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The appointment of Zingiswa Losi as Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) president marks the first time a woman has held the position. Losi is the outgoing deputy president, and was nominated unopposed at the federation’s recent congress.

Bheki Ntshalintshali was nominated as general secretary, while Solly Phetoe was also unopposed in his nomination as deputy secretary general. The only change to Cosatu’s leadership is that National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu)’s deputy president Mike Shingange takes over from Losi as first deputy president, while Louise Thipe from Saccawu takes over from Tyotyo James as the second deputy president.

In addition to the elections of new office bearers, Cosatu’s congress will discuss whether the federation will continue to back its tripartite alliance partner, the ANC. Its other partner, the South African Communist Party (SACP), is considering contesting next year’s general elections, and Cosatu must decide whether it will support this move against the ANC.

However, Losi is known as a staunch supporter of President Cyril Ramaphosa. Losi entered politics while she was at school, joining the Congress of South African Students, and later the ANC’s youth league in the Eastern Cape. After completing her studies, she served as a soldier for three years and then in 2002 went to work at the Ford Motor Co. in Port Elizabeth. She then became a representative for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, before joining Cosatu full-time.

Losi takes over an organisation facing a financial crisis, as it is owed more than R45-million by its affiliates. Reports indicate that the financial situation is so dire that the trade union federation was running at a deficit of over R16-million at the end of December last year.

InIn its financial report, Cosatu says cash-flow problems have resulted in it accumulating liabilities as it was unable to settle dues to suppliers for services rendered. “The primary source of income is affiliation fees which didn't reflect movement because there was a decline in membership. During this period the federation had to operate under immense financial difficulty to meet its financial obligation which is contributed by lack of affiliates to settle their monthly debts,” the financial report states.

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