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A roaring rendition of “Asinamali” and chants of “Hamba Gwede” filled the air as it was announced that the national chairperson of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe was about to deliver a message of support from the ANC. Delegates at the COSATU 14th National Congress refused to be addressed by Gwede Mantashe as they booed and heckled the former secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers as he made his way to the stage.

“We are sending a message to president, 10% or nothing,” said a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) delegate who was signing for his substitution.

Cosatu members were expressing their frustration over the proposed 3% wage increase for public servants which has been rejected outright by unions that are not affiliated to the federation.

With over 2,000 delegates from the affiliates, the four-day congress which started on Monday is being held under the theme, Build working-class unity for economic liberation towards socialism. The state of the federation’s alliance with the African National Congress, as Elitsha reported, will consume the congress.

The delegates at the national congress continued to sing and cheer as Mantashe made his way offstage and out of the venue as the session had adjourned.

The nomination process was conducted without glitches as Zingiswa Losi, Mike Shingange and Freda Oosthuysen are set to be re-elected as president, deputy president and treasurer unopposed. The only position that is being contested is that of general secretary, with Solly Phetoe nominated to replace Bheki Ntshalintshali.

Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) which wished Cosatu well ahead of the congress said: “The congress takes place against a backdrop of a vicious and relentless onslaught on collective bargaining by government and the employers. This conference should discuss and adopt a concrete plan on how we must defend collective bargaining and also defend our members and workers against exploitative employers.”

Collective bargaining is being undermined, echoed the federations’ second biggest affiliate, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), resulting in poverty, unemployment, and inequalities. “Since the last Congress of the Federation in 2018, we have seen an increase in the undermining of labour’s hard-fought gains – collective bargaining. As a union in the public service sector and a casualty of government’s undermining of collective bargaining, we are going to prioritise this at the congress,” said the union.