Cosatu’s affiliates will have to perform a fine balancing act when they elect the union federation’s new leadership at its September congress.
Insiders who spoke on condition of anonymity said Cosatu needed to balance politics with the needs of workers.
Some leaders of the federation’s affiliates said they were pursuing a mix of dynamic, experienced and resilient individuals to take up the top posts.
The new leadership will have the task of growing Cosatu’s membership, which has dwindled by 300,000 to 1.6-million since its last congress in 2015.
This will be Cosatu’s second congress since it expelled its biggest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, which had 300,000 members, and the first since it lost 100,000 members belonging to the disaffiliated Food and Allied Workers’ Union.
Cosatu is seeking to redefine itself politically. It threw its weight behind President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC’s national elective congress in December, but its posture is increasingly shifting as the weak economy continues to hit its membership hard.
Cosatu’s nomination process opened on Monday, allowing its 15 unions to propose candidates for president, general secretary and other key posts.
Cosatu could make history at the congress if it elects second deputy president Zingiswa Losi as its first woman president. Sources say unions are in agreement that she should be appointed in the role.
Losi, a member of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, is one of Cosatu’s most vocal leaders and made her mark in alliance politics when she ran for ANC deputy secretary-general in 2017, albeit unsuccessfully.
Although he would not discuss the names of candidates up for nomination, SA Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said the departure of Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini gave affiliates an opportunity to consider his deputies for the top post for the sake of continuity.
"The position [of president] is vacant because Sdumo asked to meet us in October 2017 to say he is not coming back and that we should make sure there is a smooth transition."
Other union leaders, who did not want to be named, said there was a push to retain Cosatu’s secretariat in its current form, despite concerns that general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali and deputy Solly Phetoe were "not dynamic enough".
Ntshalintshali said last week he would stand for the position again if nominated.
Mike Shingange, the first deputy president of Cosatu’s biggest union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, was being considered to take over from Losi to serve alongside Tyotyo James if he sought to continue, the sources said.
Ntshalintshali said the Cosatu leadership was hoping the nomination process would not rob the congress of an opportunity to discuss important policy issues. "We say, get the policy correct and then get the people to drive it," he said.