Zuma moves to mend ties with unions

Policy meeting for governing ANC opens after strike that exposed divisions among supporters of S African leader.

    The strike was suspended this month after the government said it could not afford the workers' demands [Reuters]

    The South African president has said he will create more jobs and fight corruption, as he moves to mend strained relations with labour unions that helped him win the presidency.

    Jacob Zuma made the pledge on Monday at a policy conference for his governing African National Congress (ANC) in the coastal city of Durban.

    "All the bold headlines about the imminent death of the alliance [with the unions] are a waste of time and ink because the alliance will live for a long time to come," he said.

    He promised to take on the concerns of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, or Cosatu, about growing corruption, but gave no indication of whether he would embrace their economic policies. 

    Zuma's ability to hold together the ANC and the labour allies has come under strain following a damaging public-service strike, which was suspended earlier this month.

    The meeting is widely seen as a crucial test for his leadership.

    One analyst said Cosatu, through its active support for the public sector strike, had embarrassed Zuma and the government.

    "It would be fair to expect the president not to just take that on the chin," Roland Henwood, from the Institute for Strategic and Political Affairs at the University of Pretoria, said.

    "He will not chase them away but he may also look to strengthen his position by broadening the alliance that has brought him into power."

    'Authority on the wane'

    Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Durban, said Zuma's authority had been "seen to be on the wane in recent months".

    "Questions have been there about his style of leadership: He is often called weak; he is often called indicisive," our correspondent said.

    "He is obviously someone who likes to be conciliatory; he likes to hold different groups together, but what he seems to lack - and I still have to say this after his speech today - is a clear ideological vision; a sense of economic policy; a clear sense of social policy."

    Zuma was also expected to call for unity in the ANC and its youth league, which backed his rise to power but now accuses him of failing to support its policies for the poor.

    "The problem is, he is trying to unite us as the ANC, and [deal] especially also with the challenges faced by the alliance" with the labour unions, said one delegate who asked not to be named.

    At the height of the public service strike, labour unions threatened to cut ties with the ANC and widen the strike unless their pay demands were met.

    The unions had set a deadline of September 2 for the government to provide a 8.6 per cent rise in salaries and a 1,000 rand ($138) monthly housing allowance.

    But the government was offering a seven per cent pay hike and 630 rand for housing, saying that it could not afford the workers' demands. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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