Nationalisation is the only thing that can bring South Africa out of a “corrupt” capitalist economy, the Congress of SA Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) said on Saturday.
“Nationalisation can bolster our economy and it will always ensure development,” Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told journalists at a seminar on Cuba, in Kempton Park, Johannesburg.
“The ANC is looking into its benefits and we know that it will be an important contributor to prosperity in this country.”
The ANC on Friday said it did not have any policies on the nationalisation of the mines.
“It is misleading to say the ANC has agreed to nationalisation of the mines…it is not a foregone conclusion that there will be nationalisation but we are not opposed to nationalisation,” ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said.
Vavi said that the Freedom Charter, which was pioneered by the ANC in 1955, stated that the wealth and resources of the country needed to be distributed amongst its citizens.
“This is why nationalising our mines will bring money to our people, and not just benefit and profit people in the private sector.”
He said that South Africa would move forward economically if it followed the example of socialist countries like Cuba.
“Those who criticise socialism don’t look at how many lessons our country can take from the successes of Cuba. It took them just one year to clean up illiteracy in their country, and now they also have a surplus of doctors.
“We are the complete opposite of them, and we have to think about how a small country, with no resources, is doing better than us,” Vavi said.
Vavi and Cosatu, who have a delicate relationship with the ANC Youth League, who have driven a radical campaign for nationalisation, led by its controversial president Julius Malema.
Vavi and Cosatu have fostered a closer relationship with the league and Malema, with the affiliation initially based on shared views on certain policies.
Working with the league
At the trade union coalition’s central committee meeting last month, Cosatu was less harsh than expected on the league.
“Despite the ANCYL’s political inconsistency, such as support for huge salaries and bonuses to leaders of state-owned enterprises, the youth league on many other policy questions remains our ally,” it said. “This includes its stance on labour brokering, nationalisation, rejection of the youth wage subsidy, strong support for the progressive elements of the Polokwane resolutions and the manifesto.”
The report called for Cosatu to continue to foster its relationship with the league.
“It would be a mistake to allow a cooling-off of our relationship with the ANCYL because its leaders still have to master the art of managing disagreement at public level. Cosatu has always enjoyed a special relationship with the young lions.”
More points of convergence between Cosatu and the youth league include its members being “on the receiving end of unemployment, poverty, casualisation, labour brokering and HIV/Aids, and therefore represent[ing] the most marginalised in society”, the report said.
Don’t tar all league members
Cosatu should be careful, the report said, of tarring all youth league members with the same brush.
“We must avoid two extremes. First, we cannot afford to paint every ANCYL leader with the same brush and label … [them as] tenderpreneurs. Second, we cannot close our eyes to the reality that some within the ANCYL are driving an opportunistic programme devoid of any principle, aimed at presenting themselves as custodians of the correct congress line.”
The report explains that although Cosatu helped to develop a paper on nationalisation, the youth league put the federation in an “awkward position” when it narrowed its focus to the mining industry.
“In spite of our advice [the league] kept a narrow focus on the nationalisation of the mines. This put Cosatu in an awkward position. We did not agree with this approach. In the process, the ANCYL opened itself to counterassault, as its position was seen to be an unprincipled attempt to use the legitimate demands of the Freedom Charter to save the precarious position of the black mining tycoons who were in trouble after the global economic recession.”
A Vavi sympathiser said Cosatu would help the league reach greater “sophistication and strategy” in its stance on nationalisation. A possible collision between the league and Cosatu on the retention of Jacob Zuma as ANC leader was also discussed.
Vavi has been careful not to be seen to support the youth league publicly. Cosatu insiders told the M&G that his line of argument in the commissions of last month’s central committee was sympathetic to the youth league’s position.
Sharp differences with SACP
They said Vavi differed sharply with South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande’s reference to youth league “demagoguery”.
“He [Vavi] argued that not all ANCYL people are demagogues. He said this because he is aware that some delegates were prepared to reject anything associated with Julius Malema.
“The ANCYL’s first draft on nationalisation came from Cosatu and this irked the SACP. Why give the document to the youth league and not to the SACP as your vanguard?
“It’s clear that Vavi is pushing the youth-league agenda. If you look at his report, it is critical of Zuma and Mantashe. The line he is pushing is one of regime change,” said an alliance leader.
In a confidential report Nzimande prepared ahead of the central committee meeting, the SACP leader accused Cosatu of “flirting with the demagogic populist”, a reference to Malema.
Nzimande also accused Cosatu of positioning itself outside the state, as a watchdog.
“In this way, the trade union movement is positioned as a left-wing watchdog over the state, the same paradigm, but with a left emphasis, as the self-appointed role of the Democratic Alliance and the media,” he said.
It had endeared Cosatu to the media, Nzimande said. “In seeking to position Cosatu in this way, leading trade union personalities enjoy a great deal of liberal media glorification.” — Sapa and M&G