In both its cosy and weirdly conflicted guises, the tripartite alliance is past its sell-by date
Cosatu and the SACP have both expressed their unhappiness with the ANC and have threatened to leave the alliance should it fail to address their grievances. These are empty threats, of course. We've been here before. They will never leave. They have too much to lose. But should they decide to chuck it, I don't think many South Africans would shed a tear for the alliance. Good riddance, they'd say.
The SACP is nothing but a lame appendage of the ANC. It's doubtful whether it could exist without riding on the ANC's coat-tails. A political party in a truly democratic environment being so enthralled with the paraphernalia of power - to the extent of having its members serve as ministers in the government - yet unwilling to take part in elections must be a new phenomenon. It wants to enjoy fruits it is unwilling to work for. What kind of lunacy is that?
The SACP is nothing but a vehicle for Blade Nzimande and his cronies to access power and privileges that they otherwise could not. They sit at the top table wearing two hats. In other words, they have more rights than an ordinary member of the ANC. They can speak from either side of their mouths and criticise ANC decisions they have been party to without being hauled over the coals.
For instance, Nzimande came out of an SACP meeting last weekend to lay out conditions for the restructuring of Eskom and blamed independent power producers for some of the power utility's recent problems. And yet he and a few select SACP apparatchiks sit on the national executive committee of the ANC and in Cyril Ramaphosa's cabinet - where these issues are presumably closely discussed before they're relayed to the public as government policy.
It's akin to a shareholder who has double voting rights in a company. The SACP has a disproportionate influence on government policy and yet has nothing to offer in return. It has no significant membership, no organisational power and no intellectual heft to speak of. It wields more power within the ANC than its numbers justify. It's a surprise ANC members haven't protested at this anomaly. I would.
The relationship between the two organisations obviously dates back to the time they operated legally within the country, years before they were banned. In exile, the SACP was the tail that wagged the dog. Membership of the party opened doors within the ANC, even for ANC members. The situation has now changed. The ANC has assumed power, having done so by virtue of elections in which every person or party was free to participate. It is governing for the benefit of not only its members but the entire population. It cannot be right, therefore, that it should be taking orders, suggestions or ideas from some external body with no public mandate of its own. That's not democracy; it's a new form of entryism.
Elections are approaching. Instead of pontificating about government policy, the SACP should be hard at work preparing to participate in these elections. It's time it put its money where its mouth is. Otherwise it should be allowed to wither and die.
The proliferation of political parties and doctrines is a good thing and a sign of a healthy and robust democracy. But each must exist on its own, not as a parasite.
Unlike the SACP, the unions - thanks to SA's liberal labour laws - have large memberships and are well funded and well organised. One can understand why the ANC would want the unions in its corner. They are a potent force. But it's never a good idea for a government and unions to have a formal relationship. They represent two distinct constituencies whose interests are not always identical, regardless of the fact that ideologically they may see eye to eye.
Unions won't soft-pedal in their dealings with the government even when they are ideological soulmates. James Callaghan's Labour government in Britain, for instance, was brought down by swingeing strikes called by the unions. And how are employers supposed to deal with the government when they know it's in bed with the unions?
Cosatu unions' proximity to power has caused that power to go to their heads. They've become more than just unions; they're power brokers. They decide who runs the country. We rightly condemn the burnings and destruction at universities and in townships up and down the country, but such practices started with unions trashing towns and city centres. And the government did nothing. The police stood by and watched, because they too are union members.
The damaging effects of South African Democratic Teachers Union activities on the education system are well known - teachers holding union meetings during school hours, teaching posts being sold, head teachers being killed for taking up posts earmarked for union members, all without any consequences.
One gets the distinct impression the government is afraid of the unions. It bends over backwards to appease them. Announcing the restructuring of Eskom in parliament, Ramaphosa went out of his way to assure all and sundry there won't be any retrenchments. The consummate negotiator was tying his hands behind his back before the negotiations even started. Everyone knows Eskom is overstaffed and a great many workers will have to be let go if the turnaround is to succeed.
Its apologists tell us the tripartite alliance is necessary for social stability. But such an argument has never held water. The alliance creates a society of insiders and outsiders, or privileged and less privileged.
It's about time the swamp is drained.