Unions Rally to Show Support for Embattled Zuma
Mziwakhe Hlangani, Sapa
Deputy President Jacob Zuma may be clashing with the Scorpions, but he is riding high in the popularity stakes.
Congress of South African Trade Unions members by the hundred have declared they are right behind him.
Delegates of the giant labour federation chanted liberation songs supporting Zuma as they marched to Gallagher Estate in Midrand, where Cosatu began its eighth national congress yesterday.
The members, clad in red caps and tops, sang: "Head of the Scorpions, tell us what our leader Zuma has done?"
He and Scorpions head Bulelani Ngcuka have been at loggerheads after the unit announced it was probing the deputy president on corruption allegations related to the arms deal.
One of the issues to be addressed at the four-day congress is privatisation and its impact on employment.
Since 1999, Cosatu has lost about half-a-million members due to job losses.
Also to come under the spotlight is Cosatu's alliance with the ANC and the SA Communist Party. It is expected that Cosatu will pledge its support for the ruling party in the upcoming general election.
The ANC has reiterated the importance of its alliance with Cosatu.
Reading a speech on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki, ANC national chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota said: "I am convinced that progressive workers led by Cosatu will not abandon the ANC, the spear they need to win their battles. This is not a marriage of convenience."
The speech lambasted opposition forces who speculated about a split in the alliance.
Mbeki committed the ANC to listen to workers' demands and respond in order to advance their plans for reconstruction and development.
"This congress provides organised labour a chance to make its voice heard. It also provides all of us, including the ANC, with the possibility to hear this voice and respond to it in the interest of the masses."
Cosatu president Willy Madisha responded that the underlying problems in the alliance had certainly not disappeared.
But he gave an assurance that Cosatu would not talk about leaving the alliance.
Madisha said workers were disappointed by job losses, privatisation and the failure of the government's macro-economic policy, Gear (the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy), to meet their expectations.
"But we must not let the apathy permeating the country to take over. We will vote for the ANC and go back to engage it on those issues that we are not happy with.
"If they refuse to listen, we can still take to the streets," he warned.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi also expressed concern about allegations of corruption against government leaders, including Zuma.
He implied that such allegations were political manipulation common on the eve of an election.
He also spoke about political, socio-economic and international challenges faced by the federation.
With acknowledgements to Mziwakhe Hlangani, Sapa and The Star.