Red star over South Africa Power struggle: Communists and trade unions seek more control over ANC's policies.

October 03, 1997

SOUTH AFRICA is one of the few countries where flags with the red star and hammer and sickle symbols of the Soviet Union still get respect. That's because the South African Communist Party, along with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, is a constituent group of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and its partner in government.

With President Mandela scheduled to step down from his ANC leadership post in December, that long alliance is now increasingly strained. Both the trade unions and the communists are growing vocally critical of the Mandela government's free-market policies. They also are tired of their subservient political position and demand more power.

COSATU is leading the charge. At its recent congress, 2,300 delegates declared that the "labor federation's policies must be underpinned by an ideological vision of a socialist society and the creation of a socialist state." The delegates urged a restructuring of their alliance with the Communist Party and ANC so that their "left conscience" policies are implemented and "ministers and other elected representatives are not absorbed by new elite agendas."

It would be easy to dismiss COSATU resolutions as mere Marxist verbiage. Similar sentiments of dissatisfaction with the Mandela government's direction have long been voiced by the South Africa's communists, although the party has very skillfully avoided strident criticism of the popular president.

Both the 80,000-member Communist Party and COSATU, a federation of 17 union affiliates, are relatively small. They are powerful, though, because many of their members hold high positions in ANC leadership or portfolios in the Mandela cabinet. COSATU is scheduled to pursue its criticism of the Mandela government's direction at a policy conference in November, which will be held in preparation for ANC's convention the following month.

Ever since he came to power three years ago, Nelson Mandela's stature has been so great that many South Africans have felt criticism would be disrespectful. Now that he is about to relinquish his ANC leadership post, pent-up frustrations are beginning to get an airing.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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