M&G report a work of fiction - COSATU

Federation derides claims, based on anonymous sources, that it's deeply divided

COSATU's response to Mail & Guardian

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is obliged to respond to two articles - "Vavi takes his toll on the ANC" by Matuma Letsoalo, and "Info Bill resistance: Cosatu treads carefully" by Andisiwe Makinana, in the Mail & Guardian on 9 March 2012.

The first article purports to be an analysis of the COSATU general strike and day of mass action on 7 March 2012, yet there is not a word about the massive turnouts by workers and the strength of feeling they expressed against labour brokering and e-tolling.

Instead we are given a work of fiction about what the day of action supposedly revealed about "fault lines that are mainly rooted in the ANC's Mangaung battles".

Without a shred of evidence to back it up, the author claims that the "nationwide strike this week to protest against labour brokers and the e-tolling system has angered some leaders within both the federation and the ANC, who see the action as an attempt to embarrass President Jacob Zuma and his government".

"The strike action," it goes on, "was seen as a political show of strength by the Vavi-aligned group ahead of the federation's national congress in June, the ANC policy conference, also in June, and the party's crucial elective conference in December. While Vavi continues to enjoy popular support among ordinary members of Cosatu he appears to have lost significant support within the federation's central executive committee, largely because of his hard-line stance towards the ANC and the government under Zuma".

There is not a word of truth in any of this. This was not "Vavi's strike". All affiliated unions, without exception, endorsed the strike on both issues at the Central Executive Committee meeting in February. They all issued statements in support of the protests. And the leadership of every union was speaking at marches up and down the country, including those the M&G says were opposed to it.

The article continues in the same vein, with completely unsubstantiated reports attributed to anonymous "reliable sources within the alliance" of "a breakdown of trust between Vavi and Zuma, who are no longer on speaking terms".

While COSATU has been critical of the ANC government on certain policy issues, these comments have never been personal but are in line with its six-point policy commitment to be supportive, but when necessary critical of the ANC and government.

We have consistently analysed the roll-out of the ANC's Polokwane policies, and at times have been critical at the slow pace of implementation, but we have also always acknowledged progress, particularly recently on such issues as the infrastructure development and job-creation plans and the introduction of the NHI, which may well have been partly as a result of COSATU's pressure.

The reality is that there are no pro- or anti- Zuma factions. COSATU has taken a firm decision not to discuss the ANC leadership issue and has indeed not discussed whether it will or will not support anybody.

On the second article, the author claims, without any evidence, that "it appears that Cosatu has toned down its opposition to the Protection of State Information Bill" and "now insists that it has taken a softer line to ‘create space' for continuing discussions about it with the ANC".

The reporter was told by the COSATU National Spokesperson that this was not true, that the federation's view has not changed and that this had been clarified by him at a Right2Know meeting in the presence of the M&G's editor, Nic Dawes, yet this was not mentioned in the article.

The article itself confirms that the federation has not changed its view, with a quote from Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, in which he denies that the federation was backing down in its opposition of the Bill, but that it was discussing a way forward with an ANC study group, and that "we want the information Bill to have the public-interest clause", and that "If the Bill does not address the issue of public interest, we are prepared to go to the Constitutional Court".

This is another issue on which there is total unanimity within COSATU. Yet the author, again without any evidence to back it up says "It is speculated that the federation is deeply divided on the Bill and wants to tread carefully in opposing it".

Relying again on "some of the [unnamed] union federation's members" the author claims that there is "a feeling in Cosatu that the Bill is a sensitive area and needs to be handled carefully in the public arena to ensure that everyone in Cosatu is brought with [sic] and to ensure divisions do not arise in the year of Mangaung". "So there are lots of sensitivities to manage." 

Despite having not one attributable source to back it up, the article alleges that "Cosatu affiliates such as the National Union of Mineworkers, National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union and a section of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) were being lobbied by the South African Communist Party (SACP) to support the Bill. The unions for metalworkers, municipal workers and a different section of Sadtu remained strongly opposed to the Bill".

It further claims that "another Cosatu insider" said that there was "a lot of wheeling and dealing" behind the scenes, spearheaded mainly by the SACP, to convince Cosatu affiliates to support the Bill".

There is no truth in any of this. The COSATU CEC in November 2011 unanimously endorsed the federation's stance on the POSIB and nothing has changed. We are now in the process of consulting the ANC in the NCOP, where our submission on the bill will be presented and debated

Both articles seek to create the impression, based solely on anonymous ‘sources' that the federation is deeply divided. This is completely untrue and this was brilliantly affirmed by the massive display of unity and militancy on the streets of South Africa on 7 March. COSATU has never been more united.

Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, March 9 2012

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