The on-going strike at Marikan suggest that as the African National Congress (ANC) needs to bring on board its stalwarts and prioritize the general South African interests, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) should reclaim its independent civil society space within the alliance.
Commentators have nearly exhausted almost all the relevant angles in the analysis of the Marikana debacle. Dominant opinion includes a transformative Marxist perspective-highlighting the capital/labour conflict. Others explain the Lonmin/labour conflict in terms of the astroturf campaign: workers-the majority of which are illiterate, being used by the Friends of the Youth League (FYL) to justify its agenda for “economic freedom” and nationalization of mines. Most analysts reference questions around the legitimacy of President Zuma regime and use the Marikana debacle as window to see through Mangaung. Combining all these perspectives, this article suggests that the way forward necessitate that together with its affiliates, COSATU should tilt its loyalty scale in favour of the workers interests, instead of closely aligning to the ANC and the latter needs to rope-in past leadership as a way forward.
A civil society is that space between the state and the market, which can either be aligned or opposed to government policies. Because the ANC-led government seats in the centre of the political spectrum, embracing both the liberal and socialist perspectives, it does talk to the leftist interests of the workers, thus COSATU alliance. Organized, the role of the civil society is to keep the checks and balances on government and market policies, so as to ensure their social legitimacy. As a leftist trade union federation, COSATU’s mandate is to safeguard the interests of the workers in both government and market spheres. Debatable though, one may argue that the slow pace of privatisation and observation of workers’ rights in South Africa’s economy and labour force could be attributed to the leftists’ presence in the country’s governance.
Likewise, in the Marikana debacle, in an effort to safeguard the interest of the workers, COSATU’s affiliate- the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) should have adopted an in-house lobbyist approach in the Lonmin Management. The role of such lobbyist would be to act as a buffer zone between the “anger” of the mineworkers, which is due the exploitative nature of the globalist system and the “anxiety” of the capitalist, attributed to dropping platinum prices. Such anger and anxiety need to be handled in a transparent manner and in a language understandable to the grassroot. Thus the absence of the credible workers in-house lobbyists in the Lonmin Management created a fertile environment for a dangerous astroturf that saw the labour issue spilling to governance arena. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union emerge to signify a vote of no confidence in NUM and its mother- body, COSATU. Trade union rivalry ensued, people and police were killed. In an effort to restore order and stability, the ANC-led government gets drawn into the labour issue, minors are massacred, some jailed, murder charges laid and withdrawn against them.
The Friends of the Youth League (FYL), who’s objective is “economic freedom in our lifetime” are astroturfing the vulnerable grassroot mineworkers. In the same vein, AMCU gains the workers sympathy as NUM failed to play a credible in-house lobbyist game with Lonmin management. COSATU- a civil society organization (CVO) entrusted with labour interests, but that distanced itself from the Lonmin strike, is seen as having sold out the workers. Furthermore COSATU alliance partner-led government is involved in the massacre of mineworkers. The afore-mentioned factors are arguments used to support the notion that COSATU is an extension of the ruling party. The same arguments is used both by the government and ANC critics particularly, the FYL to delegitimize Zuma’s government. As the general public sympathy seems to be with the striking miners, COSATU’s civil society status seems to be waning as trust in the organisation is running low. In addition to the trauma caused by the Lonmin massacre, poor service delivery and fears of real or perceived dictatorial tendency in the ANC-led government, suggest that both the ANC and COSATU should do introspection and work on regaining the people’s confidence. COSATU needs to reclaim its independent character as a civil society organization (CVO), while the current ANC leadership needs to appeal to its traditional populist heroes and strategists to help in restoring the party’s integrity and promote stability in the country.
The ANC boasts a variety of personality traits that can manage the astroturf campaign created by the Lonmin massacre and other areas of public interest associated with challenges of the incumbent regime in governance arena. The general ANC leadership past and present, needs to put personal and factional differences aside and work towards restoring the movement’s integrity and prioritize the country’s interests. In that light, the current regime could enlist the intervention the former President Thabo Mbeki, Ronnie Krasils, Pallo Jordan, Essop Pahad and others to complement President Zuma’s challengess in governance of both the ANC and the country’s administration.
A populist hero such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela could be used to tame or counteract Julius Malema’s astroturfing in Marikana and elsewhere. Though the two seem to be sleeping with one blanket, the ANC has the advantage of invoking sentimental mentality in its stalwarts. Certainly, the ANC will need its past leadership and stalwarts on the road to Mangaung. As for COSATU and its affiliates, the writing is on the wall: they need to rework on its dented image and convince the workers that they stand for their interests. Credible in-house lobbying in the capitalist management should be applied as one of the strategies to avoid the repeat of Marikana. Slight detachment from the ANC, respect for, tolerance and accommodation of rival trade union could also restore COSATU’s integrity. Past leaders such as Jay Naidoo, Sydney Mufamadi and others could add an impetus in redirecting the trade union federation’s focus on workers’ rights. Otherwise, both COSATU and the ANC could witness a dwindling support on the road to Mangaung. Is it too late?