The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is to discuss a proposal to put its top leaders on the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) national executive committee as ex officio members, when its central executive committee meets at the end of this month.
The discussions form part of preparations for Cosatu’s congress in September when it will elect new leaders and pass resolutions on a variety of matters, including its relationship with the ANC.
The proposals are contained in a political discussion paper tabled for debate two weeks ago. The proposals will now be formulated into draft resolutions, which if accepted by the central executive committee, will be among those discussed at congress.
The suggestion that Cosatu leaders should sit on the ANC national executive committee in their capacity as worker leaders takes a different approach to the vexed "two hats debate", which arises perennially in the tripartite alliance.
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In the past, due to overlapping membership in the ANC, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP), many leaders have served in more than one structure simultaneously. Since Cosatu and the SACP also assert themselves as independent of the ANC, overlapping leadership has led to confusion in mandates when three organisations take divergent positions.
On the other hand, Cosatu is well aware of the advantages of its members serving in ANC structures as a way to extend its influence. The federation has a policy that its members should "swell the ranks" of the ANC and are encouraged to stand for election in ANC structures.
While Cosatu has at past congresses fiercely debated whether to maintain or break its alliance with the ANC, the indications are that this time the debate will be different and will focus on finding the best form that the alliance should take.
The suggestion that Cosatu maintains a quota of ex officio representatives on the ANC’s national executive committee is an attempt to "maximise the benefit of Cosatu leaders’ participation … but minimise the problems of confusion of mandates", the document reads.
If a senior Cosatu leader were to be elected to positions in the ANC as an individual, it would be difficult for him or her not to take responsibility for ANC decisions, even where these conflict with Cosatu decisions. But, if the leader were elected to the ANC executive as a Cosatu leader, then he or she could make it known in cases where views differ.
The inevitable confusion of mandates due to "two hats" is the reason that Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has consistently declined nomination for an ANC leadership position.
The quota option was first floated in 2007, by Cosatu’s September Commission — an internal organisational review of its strategy. However, it was not seriously pursued with the ANC. If it is accepted by Cosatu’s central executive committee this time, it will have to be put to the ANC for discussion before its policy conference next month.
Although Mr Vavi has made it clear that he will not stand for election to the ANC executive in his individual capacity, it is highly likely other national office-bearers of Cosatu will do so. This makes it an important issue for Cosatu to address if it is to manage relations with the ANC successfully.
While the quota option has clear advantages for Cosatu, the se are not as clear for the ANC, which has used the two-hats phenomenon to contain opposition from alliance members and subdue communists and former trade unionists.