During the last week of October, a delegation from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) arrived in Zimbabwe for a brief “fact-finding mission”.
The COSATU visit was opposed by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. During its first meeting with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), COSATU delegates were detained by police. Within hours, they were dumped at the Zimbabwe-South African border.
A war of words broke out between COSATU and its alliance partner, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), over the incident. COSATU was accused of showing “contempt for a head of state [and] sovereign government”, because COSATU had ignored Mugabe’s opposition.
COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said, “The only reason why the Zimbabwean government objected to this mission was fear of what it might uncover... This is a society where people’s human rights and civil liberties are being crushed.”
But the leaderships of the alliance partners have never allowed verbal spats and tactical differences to impinge on their underlying strategic and class consensus.
In the past several years, this has been repeatedly “proven” over the neoliberal macro-economic policy of the ANC government, GEAR. While the “left” flank of the tripartite alliance — COSATU and the SACP — have continued to launch verbal attacks on GEAR, most often tied to very occasional and limited strikes, these have never developed into any sustained working class-led struggle with the potential to undermine the pro-neoliberal ANC.
Not once during the Zimbabwean incident was there one word from either the COSATU or SACP leadership that made the connection between the ANC’s outrageous... support for, the Mugabe regime, the ANC’s neoliberal policies and the active pursuit of securing the interests of an emergent black capitalist class.
Even if COSATU does eventually engage in “harsher forms of solidarity action” in support of “the ZCTU and the people of Zimbabwe” without the approval of the ANC, the bottom line is clear: unless and until COSATU and the SACP are ready and willing to wage an unrepentant and confident anti-capitalist working-class struggle independent of the ANC, they will continue to betray the hopes of millions of workers and poor.
Dale T McKinley, Johannesburg. Abridged from Green Left Weekly, 24 November