For the past two years it has been obvious even to a casual observer that there are fissures within the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), though the leadership has been desperately trying to maintain a facade of unity. However, Bheki Ntshalintshali, the organisation’s deputy secretary general’s comments have revealed that the organisation is no longer in denial about the possibility of a split that could potentially reshape South Africa’s labour union landscape.
The organisation fears that holding a special congress could be its last straw, judging from what Ntshalintshali expressed on August 12 during a media briefing. “There is recognition that the current request for a special congress is perceived differently by affiliates and has created division… and that it may lead to a split in Cosatu,” he said.
While the purpose of the special congress should be to help the federation rebuild unity, it seems COSATU’s embittered affiliates want to use it as a platform to settle their scores. Even Cosatu President, Sidumo Dlamini, conceded: “As things stand within Cosatu, there is no guarantee that a congress would unite the federation. Thus, to go to a congress under the circumstances will bring about a split.”
It should not be surprising that Cosatu affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, which, openly, did not back the African National Congress in the May 7 general elections, has been leading the call for a special national congress.
According to media reports, Cosatu’s leadership has not helped its reputation by leaping from one public relations disaster to another, from office relationships to questionable procurement decisions.