Dear ANC, you're failing, Love Cosatu

It will be interesting to see the line up of leaders the ANC sends to Cosatu's 11th National Congress in Midrand in just over a week. Those who make up the ANC delegation had better have a really thick skin, particularly when they listen to discussions over the scathing political and socio-economic reports.

In the political report, Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is highly critical of factionalism, patronage and corruption in the ANC. "In our view, a multiple crisis emerging in our society, which, if not addressed, has the potential to result in an organisational implosion and social explosion which could reverse our democracy.

"These trends are part of a general crisis of failing to act decisively on a broad range of issues, as a result of divisions in the movement and the paralysis in the state," Vavi says in the report. He also motivates against supporting ANC leaders without set conditions, writing Cosatu should avoid the "danger" of supporting ANC leaders it won't be able to hold to account later.

But it is in the socio-economic report that Cosatu lays it all out, explaining why it thinks the South African government is failing and why "no amount of sophistry can hide the fact that the mass of the employed working class is increasingly sinking deep into the conditions of the Lazarus-layers".

There is a marked change of tone in the report from the usual "much has been done by the ANC government but much remains to do", line so often delivered by Alliance leaders. Cosatu's language is now quite blunt: "All the policies that have been adopted in the past 18 years have failed to deliver on the fundamentals: unemployment reduction, poverty elimination and the reduction of social and economic inequality.

"In our assessment, the failure of these policies does not lie in what they sought to achieve (all of them claimed to deal with unemployment, poverty and inequality). These policies failed because of the inappropriate policy instruments that they proposed in order to achieve their goals," the report states.

The statistics Cosatu belts out in the report to substantiate the deepening crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality are disturbing. By 2012, new entrants among the unemployed had increased by 198,000 and job-losers among the unemployed had increased by 314,000. Between the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2012, the proportion of the unemployed that have been without work for more than a year rose to 68% from 61%, while discouraged work-seekers, now numbering 2.3-million, increased by 100% over the same period.

Total job losses from 2009 up to the first quarter of 2012 amounted to 744,000, with the largest job losses being registered by the manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail trade and private household sectors. "Assuming an average R4,000 per month wage for a South African worker, these job losses amount to an average R107-billion loss in workers' income over the three-year period," the report says.

The Human Development Report (2010) finding that 44% of workers in South Africa live on less than R10 a day meant that 44% of workers in South Africa "are working for just a loaf of bread on a daily basis," Cosatu says.

Cosatu appears to be ringing the alarm bells particularly now ahead of the ANC's Mangaung conference because the failure of government and the economy is having the worst impact on the Alliance's constituency. The report quotes a finding by Cosatu's Gauteng Province that "poverty and unemployment is still inflicting the majority of members of the ANC, with 42% being unemployed while 60% of those that are employed earning less than R3,000 per month.

"For other provinces, it is likely that the membership of the ANC is composed by a higher percentage of the unemployed section of the working class, which daily faces the challenges of destitution, hunger and starvation. The same pattern of membership is the case with the SACP. This report therefore has direct relevance to our Allies, since the mass base from which we draw membership is the same. We therefore hope that this report will feed into the formulation of the strategy and tactics of the Alliance," Cosatu says.

In a section of the document called "The State of the State", Cosatu says there is a lack of urgency in building a competent, efficient and effective developmental state. "Measures to build the technical capacity of the state apparatus to efficiently deliver services and to intervene in the economy are still to be elaborated. There are serious gaps in the human resource development strategy of the state.

"Without a properly trained cadre and a well-resourced public service, changing mandates will not translate into action," the report states. It cites the Auditor General's 2011 report that there is an increasing trend of vacancies, which were 15% in 2009 and are now at 18%.

Cosatu says the issue of mandates of ministers remains a bone of contention, especially in the Economic Cluster. "The capacity of the state to shape economic sectors and to direct the resources that are embedded in the Minerals-Energy Complex towards more developmental goals remains extremely limited."

There are efforts by the presidency to streamline the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in economic and social transformation. Cosatu says the Presidential Review Commission appointed by the president to look into the role of SOEs will have to formulate recommendations regarding the economic development role of SOEs and the appropriate structure of governance. "Unless SOEs are provided with clear targets for local procurement, skills development and other developmental indicators their role as instruments of economic transformation will remain extremely limited."

Cosatu's report says the lack of overarching policy guidelines for public procurement will not promote policy coherence and harmonious implementation of local procurement policies across the various levels of the state. "The National Treasury is supposed to formulate these, setting out clear targets for local procurement, enterprise development and co-operative support. This overarching policy document has not yet been produced."

Technical weaknesses of the state apparatus, the report says, accentuated by the lack of uniform requirements for entry into the public service, limit the ability of the state to intervene in the economy.

"Instead of regulating and giving a line of march to business, the state is instead given a line of march by business. The incapacity of the state to enforce compliance and anticipate ways in which the private sector evades regulation limits the ability of the state to shape economic activity. In addition, the lack of technical capacity makes the state rely on tenders in order to deliver on its role."

Cosatu is also scathing in its assessment of local government and the impact of its weaknesses at the coalface of service delivery. "There are serious technical deficiencies that exist in local government, just as there is in the rest of the state apparatus." The recent report by the Auditor-General, in which only 5% of municipalities received clean audits, revealed very disappointing trends, Cosatu's report says.

Particularly worrying for the federation was that in 2009 municipalities under-spent R1.5-billion, but in 2011 under-spending had increased to R3.5-billion. "How is it that a democratic government, having resources that could be spent to improve the lives of the working class, could sit on those resources?"

Cosatu concludes its socio-economic report saying: "The working class is under siege. Accordingly the working class has a task to defend its positions in the best way it can - through mass mobilisation and raising consciousness".

"The social system of capitalism is clearly failing to solve the problems of the country. This is the underlying message of this report. Any attempt to 'regulate', 'decorate', 'panel-beat' the system will not work, as it has not worked, unless the basic wealth in our country is transferred to the people as a whole."

Cosatu has been forced to listen to what its members are saying, and has clearly interpreted the consequences of not doing so. With incidents like the worker rebellion at Marikana, particularly the rejection of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the profusion of service delivery protests around the country, Cosatu now has to capture and articulate the anger and disappointment of its membership.

But while Cosatu is listening and reacting to these voices, it remains to be seen whether the ANC will listen and respond to what its alliance partner is desperately communicating. It will be much easier swallowing criticism from an ally that seeing it scrawled on posters and hearing it shouted at protest marches.

This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.