ANALYSIS: Was Cosatu’s Ntshalintshali hoodwinked by big business?  


Clyde Ramalaine

William Clay is accredited for the often-used adage, “This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” We lived through this when strange bedfellows namely Cosatu, SACP and business teamed up and abandoned ideology, rhetoric, symbolism and core cause because of a collective interest in an immediate takeover of a new president.

Africa News 24-7 on Wednesday broke an exclusive story on comments attributed to the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Bheki Ntshalintshali. Ntshalintshali, it is claimed, at the recently held ANC Manifesto Workshop said, “We were approached by the mining industry to get rid of corruption and to get rid of the president. We did that and now all we get back from big business is retrenchments.”

Some may argue that given the anonymity of the Africa News 24-7 sources, the claim could well be fabricated and therefore reduced to the usual fake news dustbin. Yet, the words of Ntshalintshali as captured in an interview with African News 24-7 warrants engaging.

When contacted by Africa News 24-7, Ntshalintshali confirmed a meeting between some Cosatu leaders and big Business held at Magaliesberg in 2017, His own words,Yes, it is true that a meeting took place and it is true that Sdumo Dlamini was not there. However, when they say that we were paid by big business it’s all lies.

“It was not a secret meeting and many of our members and even the former president was aware. It was a breakaway kind of meeting that was inclusive of key business and economic players to map out a way forward in addressing issues such as investment into the economy and job creation. We even issued a statement by both Cosatu and some of the other organisations that were present, and we informed the ANC as alliance partner on what we had decided.

“The main issue was about jobs, there was no money that exchanged hands. It was people working together, brainstorming to try and address the challenges facing our economy.”

According to the sources of Africa News 24-7, this meeting between strange bedfellows held in Magaliesberg as confirmed by Ntshalintshali was key in Cosatu’s ultimate decision to endorse Ramaphosa, a take-over to be attained through a Zuma removal. We must also accept that meetings between organised labour and the owners of the means of production are not an unfamiliar occurrence.

In his response to Africa News-24-7, Ntshalintshali also said, “Now that Zuma is no longer there, why is there a strike on investment? I was posing this question in a debate. Business needs to tell us because they were using this as a pretext for the lack of investment in the economy. They raised issues such as uncertainty and corruption. Now that we have a new ANC leadership and now that we have a new deal, they need to tell us that here is the money that is going to be invested. However, what we are seeing is the question of massive retrenchments which is hypocritical of business because they are now shifting the goal posts.”

The central question remains, is there merit for a case of collusion between Cosatu and business herein understood as the mining industry in the removal of president Zuma?  What did business tell Cosatu stands between SA as a prosperous job-generating economy where investments flow readily and freely from abroad? Why did Cosatu not trust its own analysis?

If we are going to attempt lending credence to the Cosatu general secretary’s alleged comments, a possible good place to start is to look at a set of chronicled events with a litany of intermittent statements in particular for the period November 2016 to February 2018. An adumbrated reflection on Cosatu’s behaviour may just help us to validate and understand the comments of Ntshalintshali since we can only rely on contextualisation to assist us in this regard.

It all started when Cosatu decided to be public in directing the ANC on its choice for its next president. Under normal circumstances, alliance partners though independent of each other seek to influence one another. By November 2016, Cosatu endorsed the deputy president as its preferred candidate to lead the ANC once President Jacob Zuma’s ANC tenure ended in December 2017. There was on the surface nothing wrong with this endorsement.

While there may have been simmering uneasiness in alliance ranks, the first true sign of a strange campaign showed itself when Cosatu’s intention to have Deputy President Ramaphosa elected took on another dimension as evidenced by its April 2017, Central Executive Committee.

At this meeting, a decision was adopted to prohibit the ANC president from addressing its gatherings. It’s statement read, “Cosatu no longer believes that the president is the right person to unite and lead the movement, the Alliance and country. We think that after all his undeniable contribution to both the movement and government, the time has arrived for him to step down and allow the country to be led forward by a new collective at a government level. We no longer believe in his leadership abilities and we shall be communicating that decision to our ally, the ANC.” This decision was actualised in its May 2017, Labour programme of events.

Cosatu’s May 1, 2017 Workers Day main event hosted in Bloemfontein, adopted the tactics of booing and heckling of ANC President Zuma. So, despite President Zuma’s arrival at the Cosatu Workers Day Rally, he was prohibited from addressing the gathering. So intense and desperate were some of Cosatu’s leadership to see Zuma removed that they were willing to make history. That history is now documented as the Bloemfontein event being the first time in its existence the organised labour federation was forced to end its main Workers Day programme without any of the tripartite allies able to address workers.

Cosatu now registered an open hostility towards the ANC president and those it claimed were aligned with him. The noteworthy thing here is that beyond a Cosatu, which is entitled to influence ANC elections with due respect, we now saw a Cosatu demanding an SA president’s removal. The contradiction here was Zuma had already indicated he will not seek a third term as ANC president. Meaning the campaigning was among those who had lifted their hands. It was now aligning itself with the high-heeled business sponsored pseudo-civil society formation Save SA.

