Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

28 February 2014

South Africa: The Huge Elephant That Is Cosatu - a Disrupted Federation, but What About the Workers?

analysis

Cosatu's leadership briefed media on Thursday after a meeting of the federation's central executive committee. GREG NICOLSON was there and wonders, with all the focus on the Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa, who's looking out for the workers?

Two identical portraits of Elijah Barayi loom over Cosatu's boardroom. Famed photographer David Goldblatt snapped the image in 1986, the year after Barayi's election as Cosatu's first president. Barayi's arms are folded, a wistful smile on his lips as he looks to the corner of the frame. Like all struggle icons, his words have been immortalised by his organisation.

In 1985 Barayi gave PW Botha six months to scrap pass laws. Within six months they were gone. In his first May Day message, the Cosatu president said, "We urge all worker leaders... and all patriots in South Africa to work together, plan and coordinate our actions to win our freedom and break the chains of poverty and cheap labour which bind the majority of people in South Africa today."

Between the portraits sit four long rows of wooden desks, leather chairs and microphones (it might be a revolutionary house, but why should anyone have to yell?). Barayi gazes over what his federation of...

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