Labor Unions Slam South African Ruling Party Over Inaction

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a key ally of the country’s ruling African National Congress, attacked the party for everything from delays in securing Covid-19 vaccines to failing to provide income support for workers affected by the pandemic.

In a submission to a meeting of the ANC’s top decision-making body, the National Executive Committee, the 1.8 million-strong labor movement that’s known as Cosatu questioned why the party is failing to implement its own plans. It also challenged the need for a new plan submitted to the panel by the ANC’s Economic Transformation Committee.

“There’s no shortage of policies, nor do we need new plans,” Cosatu said in the submission, dated Jan. 22. “What we need is to honestly and constructively assess their implementation. This is something the government has failed to do.”

Relations between the party and Cosatu have frayed over issues including a decision to freeze the wages of state employees and end an income-relief program for workers who’ve lost pay as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and related restrictions. South Africa’s failure to start a vaccination program when at least 56 countries have done so has further inflamed tensions.

“The consequences of the government failing to roll out the vaccines is the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of workers every single day there’s a delay,” Cosatu said. “Every day that we’re required to remain under lockdown as a consequence is another day where the economy sheds thousands of jobs, hundreds of businesses and billions of rand.

The Economic Transformation committee’s new plan, which was seen by Bloomberg, isn’t markedly different from one the ANC’s top leadership approved last year. It calls for electricity output to be increased, law enforcement agencies to be strengthened and the planned sale of telecommunications spectrum to be speedily concluded.

There is “clear appreciation of the urgency of implementation, given the dire state of our economy and high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment among our people,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his closing address to the NEC meeting on Sunday. Defeating the virus was the party’s top priority and a campaign is needed to build acceptance of vaccines, he said.

With over 1.4 million confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 40,000 deaths, South Africa is the continent’s worst-affected country.

Coastu’s other gripes include:

  • The imposition of a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
  • While a 200 billion-rand ($13.2 billion) loan-guarantee program has been set up to aid struggling businesses, banks have disbursed just 18 billion rand.
  • The government has failed to provide clarity on what’s being done to fix struggling state companies.

With municipal elections due later this year, Cosatu questioned whether its members will vote for the ANC.

“Is the record of the government something that can convince workers in their millions to turn out and return it to office?” it said. “With this track record, how does the ANC expect to win workers’ votes?”

The ANC leadership’s policy directives will now be referred to the cabinet for implementation.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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