Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has poured cold water on the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) economic transformation resolutions and its adoption of the National Development Plan (NDP) at the Mangaung conference, saying they are not a "radical economic shift".

The federation’s brutal critique of the adoption of the NDP and the economic resolutions by its ally are contained in a draft document issued by Cosatu’s secretariat on Thursday. It has been distributed to affiliates ahead of Cosatu’s central executive committee meeting in May to craft a final position.

Cosatu’s stance will not only heighten tensions within the alliance, but also deepen the divisions in the federation itself, with Cosatu chief Zwelinzima Vavi under fire from affiliates who charge that he is too critical of the ANC government.

The draft document says the Mangaung resolutions on economic policy, have "at best" changed little that was agreed upon at the previous conference in Polokwane. The "worrying" adoption of the NDP contradicted the notion of a radical shift promised elsewhere in ANC resolutions.

The draft document is an indication that there is a strong push within Cosatu for the ANC’s labour ally to reject the NDP, adopted by the party and the state as the centrepiece of policymaking for the next 20 years.

Cosatu’s second-largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, has already rejected the plan outright, describing it as a "right-wing" document that mirrors Democratic Alliance policies. Another affiliate, the Food and Allied Workers’ Union this week also raised objections to the NDP, calling for an alliance summit on it.

The Cosatu draft concludes that after Mangaung, concern has emerged over the ANC’s political posture, which it says favours capital over labour. "The movement has politically chosen to place emphasis on particularly those issues which are perceived to be taking on the labour movement, for example the youth wage subsidy, violence in strikes and education as an essential service, as well as punting the NDP."

This, it adds, "as opposed to signalling their strategic intention to embark on a serious programme of economic transformation and to take on capital".

The document says the ANC has created an expectation of fundamental change in the economy through its having characterised the next phase in the country’s transition as including a "radical economic shift". However, decisions taken at Mangaung failed to "create confidence that a coherent strategic shift" was under way.

In the conclusion of the 57-page document, Cosatu questions how it would manage the heightened call for such a radical second phase in the 2014 elections. "Can Cosatu effectively mobilise workers behind an elections campaign with the current lingering problems everywhere?"

The ANC adopted a "cautious" approach to changing macroeconomic policies in its economic transformation resolutions, worded in "deliberately ambiguous language", it says.

The document points to seven issues that have emerged recently — including the farm workers’ strike, transformation of the apartheid wage structure, control of strategic commodities and transforming the tender system — with only two of them featuring in discussions at Mangaung.

On the issue of strategic minerals, there was a "desperate attempt" to assure investors that nationalisation was off the table, but no coherent framework for regulation was advanced. "Therefore, defensive responses to Amplats (Anglo American Platinum) retrenchments, for example, through threats to withdraw mining licences, when the necessary regulatory mechanisms... are not in place, is correctly seen as panic-driven posturing," it says.

ANC leaders threatened to withdraw the mining licences of Amplats after it emerged that the multinational company aimed to retrench about 14,000 workers as part of a restructuring plan.

The draft document says "powerful interests" inside and outside the movement are resisting progress and preventing it from taking "bold decisions".

"The NDP then becomes a useful cover, or umbrella, under the notion of a broad vision ... to water down the need for a radical economic shift in core strategic areas."

The document is likely to feature as a proxy in internal battles raging in the federation. The criticism against Mr Vavi by fellow leaders in the federation is hinged on his forthright and often scathing criticism of the governing party. While Mr Vavi prefers to be blunt, other leaders, including Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, opt for a "constructive, but critical" approach.

In its conclusion, the author poses hard questions about Cosatu’s ability to push for the radical economic shift, which has been promised, but is unlikely due to the NDP. The document admits that the "federation is at its weakest point " and questions whether its allies would "take it seriously" due to its deep divisions.