Saturday Voices @ Boekehuis Book Shop: Invitation to a Discussion



COSATU’s role in democratic transformation



A Decade of Reading the city

SATURDAY 21 August 2010, 12:00 for 12:30

William Gumede, author of the book, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC

in conversation with

Sakhela Buhlungu, sociologist and expert in the field of labour studies, about his new book,

A Paradox of Victory

COSATU and the democratic transformation in South Africa

COSATU emerged from the anti-apartheid struggle as the largest and most powerful union federation in South Africa. It is now both a movement and a political actor in its own right. It has the ability to influence the agenda, shape policy and even help topple a president, but according to Sakhela Buhlungu, COSATU has been losing organisational power since ’94 as thousands of shop-floor activists were promoted out of the unions and its leaders left for politics and business.

Additionally, labour market segmentation created fault lines between workers with skills and job security and those with little or no security or skills. COSATU happens to represent only those in formal sector employment, who have access to skills, benefits and rights.

Internal fault lines between gender, race, education and rural/urban divisions have emerged ever more sharply.

Does COSATU run the risk of losing its powerbase?
How is COSATU negotiating its relationship with new social movements?

What are the costs and benefits of COSATU’s relationship with the ANC and the SACP?

How will a public service workers’ strike affect relations between COSATU and President Jacob Zuma?

Should COSATU break from the ANC tripartite alliance and form a Workers’ Party?

Join our discussion:

Where: BOEKEHUIS Bookshop,

Cnr. Lothbury and Fawley streets, Auckland Park

(Parking available)

When: Saturday 21 August 2010, at 12:00 for 12:30

RSVP: 011 482 3609 or

Union movements in the rest of the world have learnt the hard way that political influence is impossible to sustain in the absence of organisational power,” Sakhela Buhlungu

“Our worst fears have come true: the ANC has lost its soul. If the ANC’s democratic soul cannot be recaptured, it may be better for South African society for it to break up, and for new parties to be formed from its ashes.”

William Gumede in The Guardian Feb 2010

About the book:

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) emerged from the anti-apartheid struggle as the largest and most powerful union federation in South Africa. Its member unions were spectacularly successful in organisation building, and their power and influence was felt in the workplace as well as in broader society. As the country’s political adversaries began negotiating, COSATU became an important power broker weighing in on the side of democracy and full rights for workers.

However, since 1994 COSATU has been losing organisational power as hundreds of leaders left for politics and business and thousands of shop-floor activists were promoted out of the unions. The vibrancy of the movement has also been sapped by the effects of class formation and global economic restructuring.

In this provocative account of union activism, Sakhela Buhlungu examines the ‘paradox of victory’ that confronts COSATU today. Based on the author’s participation in and research of unions for more than 20 years, this book openly explores COSATU’s successes and failures, and considers the long-term implications of its increasing political influence and diminishing organisational power.

About Sakhela Buhlungu:

Sakhela Buhlungu is Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg. Previously he taught at the University of the Witwatersrand and also worked as a full-time official in PPWAWU, a COSATU affiliate. He has written widely on the changing nature of trade unionism in South Africa. His main research interests are in the area of labour studies and the sociology of work, areas of expertise that he has developed since his time as a union activist in the 1980s and early 1990s. A theme that runs through his work is the examination of the centrality of labour movement in the democratic transition as well as an exploration of the ways in which unions have, in turn, been impacted upon by the transition.

About William Gumede:

William Gumede is Honorary Associate Professor, Graduate School of Public and Development Management, University of the Witwatersrand.

He was Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper. In the early 1990s, he worked for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). In the late 1980s he worked for the Workers’ Advice Office. He is author of the bestselling Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, and co-editor of The Poverty of Ideas (2009). One of his forthcoming books is The Democracy Gap: Africa’s Wasted Years.

Find recent articles by Gumede in Beeld at and in The Guardian at


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