Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali says the labour federation is at risk of divisions because of external political issues — including the fate of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the ANC.
He said the debate around Cosatu’s agenda at the national congress in September could "destabilise" the labour federation if "it has to come to a push" and there is no consensus among the workers.
Over 2,000 Cosatu members will decide whether to support the SACP’s resolution to contest elections on its own and will analyse the ANC’s performance since the 2014 elections before deciding whether to support the party at the 2019 polls.
However, Ntshalintshali admitted that the union federation finds itself in a predicament.
"We need to decide at the congress if by choosing something different are we not going to divide Cosatu in terms of politics, and in that context ... making Cosatu apolitical, with other people saying we don’t want to be divided," he said.
IT’S GOING TO BE A STALEMATE, AND WE SAID ANY PARTY MUST BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO MAKE ITS OWN DECISION.
Cosatu has been in recovery mode since its last congress in 2015 following years of bitter infighting that led to the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA and the dismissal of former general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
While fraught relations among affiliates have since been mended, the question of where Cosatu’s political home will be if the ANC continues to neglect its commitments to workers could revive old rifts. The SACP decided at its 2017 congress that it would contest elections independently despite it being in an alliance with the ANC and Cosatu. The party has told the labour federation it will only put the resolution into action if Cosatu declares its support.
"Between us and the SACP, it’s a question of who must take the decision first. Cosatu said to the party: make your decision. The party said we don’t want to make a decision unless we know where Cosatu stands. Now it’s going to be a stalemate, and we said any political party must be brave enough to make its own decision," he said.
The party has since backtracked on the decision — for now — saying after the July alliance political council meeting that it would continue campaigning for the ANC ahead of the 2019 elections.
There is also the possibility that because the 2019 elections are so close Cosatu members could decide to put the decision on the SACP on hold, a turn of events that would allow the federation a "much needed breather", according to the general secretary.
Ntshalintshali explained that Cosatu is in no position to cast aspersions on the performance of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration in relation to the protection of workers’ interests as he has yet to win an election and appoint his own cabinet.
He said Ramaphosa is ridding the government of former president Jacob Zuma’s legacy. If the congress delegates endorse this perspective, the ANC would still not receive unconditional support from Cosatu.