Cablegate: Tri-Partite Alliance Infighting Heats Up
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PRETORIA 005359
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SF ELAB PGOV ECPS ECON
SUBJECT: TRI-PARTITE ALLIANCE INFIGHTING HEATS UP
1. (SBU) Summary: Recent harsh and public disagreements
between President Mbeki and the Congress of South African
Trade Unions (COSATU) over Zimbabwe, Black Economic
Empowerment, and COSATU's political role have highlighted
long-simmering tensions within the ruling alliance. In the
near term, these tensions will likely dissipate as soon as
cooler heads prevail. Differences will become harder to
reconcile in the future, however, when a younger generation
of leaders, who lack cross-cutting allegiances and memories
of the struggle, come to the fore. End Summary.
2. (U) Several issues over the past two months have
fostered rancor between COSATU and the ANC. First was the
late October expulsion of a COSATU delegation from Zimbabwe.
Rather than defend COSATU and its right to observe how
Zimbabwe's political and economic situation has affected its
sister labor organizations, President Mbeki condemned
COSATU's trip as unsanctioned political adventurism and
accused the organization of meddling in the political arena.
A second area of contention was the government's early
November announcement that it was awarding a 15% stake to a
black empowerment consortium that included ANC heavyweight
and spokesman Smuts Ngonyama as an advisor. COSATU blasted
the deal both out of opposition to the principle of
privatizing Telkom's services but also because it reeked of
3. (U) Rhetoric on both sides turned even more pointed
after Archbishop Desmond Tutu's late November lecture in
which he accused the President of fostering a culture of
political sycophancy within the ANC and attacked Black
Economic Empowerment for helping only a small black elite.
COSATU Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi echoed similar
sentiments, leading Ngonyama to call Vavi "highly reckless
and highly impetuous." This in turn led COSATU to issue a
public statement that the alliance is not working properly
and assert that it has every right to participate in
political discussions, with COSATU President Willie Madisha
saying, "...we are not an extension of a political party. We
are an independent COSATU." COSATU spokesmen meanwhile told
the Consul General in Johannesburg and Laboff that they
believed Ngonyama's dual status as ANC spokesman and
principal beneficiary of the Telkom BEE deal may have added
to the shrillness of the ANC's criticism and proved their
contention that the mixing of politics with private business
interests was not in the public interest. Both sides say
they are likely to meet soon to thrash out their differences,
although no date has been set and the public arguments
4. (U) The third member of the alliance, the South African
Communist Party (SACP) has largely been quiet in this debate,
except for calling on both sides to settle their differences
and lending support to COSATU for its Zimbabwe visit.
However, earlier this week SACP Deputy Secretary General
Jeremy Cronin confirmed that the party will consider
proposals to mount independent electoral challenges rather
than run its candidates under an ANC banner. Cronin noted
that while there were no guarantees that any proposals for
autonomy would be adopted, the issue was a legitimate one to
discuss and that there was nothing "dissident or inherently
disloyal" about it.
PROMINENT ANC ACADEMIC SEES MORE SMOKE THAN FIRE
5. (SBU) Emboffs last week met with Raymond Suttner, an
academic and longtime ANC insider, to discuss the latest
cleavages in the alliance. Suttner, a member of the SACP
since 1971, spent nearly 10 years in prison during the 1970s
and 1980s for his political activities as well as a
significant portion of time underground. After the ANC was
unbanned, he was elected to the party's decisionmaking
National Executive Committee in 1991. He later served as a
member of Parliament from 1994 to 1997 and then Ambassador to
Sweden from 1997 until 2001. Since that time he has focused
largely on academic pursuits, publishing several articles
about the history of the ANC and the alliance.
6. (SBU) Although he claimed to be out of step with current
goings-on within the alliance, Suttner brought up several
salient points relating to the state of the alliance today.
First and foremost, Suttner stated that while the ANC has
always been committed to multipartyism and the concept of the
alliance, the party (and Mbeki in particular) does not
appreciate campaigns outside its structures, like COSATU's
trip to Zimbabwe. Such acts are viewed as politically
undisciplined and fly in the face of the culture of
cooperation and consensus that are key to alliance unity.
Furthermore, while the alliance is ostensibly a partnership,
the ANC clearly sees itself as first among equals, which
exacerbates tensions with COSATU and the SACP.
7. (SBU) Despite these tensions, however, Suttner thought
the latest round of infighting, while noteworthy for its
harsh rhetoric, was likely to be a tempest in a teapot.
Suttner noted that senior members of the three organizations
all have cross-cutting allegiances and identities-for
example, a SACP member does not only view himself in those
terms, but also takes into account relationships forged
during the struggle while underground, in prison, or in a
group like the United Democratic Front. Older members who
have these complex relationships are concerned about the
state of the alliance and will likely work to ensure that
this latest round of infighting does not escalate further.
Besides, the three sides need one another-the ANC needs the
membership base and left-wing credentials of its partners,
while the SACP and COSATU rely on the ANC's political clout.
Suttner was convinced that saner heads would prevail before
something irreparable occurred.
8. (SBU) Suttner's concern, however, was what happens once
the older generation leaves the scene. Many people, he said,
are joining the ANC nowadays in large part for the internal
connections that membership brings, such as jobs and
contracts. Few of these newcomers remember the struggle-era
linkages that forged the alliance in the first place, and it
is Suttner's worry that in the future, younger leaders will
be more hesitant to compromise, potentially putting the
alliance in grave danger. Still, he thought such a situation
was still a few years out in the future and that the alliance
would in the meantime remain alive, if not as robust as it
9. (SBU) Comment: While COSATU is prepared to make peace
with the ANC, it also has announced its intention of
returning to Zimbabwe in late January to complete the
fact-finding mission it aborted in October. If the ANC
decides not to support this visit, another spat is likely to
occur. Another disagreement may also happen within the next
six months, when the Telkom shares currently held by the
government workers' pension fund are to be sold to the BEE
consortium. Should the shares have declined in value, both
COSATU and other trade unions representing the government
workers are likely to criticize the SAG and ANC. End Comment.