It might not look like it, but 2022 is a busy year politically in the context of the tripartite alliance’s leadership elections.
Throughout the year, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will hold nine provincial congresses. The South African Communist Party (SACP) has already held its 15th National Congress
And in December the ANC will convene its elective conference.
The SACP has shown that despite its rhetoric of communism, socialism and being the vanguard of the working class, they instead recycle old pro-rich leaders, have lost their ‘revolutionary zeal’ and have done little to improve the lives of ordinary people.
Instead, today’s SACP must be understood as a grooming place for pseudo-communists with aspirations of being called into government positions by big brother, the ANC.
Woe to the ideologically-inclined members who might have thought the 15th Congress was an opportunity for their party to go at it alone by leaving the alliance.
Cosatu: ideological struggle loses out to politics
I wish I could be optimistic that the upcoming Cosatu provincial congresses will concentrate on workers’ interests, give them a legitimate voice and advocate for social justice for all.
However I cannot, because those nine congresses’ fundamental features will be control and leadership.
For ordinary members of unions, a gathering like a provincial congress is an important opportunity to give input regarding climate change, the complexity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), insecure work and the growing gender unemployment and income gap. Such input and proposals could be further refined at Cosatu national congress or ‘workers parliament’ as it is often referred to. Regrettably, politics about the alliance leadership will take centre stage.
What will unfold is not the ideological struggle (likewise absent in the 15th SACP Congress) over social justice for the workers and policymaking that champions a better life for all.
Instead, what will occur is the election of leaders who will entrench Cosatu deeper in the alliance partnership, wiping out the last trace of autonomy the federation has left.
Likely, Cosatu provinces will not advance a position that calls for the federation to leave the alliance. They will follow the SACP’s logic and narrative that the only way to influence leadership contests in the ANC is to remain married to it. Thus, it effectively reduces the vanguard of the workers to what is now effectively the sub-committee of the ANC.
The ANC must deal with the aftermath of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference, where the faction aligned with former president Jacob Zuma emerged victorious.
Interestingly, it is clear that the step-aside rule will frame the approach taken by powerful groups within the ANC who are already lobbying for individuals in their factions. For example, the KZN conference not only adopted a review of the step-aside rule but loudly called for it to be scrapped.
Puzzlingly, at a glance, one would think that the rule was imposed on the ANC members, yet it is a party resolution that was collectively agreed on to preserve the party’s integrity.
Explicitly or implicitly, leaders were elected to challenge or call for the scrapping of the step-aside rule. This way, leadership contestation in December will attempt to return specific individuals into the power circle, retain the power of others, or revive fading relevance. If KZN is an indicator of what is coming, all eyes will be on the Free State provincial leadership battle.
Are we about to witness the return of the era of impunity, or will a radical break within the party occur? After all, too many seemingly influential leaders are affected and cannot contest leadership because of the resolution.
From 28 to 31 July the ANC will hold its 6th Policy Conference (PC). As with the SACP, and the ANC in KZN, so too will that gathering be less about policy, the economy, unemployment, Eskom, ideological proclamation and even the future of the movement, but more about individuals.
Yes, on the face of it, the ANC PC should be about crucial policies that drive the developmental state the party advocates …
But what you can expect to take place on the sidelines and along the corridors is the continuation of factional clashes, lobbying and slate politics shaped by control for access and distribution of resources and patronage.
Unquestionably, the step-aside resolution will be hotly contested, debated and even finalised this coming weekend at the policy conference [even though ANC chair Gwede Mantashe says the party won’t change the rule when it meets this weekend].
It seems incomprehensible that a party so increasingly factionalised will emerge united, let alone go to a conference with the notion of rebuilding itself.
Rather than the battle of ideas over the vision for a thriving society and democratic state, the ANC-led alliance has descended into conferences of chaos and uncertainty.