Ramaphosa can expect workers backlash at Cosatu congress

Fear has gripped President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inner circle as a hostile reception and a backlash against his administration at Cosatu’s congress tomorrow could have a negative impact on his bid for a second term.

Reliable sources have told Sunday World that some leaders around the president are courting union leaders behind the scenes to ensure that the president is not embarrassed by workers like he was on May Day.

“My fear is the reception he will receive. The president has not had a good relationship with the unions. It is a difficult relationship,” the leader, who is a member of the ANC national executive committee, said.

Concerns about how Ramaphosa will be treated at the Cosatu congress heightened after it emerged that workers are so angry, some are planning to pronounce that they will not endorse all presidential candidates of the ANC for the upcoming elective conference in December.

Ramaphosa is leading the race for a second term while former health minister Zweli Mkhize and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have thrown their names in the hat to challenge the president for the ANC throne.

A Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) member said Ramaphosa is facing a hostile reception from workers, and it is highly unlikely that anyone will sing his praises or throw their weight behind his bid for a second term.

“No one is going to pronounce on Cyril. It is risky. The discussion will be on dumping the ANC. Cyril is unpopular amongst the unions. The leadership of Cosatu will be careful to intervene because they are seeking re-election,” the leader said.

Another CEC member said there is deep disappointment in Ramaphosa among Cosatu affiliates, especially those in the public service, which constitute the largest chunk of the federation and the most influential in terms of the direction of the organisation.

These include the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru).

Nehawu withheld financial and resource support for the ANC’s local government elections last year to show their unhappiness with Ramaphosa’s administration.

This week, Popcru members marched on the Union Buildings against government’s latest wage offer of 3%, among other issues.

“There is a great disappoinment in Cosatu on Cyril. Even the CR17 grouping in Cosatu is complaining about his leadership. Any leader who stands behind Cyril will be heckled,” the leader said.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said: “We have a lot at stake leading up to the conference and we do not have the luxury of time to focus on ANC issues. For us the conference is for the feeling and anger of workers to be heard,” he said.

“Workers are bruised after what government has done to us, especially reneging on the 2018 wage agreement. Workers are also facing severe economic conditions with the rising (cost) of living,” he said.

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said although workers are angry, “we won’t be part of a plan to disrupt the president”.

In terms of the draft programme of the congress, Ramaphosa will deliver a message of support on behalf of the ANC just before lunch time after an opening address by Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi.

Following Ramaphosa’s booing in May, ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe complained about a lineup that has Cosatu speaking first and Ramaphosa last. He said the booing had been an orchestrated plan to embarrass the president and taint his image.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said they did not expect members to ambush guests.

“Since the booing of the president in May, we have addressed that and affiliates have a responsibility on how their members behave. Workers’ frustrations are real and genuine and they must use the congress to take decisions. If they say we must fight then, we will fight, but not during the congress.”

Fears about Ramaphosa’s reception at the Cosatu conference and what workers will say about his leadership and administration came as the ANC succession intensified.

Provincial executive committees (PECs) of the ANC in Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Gauteng have endorsed Ramaphosa’s second term.

However, ANC electoral committee chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe warned on Friday that the PECs were jumping the gun by announcing their preferred leaders ahead of the branches.

  • Meanwhile, Solly Phetoe, Cosatu’s deputy secretary, is set to replace Bheki Ntshalintshali as Cosatu’s general secretary.

It has emerged that although there is a strong push for Losi to also be ousted, Popcru has led the charge to save her.

Several Cosatu CEC members told Sunday World that there is consensus among the big affiliates that Phetoe should succeed Ntshalintshali.

Although he has been a Cosatu official since 1994, Ntshalintshali’s softspokennes, media-shy personality and advanced age are being cited as some of the reasons to remove him.

A CEC member said since Ntshalintshali’s election as the federation’s general secretary in 2018, the organisation has been seen as weak and lacking militancy in the public space.

The leader said South African Federation of Trade Union leaders, including Zwelinzima Vavi and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s Irvin Jim were outshining
Ntshalintshali in the public discourse.

“Under Bheki, Vavi is thriving. He (Ntshalintshali) is not competing in the public space. He doesn’t command that radicalness of a trade union leader,” the CEC member said.

Popcru and the South African Democratic Teachers Union are said to be behind Phetoe’s rise to the fulltime powerful position of general secretary.

In addition to interacting with officials of affiliates, a Cosatu general secretary also interacts with general secretaries of the ANC and South African
Communist Party through tripartite alliance secretariat.

Other officials who are expected to be re-elected include Mike Shingange, who is first deputy president, and treasurer Freda Oosthuysen.

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