Key Ally to South Africa's ANC Seeks to Limit President's Powers

  • Cosatu wants proper consultation on reshuffling of ministers
  • Labor federation is backing Cyril Ramaphosa for ANC leader

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is seeking to alter the balance of power in its alliance with the ruling African National Congress and wants the party to change its constitution to limit the president’s power to reshuffle the nation’s cabinet.

“The ANC constitution must be amended to tell the president of the ANC what he can do,” Bheki Ntshalintshali, the general secretary of the country’s biggest labor group, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office on Tuesday. “The ANC constitution should say even that if the law allows it, its president in government will not make decisions alone.”

Cosatu and the South African Communist Party have accused President Jacob Zuma of alienating the ANC’s allies by spurning consultation and making cabinet changes that knocked the rand and bonds and prompted credit rating downgrades. A split in the alliance could harm the ANC’s chances in elections in 2019.

While the communist party has said it’s considering contesting elections separately, Cosatu is seeking to change the structure of the alliance. The nation’s president has the power to change ministers, but the ruling party should ensure it’s done in consultation with the party’s other leaders and its allies, according to Ntshalintshali.

“We must reconfigure the alliance,” he said. “The alliance must be the political center, in other words we must be equal partners.”

Waning Majority

Cosatu and the SACP are backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in the race to succeed Zuma as leader of the ANC next month. Zuma wants former African Union Commission Chairwoman, and his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to take the position.

The president has reshuffled his cabinet twice this year, with the firing of Pravin Gordhan in March leading to S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings cutting the nation’s credit rating to junk. The dropping of Blade Nzimande, the secretary-general of the communist party, as higher education minister last month brought the alliance to the brink of “disintegration,” the SACP said.

The ANC has dominated South African politics since Nelson Mandela led it to power to end apartheid in 1994 and its new leader will likely become president of Africa’s most-industrialized economy in 2019. Its majority has waned though, as Zuma’s administration has been rocked by allegations of corruption. The party won about 54.5 percent support in a local government vote last year, its worst electoral performance.

Cosatu is concerned about the risk of the ANC losing more support and being forced into a coalition, the federation’s Second Deputy President Zingiswa Losi said in the same interview.

“Coalition governments sometimes don’t bring stability, that is why we continue to urge the ANC to rise above things that are not taking the country forward,” she said. “We hope members of the ANC will help us in picking leaders of integrity.”

— With assistance by Rene Vollgraaff, and Ana Monteiro

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