Five key issues from Cosatu congress

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) sent several key signals to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) from behind the scenes at its elective congress this week.

Although the once-mighty Cosatu is significantly smaller since the ousting of its former general-secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa), it remains the country's biggest trade federation umbrella movement and a key tripartite alliance partner.

Below are five significant political points made this week.

1) A formal resolution on whether Cosatu would back Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for president in 2017 at the ANC's next elective conference was not adopted, but the point was made nevertheless. The matter was raised from the floor and seconded by unions. Several delegates, speaking to the media on and off the record, made it clear they did not want President Jacob Zuma's ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for president - they wanted Ramaphosa "finish en klaar".

2) There was no feather in Cosatu's gender equality cap over the matter of women leaders. Earlier, speculation was rife that the movement might elect a woman to its top structures, but second deputy president Zongiswa Losi personally declined the nomination for deputy general-secretary, choosing to remain in her current position.

"Indeed, with time, you will have a woman president in Cosatu. In time you will have a general-secretary in Cosatu who is a woman, for now, building Cosatu... must not be about which gender, it must be about leaders," she told News24.

3) Zuma was told to "sit and wait" when he arrived to address the congress on Monday. Cosatu delegates refused to allow him to address them as per the programme until they had finished arguing about credentials - which took about two hours. The president initially waited in a waiting room, but eventually departed without speaking - and had to return in the evening, once delegates had decided they were done.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) president Zizamele Cebekhulu said Zuma could not address the congress until the credentials issue had been resolved. "He can only address a properly constituted congress. The president can still wait," Cebekhulu said.

4) Cosatu used the congress to take a swipe at the Gupta family, said to have close links with Zuma. It declared the Gupta-owned ANN7 news channel as the country's worst employer. "You have been rated the worst among the worst," Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told ANN7, primarily owned by Infinity Media. Infinity is co-owned by Oakbay Investments, which belongs to the Gupta family.

ANN7 did not respond to requests for comment.

5) In-fighting, precipitated by Vavi's suspension (made official at the congress) continues and considerably weakens Cosatu's clout. The union suspended Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) Gauteng chairperson Simphiwe Gada for expressing his personal views on radio about the national congress nomination processes. Denosa initially supported Vavi, but made an about-turn. The congress also confirmed Numsa's expulsion, a union boasting 300 000 members at the time.

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