South Africa’s Cosatu Says Keeping Zuma Avoids ANC ‘Bleeding’

Updated on
  • Cosatu says giving ANC rope to hang itself won’t work
  • Union group want more decisive action against violent protests

South African President Jacob Zuma will likely serve out his term despite being embroiled in allegations of graft because ousting him would damage the ruling party, according to the country’s biggest labor group, which is allied with the African National Congress.

The governing party was harmed by its decision to remove Thabo Mbeki as president in 2008 after he lost his position as its leader to Zuma and it won’t repeat the process, said Bheki Ntshalintshali, the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Jacob Zuma

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“From the bleeding it had when it recalled Thabo Mbeki and now again to recall someone who’s left with a few months to retire from the ANC, I think they will allow the natural processes to go through than creating more divisions within the movement,” he said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office on Thursday. “It’s too risky for them.”

Cosatu, which has 1.9 million members, played a key role in bringing Zuma to power and has continued to back him, even as civil-rights groups and opposition parties called for his removal from office following a finding by the nation’s highest court that he violated the constitution when he refused to pay back state funds spent on his private home. Zuma’s second term as ANC leader is due to end next year and his second and final term as president in 2019.

South Africa’s High Court has also ordered that corruption charges against Zuma that were dropped in 2009 be reinstated and he has been criticized for firing a respected finance minister in December and replacing him with a little-known lawmaker, causing the rand and government bonds to plunge. He backtracked four days later and appointed former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to the post, stabilizing markets.

The rand has fallen 21 percent against the dollar since the start of last year, and was 0.6 percent stronger at 14.6337 per dollar at 9:23 a.m. in Johannesburg on Friday.

“The mistake is for people to say: ‘We will just throw the rope to the ANC and the ANC must go and hang themselves,’” Sdumo Dlamini, Cosatu’s president, said in the same interview of demands made by the ANC’s opponents. “It doesn’t happen that way.”

Local Elections

The ANC, which has 62 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, has warded off several attempts by the opposition to have Zuma, 74, removed from office. The most recent followed a March 31 judgment by the Constitutional Court that he violated the law by failing to abide by the graft ombudsman’s directive to repay taxpayers’ money spent on a swimming pool, animal enclosures and other improvements to his home in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Zuma’s travails and mounting public anger because of a shortage of decent housing, electricity and other basic services may undermine support for the ANC in Aug. 3 local government elections. Three polls commissioned by broadcaster eNCA show the party is set to lose control of the capital, Pretoria, and Johannesburg, the commercial hub.

While Cosatu will back the ANC’s campaign, the party must act more decisively against ill-disciplined members who engage in violent protests and destroy property, the federation’s leaders said.

Violent Protests

Five people died last week when violence erupted in townships around Pretoria, after the ANC nominated lawmaker Thoko Didiza, a former minister of agriculture and public works, as its candidate for mayor of the Tshwane municipality, which includes Pretoria, instead of incumbent Kgosientso Ramokgopa. Shops were looted and 270 people were arrested.

“Sometimes the ANC says that it moves like an elephant,” Ntshalintshali said. “It moves slowly but when it moves, things are corrected. We think they have to move very swiftly and be able to give some discipline.”

The labor leaders also said that while they are in an alliance with the ANC, they have differences of opinion. Cosatu doesn’t back the National Development Plan, which the ANC plans to implement, because it doesn’t do enough to lift living standards for the black majority. They also criticized “patronage” within the party.

Twenty-two years after the end of white-minority rule, white households earn six times more than their black counterparts, income disparities remain among the highest in the world and 27 percent of the workforce is unemployed, government data shows. The National Development Plan, which was published in 2011 and aims at halving the unemployment rate, called for a review of labor laws to make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers.

Credit Rating

Cosatu is collaborating with the government and business leaders to try and protect the nation’s investment-grade credit rating. S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. both rank the country’s debt one level above junk and have warned that the rating could be cut unless more is done to foster growth and combat political and labor instability.

“Prolonged strikes, mainly in mining and some manufacturing sectors, combined with less flexible labor laws and high youth unemployment, continue to pose structural weaknesses to South Africa’s economy,” S&P said in a June 3 statement.

While the concerns of ratings agencies should be taken seriously, Cosatu won’t sacrifice workers’ rights to appease them, Dlamini said.

“Labor laws in this country are very weak and very, very flexible,” he said. “Sometimes the role of the ratings agencies is also a challenge when they simply do not allow us to build our own country and develop our country the way we see fit in South Africa.”

— With assistance by Antony Sguazzin, and Gordon Bell

(Updates with unemployment rate in fourth paragraph below Violent Protests subheadline.)
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