premature debate would create diversions which would “take attention away from the challenges of today”.

“We can’t determine future policies around individuals – it was wrong, it was wrong (of the league). We are hopeful that the body of the youth league genuinely wants to draw attention to the real issues of young people. In a different environment (there would be) nothing wrong (with Cosatu backing the youth league’s campaigns). The mistake of the youth league was its leaders who advocated for all manner of things.

“The issue of decent work has absolutely nothing to do with the succession debate,” said Vavi.

On whether he agreed with Zuma and the ANC leadership’s decision to institute disciplinary action against Malema and his newly elected leadership, Vavi said: “On principle (we) must declare we are fully behind the ANC’s decision of the national general council (NGC, held in September last year) on discipline. But we have not said we automatically support their decision. We support their right to do it.”

Asked to clarify, Vavi said: “We support the decision and are fully behind the NGC resolution that discipline is not negotiable. We are up standing (sic) the right of the ANC to take disciplinary action against any member who has contravened the code of conduct, but we not going to comment on disciplinary action. We reserve our right to comment, including (on) the Malema issue, but its not that we are backing the action against Malema.”

Malema’s disciplinary hearing resumes on Saturday (October 15).