Better days: President Jacob Zuma, right, leads tripartite alliance leaders Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande in song at a May Day rally at Galeshewe Stadium in Kimberley, Northern Cape, in 2015.Picture: SUPPLIED
Better days: President Jacob Zuma, right, leads tripartite alliance leaders Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande in song at a May Day rally at Galeshewe Stadium in Kimberley, Northern Cape, in 2015.Picture: SUPPLIED

The future of the ANC-led tripartite alliance hangs in the balance.

A key feature of post-1994 SA politics has been the erosion of the alliance between the ANC, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu). It has worsened under President Jacob Zuma’s watch. For the past year the alliance has existed on paper only.

The SACP recently fought a by-election for the first time — in Metsimaholo in the Free State.

How will next week’s ANC electoral conference affect the alliance at the 2019 general elections and beyond? Cosatu was first off the mark in endorsing deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency. Its large unions such as Nehawu led the way and are key agitators for the SACP to contest elections under the red flag.

Ramaphosa is by no means Cosatu’s ideal candidate: it has a bone to pick with him over his endorsement of the National Development Plan (NDP). Rejection of the NDP also led to a split in Cosatu and the expulsion of metalworkers’ affiliate, Numsa.

Still, Ramaphosa is more acceptable to Cosatu than his rival Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who it believes would be an extension of Zuma.

But if she wins, the SACP will hold a special congress to reaffirm its decision to contest future polls. Cosatu would canvass members over whether to back the SACP or stick with the ANC.

It remains to be seen whether the SACP under Blade Nzimande has the backbone to cut loose from a relationship which has rewarded its leaders.

Any further loss of ANC support at the 2019 polls (which is expected if Dlamini-Zuma triumphs this month) would force Cosatu and the SACP into a radical rethink.

The SACP on Sunday declared that it would be a "mistake for [it] to over-invest expectations in the [ANC] conference". It was at pains to say it was not endorsing any particular candidate. Even so, it boils down to which candidate would be more amenable to reconfiguring the alliance.

This is simply an unknown for the SACP and Cosatu at this stage.

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