One of the thousands of civil servants in the government expresses his dissatisfaction with the South African government during a protest march in the Union buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, 10 August 2010. EPA / JON HRUSA
Although it is now clear that President Cyril Ramaphosa is faced with many battles in the quest to consolidate his power and then to recover some of the problems created by his predecessor, the calls for him and his followers have grown to some inner show steel. It seems that he and his government are doing exactly that in at least one case.
The Minister of Public Affairs and Administration, Ayanda Dlodlo, publicly believes that the public service needs to be restructured, but supports the claim that thousands of government workers will lose their jobs. For their part, Cosatu claims that he "should not trust the minister". This is a repetition of a perpetual dynamic within the government and the alliance. But this time it seems that change is coming.
Year after year, the Minister of Finance after the Minster of Finance in the National Assembly stood during the delivery of their budget, and publicly regretted the costs of our civil service. Time and again it has been pointed out that South Africa simply can not afford to spend more than half of our budget on paying people. This means that half of the available money is gone before service is provided or social subsidies are paid. The result is that there is very little left to invest, or for example to repair Eskom or to build good toilets in schools. But until now, nobody has had the political stomach to grab the nettle.
In this case, the nettle has always been particularly difficult for the ANC, with the trade unions representing employees in the government and in the public sector who are well represented in Cosatu. As a result, Cosatu has always blocked every correct reform, threatening that their members will not help the ANC campaign during an election, or even stay away from the polls. But now something seems to have shifted in this dynamic, suggesting that both parties are preparing for something important.
Last week the Mail & Guardian quoted from an extensive interview with Dlodlo. She set up her business in this way:
"We will restructure. We have to restructure. We need to align with us to be more effective and efficient. Otherwise our people will vote this ANC out of power. & # 39;
Just in itself, that is a quote with some impact. It seems to say that the government is prepared to continue with real change. She goes on to say: "The point is that you do not restructure to get rid of people You restructure to make the system effective and efficient Will it lead to loss of job losses? I do not know."
While this may be a bit of a way to soften Cosatu's leadership, they will greatly worry about the obvious lack of usual denial that jobs will be lost.
But in fact, despite all the words used, Cosatu seems to believe that some of its members will lose their jobs. Fin 24 quotes Cosatu Secretary General Bheki Ntshalintshali as follows: "Our issue is that we do not trust the minister, we want the ANC to come out and say & # 39; it will not happen." He continues by saying that employees will have to decide "who to vote for." They may choose not to vote for someone as has been proven in other countries, while the liberation movement does something that workers do not like ".
In essence, to assess only the public reactions from both sides, they are preparing for a confrontation. The question will then be who will win, and possibly, who is more desperate.
It has become increasingly clear in recent years that Cosatu is not the strength it once was when it was able to keep almost all government workers on the streets for more than a week. Those days are over. It was too badly damaged by mutual struggle, greater dynamism in the world of work, and many Cosatu officials were also swept away by the tsunami of Zuma. This led to the organization calling on Openbaar Zuma to leave his position after he had publicly defended him, while in the mess and chaos he lost both Numsa and the then general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. As a result, it has lost a large number of members in the private sector. It is therefore much more dependent and dependent on its members in the public sector. If the government is able to continue and change this, Cosatu can become even more weakened. This can mean that it has to fight very hard.
It also seems that Cosatu has lost something of its power within the ANC. Although it supported Ramaphosa at Nasrec, it almost did not seem to matter. This is partly because, like other agencies, the previous support for Zuma has served to weaken it in some arguments. It may also be because his current chair, Dumo Dlamini, is seen as very close to Zuma when the rest of the federation was against him.
At the same time, the sympathy of the public may no longer be with trade unions. Although Numsa is clearly no longer Cosatu, the National Union of Mineworkers does, and the recent sabotage at Eskom by the members of Numsa or the NUM will not create much love among the long-suffering public. At the same time, many years of strikes in schools by the SA Democratic Teachers Union and city centers that are being destroyed by the SA Municipal Workers Union also do not help their goal. The idea that trade unionists are the "working poor" can not find the basis it once did. This is an indication of how much our society has changed, because many people will focus on the "non-working poor" who by definition are in a much worse position than those who work for the government.
The government also has various weapons that it can carry. The first is that it can use a policy of reform by stealth, simply by not filling the posts of employees who retire from the service. It can also offer redundancy packages that seem very attractive to people who are at the end of their working life. And it can also dare Cosatu to try to bend his strength, and hope that it will be less than impressive in it. If people die because Nehawu members block their access to the hospital (as with a recent strike in northwest), public opinion can harden against the unions.
This struggle, however, will not only relate to the government and Cosatu. It is also about the Public Servants Association. They have already warned of "serious consequences" if the government continues. But again, everything they can really do is strike. In some ways they are actually weaker than the trade unions that are targeted at Cosatu, because they can not stand the alliance.
In the final analysis this can be a simple flow calculation. If Dlodlo and Ramaphosa believe that Cosatu is sufficiently weakened, and the PSA has insufficient strength, they may be able to continue their search to reform the civil service. This seems to be their plan right now. In the process they can make one of the biggest changes to the government since 1994. Not only is there the prospect of a cheaper and more capable state on the horizon, but also a sea change in the relations between the government and the unions. There is a lot for them to win here, and this can be their moment. But every win is unlikely to come without a fight. DM