By June 2017, Cosatu informed SA it was planning a national shutdown to force Zuma’s resignation. Cosatu was not engaging in normal attempts of influencing an ANC December conference outcome, it was now engaged in an anti-Zuma campaign.

On September 27, 2017, Cosatu staged countrywide marches with a statement that singled out state capture as the enemy of humanity. It amplified calls for a Zuma recall. The natural Ramaphosa election campaign long ago had a taken on a strange twist, one purely premised on an immediate Zuma removal for Cosatu.

By October 2017, with the firing of SACP Secretary-General Blade Nzimande from his position as Minister of Higher Education and a visibly annoyed and long vocal SACP leadership, the campaign had reached its crescendo although there were no guarantees December would deliver a Ramaphosa ANC presidency.

By February 9, Cosatu was telling the ANC elected president to be decisive with the former president while Ramaphosa was busy with transition talks.

It can therefore comfortably be argued that when the DA sponsored motions failed in parliament and similar big business sponsored “civil society formation” marches equally failed, Cosatu was the torch bearer of an original big business agenda, namely a Zuma removal. The Magaliesburg meeting between some Cosatu leaders and big business could, therefore, be contextualised against this backdrop.

What then brought about this strange political agreement of organised labour and business? Common interest as you guessed. They agreed on two things: Jacob Zuma must go and Ramaphosa should immediately take over. This agreement came interspersed by personal leadership interest of three strange bed fellows.

Cosatu’s general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, was at pains to tell South Africa that it knows Ramaphosa and how the latter gave up his life as a young attorney to start the National Union of Mineworkers. With this background, Cosatu believed its candidate must be rewarded for his role in forming organised labour. Business again felt very comfortable to have its billionaire and vested candidate be installed as a means to direct the ANC in its choice for leadership.

If the claims are true that the Cosatu leadership is in disarray and not seeing eye to eye, it is not new neither would it be strange. The organised labour federation has long been usurped by personal political interest. The support of political leadership is seldom with workers interests at the centre. It is often if not always better understood in the personal interest of those who lead. It then is not strange to imagine that such collusion between Cosatu and big business with a common interest manifested in the campaign for Zuma’s removal.

A further claim is made of monies being paid for Cosatu’s support. We must also accept that it is possibly unfair to categorically state that money exchanged hands since evidence for such is not yet made. Though, on the other hand, it can be argued the role of money as advanced by the Ramaphosa statement in response to the Cosatu endorsement in November 2016, may contextualise and validate such claims.

Ramaphosa while very polite and circumspect in his responses, did say, “Money has come to play a very bad role in the ANC; people’s votes are bought and patronage has become the order of the day. All those deviant tendencies need to be curbed,” The then deputy president Ramaphosa was speaking of the buying of ANC votes without identifying those guilty of the practice.

We must, therefore, ask: can the natural deduction be made that an ANC contorted buying of support be extended to its alliance partners Cosatu, SACP and Sanco?  It is perhaps against this backdrop that the claims of monies paid by business to some in the Cosatu leadership must be understood or contextualised. We know that big business sponsored the essentially white-led marches. Are we, therefore, to assume there was no money on or under the table when it met with Cosatu’s leadership?

What then do we make of the words of Cosatu’s Ntshalintshali? Are these the words of a distraught partner in a collusion for Zuma’s removal who is now a sobering unionist finally awoken from the deception of what was sold to Cosatu by their strange partners, namely business?

Is Ntshalintshali speaking as a troubled or concerned official of South Africa’s once-mighty trade union federation or is he feeling betrayed in the proverbial chess game of the business of unionism?

How could Cosatu, as articulated by its general secretary Ntshalintshali, have been so naïve as to assume the real problem with investment in South Africa is simply understood in corruption and a Zuma presidency? Did he or those in the Cosatu leadership really expect the miracle of investment to happen the moment Zuma was removed, and if so, why?

Is the sobering reality of a failing economy on many fronts with a 2,2% GDP decline when it grew under Zuma until last year finally being understood for what it is?  Is the impending Eskom unbundling as prognosticated by special economic envoy Mcebisi Jonas (and the hastily concluded and forced R1,4-trillion REIPP project for 27 companies) beginning to sink in? Is the reality of job shedding that continues unabated and an almost R14 to the US dollar exposing the deception of promises of an economic sunshine once Zuma was removed? Is the hiked VAT and the increasingly exorbitant petrol price with its cascading effect on food prices confirming we are in the worst of times? Was its decision to endorse a minimum wage of R3,500 as sold to workers not the biggest betrayal of the workers’ cause?

What is the real reason for Ntshalintshali, the Zuma-removal spokesman of Cosatu, speaking up now? Was he really that naïve to believe those who met with Cosatu in Magaliesburg? Are these the first signs of a rethink on the part of the organised labour or is the business of unionism on display where personal interest of union leaders always supersedes that of the workers’ interest?

Did business again outfox Cosatu, in convincing it to bastardise its campaign for an ANC president? Did it sell the removal of Zuma under false pretences?


Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation