Things are taking a serious turn for the worse for President Jacob Zuma both within the African National Congress and on the labour front, with respect to his re-election prospects for a second term as president of the ANC, when the party holds its national conference in December.
Not only may current developments lead to a change of government administration and policies, they could also usher in a period of dominance within Cosatu of more militant, ultra-left wing unions closely aligned with a Workerist position. But even these unions can expect an ever-growing challenge from the new burgeoning, politically non-aligned unions as happened at Marikana.
The net result of all of this is a recipe for a time of increased political and labour instability.
The shooting of 34 miners by police at the Lonmin mine at Marikana on 16 August will most certainly have hardened attitudes against the government and the Zuma-led ANC.
A more direct consequence is the weakening of the Cosatu-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), in the aftermath of Marikana.
Amcu, established by expelled NUM leader Joseph Mathunjwa, has recruited thousands of former NUM members at platinum mines and elsewhere fed up with the NUM’s alleged failure to look after its members’ interests. Many disgruntled workers are also accusing the ANC-allied Cosatu of being preoccupied with the internal politics of the ruling alliance instead of looking after workers’ interests.
NUM, Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, recently elected leaders that support Zuma’s re-election bid. The events at Marikana probably weaken the Charterist-orientated NUM, in favour of Cosatu’s second biggest union, the Workerist and anti-Zuma National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).
NUM and Numsa have, in recent times, frequently clashed and are in direct opposition to each other within Cosatu both ideologically and in terms of Zuma’s re-election bid.
Splinter unions have been formed in a number of sectors in which Cosatu-affiliated unions previously dominated or had a monopoly, citing similar reasons that led to the formation of Amcu.
These developments will, in turn, also benefit the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and its expelled former leader, Julius Malema, and his support organisation, the Friends of the Youth League (FYL) in their bid to oust Zuma in December.
These developments will also adversely affect the Zuma-supporting South African Communist Party (SACP), which operates within the ANC as the self-proclaimed 'vanguard party' of the workers.
These developments will, in turn, also benefit the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and its former, expelled, leader, Julius Malema and his support organisation, the Friends of the Youth League (FYL) in their bid to oust Zuma in December.
Malema and the FYL moved quickly after the Marikana shootings to claim the political leadership of the Amcu workers at the platinum mines. This also ties up with the continued escalation of township protests against the government’s perceived delivery failures.
Recent reputable and independent research suggests that many service delivery protests are the by-product of competition for access to resources and government tenders by competing ANC factions in local government. Other research has equally shown that many of these protests are also the result of genuine grievances over lack of delivery.
In both instances, the prognosis for the Zuma administration, and for Zuma personally, would be negative. Both elements also featured in the Marikana situation.
Malema, who moved firmly onto the Marikana political landscape, is in many respects at the forefront of those 'tenderpreneurs' who seek access to resources and state contracts.
Many people in impoverished communities with high unemployment levels and subjected to bad service delivery will have been touched by the plight of the Marikana workers who live in squalid conditions in shack settlements.
Another major setback for Zuma occurred in the Eastern Cape where the ANC’s OR Tambo region, the province’s largest and the second largest in the country, last week re-elected regional leaders opposed to his re-election. This region will have an influence on the composition of the Eastern Cape ANC delegation that will be voting at the December national conference in Mangaung.
The Eastern Cape delegation will be the second biggest at the conference behind the Zuma-supporting KwaZulu-Natal delegation. So far Zuma has only the support of his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, and of two of the smaller provinces, the Free State and Limpopo.
The little more than three months left before the Mangaung conference is set to be a politically volatile period.
The next big indicator of which way the winds of political fortune are blowing for Zuma, will be Cosatu’s own upcoming elective congress.
Given the developments before and after the Marikana events Cosatu leader Vavi, who has been vacillating until now, and Cosatu will find it very difficult to be seen to support Zuma, the administration and current ANC policies on many fronts. But, in politics anything is always possible.