WILL Zwelinzima Vavi survive next week’s Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) congress as its general secretary? I ask because there’s been some chatter about his role, and it is clear he has angered some of the unions in the federation.
Vavi is certainly an intriguing character. A committed communist, he is one of the few who really subscribes to the ideology formulated by Karl Marx and fleshed out by Ilyich Lenin. That makes him especially dangerous. Unlike most of his colleagues, he’s a true believer. Not for him the charade of subscribing to the ideals while scrabbling for the rewards of the free enterprise system — no crocodile shoes, big motor cars, first class travel, government contracts. No. Vavi qualifies on these counts as a modern-day saint.
But he also insists on speaking his mind. He thinks the government he was instrumental in putting in place has failed conspicuously to deliver what he expected. He may even have thought President Jacob Zuma was his to command. If so, he made a blunder — JZ is concerned with JZ.
Vavi has attacked the government over wanton corruption, not once but often. He is furious about the role of tenderpreneurs. And he has played lead roles in the struggles over the Protection of State Information Bill and the tolling farrago on Gauteng’s freeways.
At one stage, Vavi said he wouldn’t mind a senior position in the ruling party but he hasn’t exactly made himself popular with those whose votes matter. And he has been at Cosatu’s helm for 13 years, which many would argue is far too long. He would probably agree, but the issue is what he will do next. I can’t see him as a tame party apparatchik.
But there’s one thing for which we should not forgive him, despite many being truly grateful for the principled position he has taken on corruption and state secrecy — that is the inflexibility of labour in SA. He simply will not listen when he is told that labour laws and regulations are inhibiting economic growth.
As I reported recently, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) latest Global Competitiveness Index rates this country stone last out of 144 surveyed in labour-employer relations. The truth of that can be seen in the Marikana disaster and the happy time Julius "The Mouth" Malema is making of it. How does Vavi explain our role as 140th in flexibility of wage determination, or 143rd in hiring and firing practices?
He will probably say the WEF isn’t to be trusted — it was born out of Western economies and is a tool of capitalists with imperialist tendencies. But he won’t escape so easily. On his watch, trade unions have become institutions of the labour aristocracy and, though he says he’s worried about the poor and unemployed, Cosatu’s stand on labour policy give this the lie.
If Vavi does indeed go, he will leave behind an organisation that has conspicuously failed to achieve its membership target of 4-million set in 2003 (it currently has 2.2-million members). Five member unions are under serious attack by others — the Communications Workers Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the South African Defence Force Union, the State and Allied Workers Union, and the Transport and Allied Workers Union. Together, these unions have more than 500,000 members. It is time for Cosatu to be led by new blood with new ideas, less rooted in the communist idiom.
DO YOU remember what happened the last time an African National Congress (ANC) organ held a conference in Mangaung? It was the 23rd National Congress of the ANC Youth League in July 2008.
The gathering was punctuated by bitter infighting between factions led by Julius Malema and Saki Mofokeng. Complaints that Malema and his supporters had gerrymandered the election resulted in a general roustabout. Having secured the position, Malema told the congress in his closing address that the conduct expected of cadres "does not include exposing bare bums and hurling chairs at leadership and fellow delegates".
Mofokeng, who has emerged as a contender for a modest position in the acrimonious contest gathering pace ahead of the ANC’s Free State provincial conference, must be tickled pink by Malema’s downfall.
THE latest Reserve Bank bulletin is jaw-dropping. The current account deficit over the second quarter was a frightening R200bn — 6.4% of gross domestic product. It is the largest quarterly current account deficit recorded. That comes on top of the R152bn deficit in the first quarter and R110bn in the last quarter of last year.
You can argue now that the export sector of the economy is in deep recession. And, as Econometrix suggests, even large-scale inflows into the bond market may not be enough to prevent the rand from sliding. When that happens, inflation becomes an all too real bogeyman. Far from making further reductions in the interest rate, the Bank is likely to raise it.
Just take a look at what the third quarter portends. Platinum production has fallen flat on its face; gold output is also being threatened. Household debt has grown, savings have declined, productivity is a joke. Summarised, we are spending a lot more than we produce. The currency is now, says Econometrix, "significantly more vulnerable to weakness than it has been at any time in the last three years".
Capital inflows have run at R15bn-R30bn a quarter, but that’s nowhere near sufficient to cover a current account deficit running at more than R500bn a year. If this carries on we are going to have to find other ways of financing it — perhaps waving a begging bowl in front of the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde.
This is what happens when a country loses its way as SA has in the last three years. When people talk idly about leadership and the lack of it, what it means can be seen in the numbers — and ours are shocking.
In the absence of genuine leadership, others have taken the gap. They have preached irresponsible codswallop — but they are being listened to and, in some cases, acted upon. The world’s response will be to shrug — and devalue the currency.
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