ANC faces a turbulent post-election period

Posted on May 29, 2011


The government as employer, together with the governing ANC, could be sailing into some turbulent post-election waters. A series of meetings, some of which started this week, will determine quite how turbulent, but the prospects for smooth sailing look remote.

On May 26 representatives of the 14 unions in the public service were in Cape Town to meet with government negotiators in the wake of pubic services minister Richard Baloyi’s budget speech. At the same time, in Rustenburg, a delegation led by Cosatu’s regional secretary, Solly Phetoe was tackling the “cadre deployment” with the ANC.

This confrontation in Rustenburg —and others scheduled in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal — seem likely to be much more bitter than the attempts to break the pay and conditions deadlock in the public service. Although the pay and conditions issues in the public service are complex, there is no demand for a complete climbdown by one side.

Yet a climbdown is being insisted on by those protesting about candidate selection and cadre deployment. It is summed up in the approach adopted by Cosatu in the North West where the demand is to “stop the current process and start a consultation process afresh”.

It is not only elected councillors and mayoral appointees who are in the firing line. According to Phetoe, municipal managers in the North West who faced charges of mismanagement and corruption have “simply been redeployed from one town to another”. Similar accusations have been levelled in Limpopo by the municipal workers’ union, Samwu.

“We did not give the ANC a blank cheque and it was our members who played a central role in winning votes, from workers and the wider community” says Phetoe. Cosatu members had done so despite misgivings about the way candidate selection had been handled.

“Then, after winning the election, the ANC wants us to endorse candidates who are not democratically selected. We are not going to do it,” Phetoe maintains.

The protestors in the different regions, many drawn from the labour movement, point out that they are merely holding the government to the promises made by President Jacob Zuma. In the wake of protests about ANC officials over-riding the democratic wishes of communities, Zuma pledged that the matter would be dealt with; that councillors who had been imposed would be sacked and replaced with “correct” candidates.

In line with this, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe this week announced that a team of “seasoned leaders and veterans” would investigate the complaints, but that no deadlines would be set. This has done little to quell the anger and several protestors see the move as an attempt to “buy time” in the hope that the protests will die away.

The fact that Mantashe also referred to the ANC decision to include communities in making decisions about candidates as a “risk” has also raised some hackles. It is seen as fundamentally anti-democratic and part of the ANC legacy of the authoritarian exile years.

On at least two occasions while in exile — in 1981 and 1988 — the ANC leadership allowed its exile community to nominate candidates for regional political committees. In both cases, the nominees were deemed unacceptable and the elections were cancelled.

“But what happens now is what matters,” says Phetoe. “The ANC was supposed to consult broadly and not to use dirty tricks to allow corrupt people to be appointed.”

It is the imposition from on high of councillors, managers and mayors that has triggered a backlash and shown that Cosatu and its affiliates cannot always be relied on to support the ANC and government, come what may.

This realisation is probably one of the reasons for the rather more conciliatory approach taken by government in the public service negotiations. Although finance minister Pravin Gordhan has said there is no money to meet the demands of the unions, the prospect of government again imposing a wage deal seems unlikely.

“It is not up to Treasury and we are confident that through the bargaining council process we will reach an agreement,” Cosatu negotiator, Mugwena Maluleke noted last week. “And we are also talking now about a home ownership plan.”

However, hopes expressed that Baloyi would, in his budget speech, counter Gordhan’s statements proved fruitless. While the minister praised public servants and service delivery, he made mention only of timelines being met regarding pay and conditions.

And his claim that the vexed issue of occupational special dispensation (OSD) payments were about to be concluded and that government is “on course to rebuild the trust seemingly lost between government and labour” was also seen widely as “wishful thinking”.

Yet, in the informal horse trading that started yesterday afternoon, it did seem possible that government might marginally increase it’s current 5.2 per cent pay offer and that the unions could reduce their current demand of 9 per cent. But this will depend on how a number of other “outstanding issues” are dealt with.

“We are are still facing a crisis,” admits Independent Labour Caucus negotiator, Chris Kloppers.

What has particularly irked public service unionists is the widely publicised comment by economist Mike Schussler that South Africa’s public service workers are “wealthy” and among the highest paid in the world.

The unions are quick to point out that the more than 30 000 workers on the lowest rung of the 12-step salary progression earn just R4 602 a month. A quarter of the workforce — more than 340 000 men and women — earns less that R7 035 a month.

But the gap between Grade 1 and Grade 12 is great, with the fewer than 2 per cent of Grade 12 employees being paid nearly R40 000 a month. This has resulted in a proposal that a single, across-the-board increase of perhaps R1 200 a month be awarded.

This would equate to more than 24 per cent at the bottom and less than 3 per cent at the top end of the scale. “No way. Too much resistance at the top,” says a negotiator.