In a 19-page summary of a policy meeting last week, COSATU said it was the victim of a smear campaign by senior ANC members opposed to its inclusion, along with the Communist Party, in a three-way ANC-led alliance 15 years after the end of apartheid.
The roots of the alliance, dominated by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, lie in the common struggle against the white-minority rule that ended in 1994, and COSATU said it would fight to preserve that union.
"It is now clear that there is a realignment of forces in the National Executive Committee of the ANC, with a new tendency emerging," COSATU, which claims a membership of 2 million workers, said.
"These forces are also seemingly frustrated with the President, whom they accuse of allowing too much ground to the communists and COSATU. If this agenda persists, the ANC may have a bitter battle for leadership yet again in 2012," it said.
President Jacob Zuma was elected in April after a 2007 internal putsch against the pro-business Thabo Mbeki that exposed the bitter ideological divides within the anti-apartheid movement. The next leadership debate is set for 2012.
Union and communist support was key to Zuma’s campaign against Mbeki, and ever since then analysts have been trying to discern signs of him yielding to their desire for political payback, notably in the form of more pro-poor economic policy.
So far, there has been precious little evidence but investors are concerned that, under Zuma, organised labour and the communists are shaping the terms of debate about issues such as central bank independence and inflation-targeting.
COSATU said it would lobby the ANC from the grass-roots up to negate the impact of what it said was a minority clique demonising the left in the media as a "new bogeyman". It did not name names.
"This war against the small minority, this new tendency, will not be won in COSATU head office, but on the ground," Secretary-General Zwelinzima Vavi told a news conference. "COSATU will be equal to the challenge."
Vavi, who last week called for a sharp devaluation of the rand to aid struggling manufacturers, did not discuss economic policy in detail, other than to touch on the perennially sensitive issue of a greater state role in the mining sector.