President Jacob Zuma with Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini. Picture: SOWETAN
President Jacob Zuma with Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini. Picture: SOWETAN

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) took on President Jacob Zuma on Friday, calling him "insincere" for denying the existence of a tradition in the ANC that saw the party’s deputy president succeed its president.

"While we agree with him that there is no existing policy on the succession, we find it curious that he argues against the existence of a practice that the deputy presidents succeeds the presidents in the ANC, since the unbanning in 1990," it said. "Cosatu would have deeply appreciated it if the president of the ANC had shared this understanding and wisdom with the nation 10 years ago in 2007."

After serving as ANC deputy president, Zuma was elected party president in 2007, succeeding Thabo Mbeki.

Cosatu said "millions" of ANC and alliance members came out to support Zuma at the time using the same argument that it was customary for deputies to succeed presidents in the ANC. "We find it insincere that he never spoke out then and he never saw anything wrong with that argument at the time."

Last year, Cosatu publicly endorsed deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the ANC, based on this being the party’s tradition. However, during a radio interview on Thursday, Zuma said there was no such tradition.

The president also said he believed the ANC and the country were ready for a woman president, indicating that he will support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him in December.

Zuma’s comments came soon after ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Wednesday that the party had to ask itself difficult questions if it did not elect its deputy president to succeed the outgoing president.

This week the ANC sought to quell succession talk among its members, structures and alliance partners, but has not been very successful as a number of lists purporting to be the preferred candidates for the different factions continue to emerge.

Cosatu was not buying Zuma’s explanation that although Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Mbeki were replaced by their deputies, this was merely an "accident of history". "It is very dangerous for leaders to play too cute with the traditions and principles that have united and served the movement and stood the test of time for short-term gains and narrow political interest."

It also warned the entire ANC leadership against what it described as an "interminable and inconsistent series of arguments" meant to malign those seen as opponents, while glorifying others. "The ANC’s political neck is in the hangman’s noose because of the myopia of those entrusted with leading," Cosatu said. "Unless the movement abandons this unsettling tendency of treating disagreements as warfare, we can forget about achieving the much needed unity at the 2019 elections."

Cosatu rejected "attempts to censure" it on the ANC succession debate, saying the ANC needed to learn to listen and engage with the alliance without characterising its actions and views as impertinent.

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