Cosatu wants Tito Mboweni 'reined in'
Finance minister Mboweni 'not acting like an ANC deployee'
Trade union federation Cosatu has threatened to break ranks with President Cyril Ramaphosa if he does not "rein in" finance minister Tito Mboweni, who it describes as a "loose cannon who shoots from the hip".
Cosatu leaders and affiliates met in Johannesburg this week for a three-day central executive committee (CEC) meeting at which union leaders lambasted Mboweni as "the greatest threat to Ramaphosa's presidency".
They resolved to meet the ANC leadership next week to tell the party's top brass to whip him into line or face their wrath on the eve of the 2019 general elections.
Cosatu was one of the first ANC-aligned organisations to publicly back Ramaphosa in the run-up to last year's ANC national conference. The federation and its affiliates campaigned for Ramaphosa to succeed Jacob Zuma. Now Cosatu's irritation with Mboweni may lead to Ramaphosa losing his staunchest backers.
At the centre of Cosatu's fight with Mboweni are his public statements on state-owned entities, what is said to have been his refusal to follow an ANC mandate, and his supposed "anti-worker" attitude.
Insiders in the Cosatu CEC meeting told the Sunday Times that the meeting heard that Mboweni's "bravado is really going to cost Ramaphosa".
"He is going to force us into a battle with the ANC at a time when we have to avoid a battle. He is going to leave us with no options," an insider said.
The insider said that in the meeting, trade union leaders complained that Mboweni spoke out of turn by saying SAA should be shut down.
The CEC meeting resolved that Mboweni's comments about cutting the size of the public sector must be rejected.
Further, Mboweni came under attack for his "indifference to the political consequences" of not intervening in the SABC in time to prevent job losses.
"He doesn't act like someone who is there as an ANC deployee and Cyril will pay the price," said a Cosatu leader, who asked not to be named.
Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali confirmed that the CEC had discussed Mboweni. He said the minister was unable to work within the mandate of the ANC or take instructions from the party.
"We thought that he is almost like a loose cannon. He came when the president made some pronouncement about the economy, including a stimulus package, but he doesn't speak to those issues. He says whatever he wants to."
Ntshalintshali confirmed that the CEC meeting decided to engage with the ANC to get Mboweni to stick to the script.
Cosatu's sour relationship with Mboweni dates from his tenure as Reserve Bank governor, from 1999 until 2009. After the 2009 elections and the 2014 elections, Cosatu actively lobbied former president Jacob Zuma not to include Mboweni in his executive.
When Ramaphosa appointed Mboweni finance minister last month after the resignation of Nhlanhla Nene, Cosatu expressed its reservations but said it understood that Ramaphosa's back was to the wall and that he had to make the appointment.
Ntshalintshali said Cosatu hoped Ramaphosa would not keep Mboweni on as finance minister after the elections. "Our view is that Tito doesn't want to be in the job … for us, we want the ANC to rein him in."
He said Mboweni's statements that there was no money to pay public servants was "demoralising people who are meant to be working hard".
"Even his statements on the minimum wage … it is legal and binding. No minister of finance can say there is no money for that agreement," the general secretary said.
"He went uninvited to the US and says there is no future for SAA. He is not speaking to the mandate of the organisation that appointed him."
Mboweni was slammed by the ANC's national executive committee last month for his remarks that SAA should be closed down, with the ANC saying party deployees in government must stick to party resolutions.
Mboweni and Ramaphosa did not respond to questions from the Sunday Times.