In many ways Cosatu, like its political alliance partner the SA Communist Party (SACP), considers itself a “vanguard” organisation … in the forefront of societal change.
The labour federation lived up to that image at its conference this week, when its first woman leader, Zingiswa Losi, was elected unopposed.
Losi, an SACP central committee member and a member of the ANC’s national executive committee, is said by those who know her to be anything but a token appointment. She has been outspoken in recent years about the need for the trade union federation to strengthen itself.
That understanding of Cosatu’s increasingly vulnerable position in the South African body politic will be sorely tested in her new role, as she seeks to establish a new relevance for the organisation.
Because it was so closely allied to former president Jacob Zuma and the whole state capture project, Cosatu has seen member confidence erode. It has seen a number of member unions leave it and, worse, a rival federation, SA Federation of Trade Unions, being set up under charismatic unionist Zwelinzima Vavi.
Losi needs to overhaul Cosatu’s structure and reinvigorate it from the shop floor upwards.
The bottom line: if she doesn’t, she could be the first, and last, woman president of Cosatu.