In spite of growing criticism of President Cyril Ramaphosa amid calls for him to start making decisions to avoid a state of paralysis, the ANC’s alliance partners – Cosatu and the SACP – remain in his corner.
The trade union federation and the communist party – whose members backed Ramaphosa in his bid the ANC presidency in 2017 – have expressed confidence in his ability to turn the economy around as Ramaphosa prepares to deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday.
Ramaphosa and his government are heading for a collision with workers’ interest groups, as the president grapples with how to deal with several ailing state-owned enterprises, most notably Eskom and SAA.
The president’s comments on plans for the two parastatals will be closely watched on Thursday night.
Cosatu said it still believes in the ability of the president and his government to lead the country in the right direction. It noted that this wasn’t an easy task.
“Like when (Nelson) Mandela was released from prison, you expected everything to change in a year, it did not go that way,” Cosatu’s general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali told News24, referring to this week’s 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail.
“People expected miracles.”
The trade unionist pointed out that Ramaphosa has only been at the helm for two years.
The SACP also believes Ramaphosa should be given more time.
However, the communists warn the president not to suffer from “hyperbulia”, a disease its first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila describes as an “inability to take decisions”.
“His indecision in favour of the masses is actually a decision for the rampant capitalist force. We want him to get out of that [mindset] and act decisively on behalf of the people who elected him to office,” said Mapaila, making it clear the party expected Ramaphosa to support those who backed him.
Mapaila says the moments when Ramaphosa acted decisively, was likely when most sectors of society, including big business and the working class, agreed on the action which needed to be taken.
The SACP chief listed several instances in which the president moved swiftly and decisively, including cleaning up the South African Revenue Service, the Public Investment Corporation, the National Prosecuting Authority and other arms of the security cluster, which were all said to be complicit in widespread corruption during former president Jacob Zuma’s tenure.
Mapaila accused the private sector of wanting to “finish the working class”, which he said was “literally flat on the ground”.
“We are simply saying don’t do it. These people who are lying flat on the ground with their necks available to be axed by big capital want you to save them,” said Mapaila.
He said Ramaphosa had to constantly remind himself of those who put him in power.
The millions of unemployed South Africans without jobs are a major concern for the ANC’s alliance partners.
Mapaila told News24 the SACP wanted to see a “ramped up” public investment in strategic economic sectors, with a specific focus on social infrastructure, adding this would also give many unemployed youth entry into the world of work.
A commitment to industrialisation, a sovereign wealth fund and dedicated TVET college sector investment are some of the issues the SACP wants Ramaphosa to address in his speech.
Mapaila wants action.
“We need something practical; he should come out much clearer and also create a better mechanism for monitoring implementation because he has said a number of important things in the past but there has not been appropriate backup and compliance on implementation.”
Mapaila laments the slow pace of the implementation of plans, a sentiment with which Cosatu agrees.
The trade union federation said it wants the president to give special focus to how consequence management will be tackled in the coming year.
“If people aren’t performing, at what point do you start considering that perhaps this person may not have been the right one to deliver?” questions Ntshalintshali.
He says cadre deployment needs “serious introspection”.
“The amount of years you have in the movement doesn’t qualify you to be deployed to an area where you have no clue of how it functions,” remarks the Cosatu general secretary.
Act swiftly against corruption
In addressing the state of SOEs, Ntshalintshali says the hope was for Ramaphosa to deliver a clear plan, with specific goals and targets for intervention.
He says this would make it easy to hold the president accountable.
Ntshalintshali adds the president also had to empower the justice minister to act swiftly in the battle against corruption, asking why action is yet to be taken against people already implicated in state capture and graft at the Zondo commission.
“It can’t be that a commission has been on for a year and we must accept that we can only start bringing people to book after the commission. There is enough to probe some already.”
Alliance not a presidential problem
The SACP and Cosatu have been accused of hindering Ramaphosa, with business-friendly critics claiming the organisations believe Ramaphosa should act in their interests because they backed him on his way to defeating Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC’s top job in December 2017.
Both alliance partners have rubbished this view, with Ntshalintshali jokingly saying maybe it was “jealousy”.
Ntshalintshali described the criticism against the ANC government’s allies as misplaced, insisting that the president was not a “Cosatu stooge”.
He says Cosatu should not be perceived as a stumbling block, but that Ramaphosa, just as he does with big business, gives the federation and its unions an ear, which they use to lobby him in a bid to further their interests.
Ntshalintshali adds while it was the president’s prerogative to act, it should never be forgotten that Cosatu represents millions of workers.
“When we win either through argument, superior logic or power, we should not be ashamed,” says the Cosatu general secretary.
Mapaila said those who claimed workers were a hindrance to Ramaphosa, were doing so purely because the SACP and Cosatu were stopping the president from doing what capitalist forces wanted him to do.