03/05/2017 05:44 SAST | Updated 03/05/2017 11:45 SAST

Crisis Within The Ranks: Tripartite Alliance Fights For Its Life

Alliance leaders are scrambling to find a way forward after Cosatu members' outright rejection of President Jacob Zuma at May Day rallies.

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Happier days: President Jacob Zuma, Sidumo Dlamini and Paul Mashatile share a moment of laughter during the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) May Day rally on May 01, 2016.


South Africa's tripartite alliance may run the risk of breaking apart -- that is if its members do not find ways to iron out issues of unity.

Political analysts and alliance representatives have highlighted what seems to be a crisis within the ranks, with some describing Monday's blatant rejection of President Jacob Zuma and his counterparts at Cosatu's nationwide May Day rallies as a "final warning".

Nevertheless, alliance leaders are scrambling to pave a way forward with urgent meetings said to be held as early as this week.

Read: May Day 2017: Zuma's Alliance Smashed To Smithereens

Cosatu's national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla told HuffPost SA that they are waiting on reports from their president, Sdumo Dlamini, their committee members and provincial offices on what took place at each Workers' Day rally across the country.

"We will have a meeting to discuss what transpired and then we will take it from there... There will be a sitting of the alliance's political council to discuss the state of the alliance," Pamla said.

No mention was given of when the sitting would take place.

Pamla said the workers' reaction to Zuma and other ANC representatives, who were booed and heckled, is "not a good sign" for the alliance.

Bad idea to let Zuma talk
Affirming the disjuncture within Cosatu's affiliation, Nehawu's (National Education Health & Allied Workers Union) Khaya Xaba pointed fingers directly at the federation, saying their union warned that it "was not a good idea" to let the president address any gathering.

"The day was about workers and not about political squabbles. After we wrote to Cosatu two weeks back, their response was that they do not invite individuals, like Zuma, to attend," Xaba said.

"They instead invite the ANC and the party then deploys cadres to the each event. Cosatu went ahead and allowed the president to be there in Bloemfontein."

But Xaba said this reaction did not "paint a bleak picture" of the alliance.

"If workers were dejected by the president, it does not mean they are dejected by any organisation, union or the ANC. The workers love the ANC. We need an urgent alliance summit on how to preserve unity and not allow cracks to develop between ourselves," Xaba said.

"Issues need to be ironed out urgently, and if we do not, we run the risk of the alliance breaking down."

SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said the party interprets the booing of Zuma in Bloemfontein as a "wake up call" to the alliance which now needs to prioritize issues of unity.

"What happened yesterday could be interpreted as a symptom of a deep-rooted problem in society. We must not only address the symptom, but also its root cause," Mashilo said.

He said the SACP would conduct an official assessment on Monday's events.

In a statement yesterday, the ANC condemned the disruptions, saying the strength of the alliance has always been in the management of "intra-organisational contradictions".

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party will "redouble" its effort to foster unity within the movement and the Alliance.

But analysts fear it may be too late.

Alliance 'in crisis'
Labour expert Terry Bell said Cosatu and the alliance are "definitely" in a crisis -- one which has been in the pipeline since 1996.

"Once apartheid ended, there was no need for a broad-church in the ANC, its alliance or the unions. Ever since 1996, tensions among them have increased. This is a long time coming and there is no way out of it," Bell said.

Wits University School of Governance's Susan Booysen described the country's tripartite alliance as "diminished". She said there is a growing anti-Zuma sentiment emerging within the alliance's ranks.

"These members are only looking for a better ANC. This is a crisis of advocacy that puts the alliance partners in a difficult position as they are being stretched between the party's factions. The way forward is a way without Zuma and his faction," Booysen said.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga blamed the divisions inside the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Cosatu on their individual relationships with the ANC.

"The implosion within Cosatu was laid bare [on Monday]. It was the decision of their leadership to have Zuma attend the rally and to see its members stand against and disrupt this shows the federation's leadership is no longer coherent," Mathekga said.

He said the tripartite alliance, instead of being in a crisis, has reached the next stage of dysfunction.

"Cosatu and the SACP need to talk about how to approach the ANC. They need to have a proper conversation and find a proper way to engage with each other."