The battle of Mangaung is definitely not for the faint-hearted. As metalworkers union Numsa is finding out, you first need to reach internal consensus before engaging in the ANC showdown in December. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Cosatu’s most militant affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), had wanted to decide on its preferred leaders for the ANC conference in Mangaung by the time it concluded its Central Committee meeting Friday. This now looks unlikely. Until late Thursday night, Numsa’s Central Committee was battling to reach agreement on the ANC leadership issue. But Numsa still intends pushing Cosatu and the ANC towards major structural changes to the economy. And it wants answers on Marikana.
While Numsa had pronounced after its national congress in June that it wanted major change in the ANC leadership, agreeing on candidates is proving difficult.
Divisions have been brewing within Cosatu on the ANC leadership question, with major unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) supporting the retention of the status quo in the ruling party and Numsa agitating for change.
Numsa insiders now say that, contrary to popular perception, even within Cosatu the senior leaders of the union do not want President Jacob Zuma removed. However, some of Numsa’s own regional structures are differing with their leaders on this issue. The matter is now being sent back to the regions for further discussion.
Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim would not be drawn on the nature of the debate on ANC leadership at the Central Committee, but did say they were unable to conclude the matter. “It is still going to be finalised. There are a lot of different views.”
The wrangling inside Numsa is a precursor to the intense debate likely to happen at the Cosatu 11th National Congress in three weeks, when the trade union federation will also have to pronounce its stance on the ANC leadership. So far, Cosatu has resisted declaring whether it will support Zuma or any of his challengers due to divergent views between the affiliates. This is a far cry from the position Cosatu took in 2007 when it unanimously championed Zuma’s candidacy at the ANC’s Polokwane conference.
Numsa is scheduled to announce the outcomes of its Central Committee to the media Sunday, but is unlikely to make public its preferred list of candidates for Mangaung. But while its position on which ANC leaders to support will continue being debated, there is one person Numsa is rallying behind: Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
Jim said Vavi had become a “target for isolation”, and Numsa was therefore calling on workers to defend the Cosatu general secretary, who is up for re-election at the federation’s congress starting 17 September. Jim said Numsa is throwing its weight behind Vavi to “keep Cosatu as an independent voice of the working class”.
“We generally support the return of the leadership of the federation with particular focus on retaining Vavi. We think this would be in the best interests of the federation. If Cosatu ends up with a wishy-washy leadership, it would be a terrible setback,” Jim said.
Asked where the attack against Vavi was coming from, Jim said there were people “within the liberation Alliance working in the shadows”. “There is a particular grouping working 24 hours to contest him. If they do not succeed at that, they want to weaken him,” Jim said.
It was reported earlier this month that plans were afoot by some senior leaders of Cosatu affiliates and the SACP to put up Fikile Majola, general secretary of Nehawu, to challenge Vavi for his post.
Jim said Numsa will ensure Vavi walks the election and continues to speak out against failures and wrongdoings in government and the ANC. Numsa intends to champion its “revolutionary programme” at the Cosatu congress, particularly on radical transformation of the economy.
“We have done a detailed analysis of what is happening in the country, especially now. The country is on fire. People need to be led,” Jim said.
He said Numsa will be persuading Cosatu to push for major changes to the macro-economic framework in order to transform the structure of the domestic economy and regain South Africa’s competitive advantage in key sectors.
“If we do not drive Cosatu to take this position, Mangaung will not deal with these issues. We are not dealing with the dominance of white monopoly capital, the economy is not transformed and the vast majority of our people no not have access to the economy. Unless we tackle these critical things, the DA (Democratic Alliance) will continue to be relevant.”
Jim said there could only be fundamental change to the economy if the state took control of strategic sectors such as minerals. The Marikana massacre, he said, made the case for why there should be mine nationalisation in the country.
“Our stance on nationalisation is justified by what happened at Marikana. If the state had serious ownership of the mine, the situation would not have got to that level and no workers would have been shot. This provides a solid basis as to why there should be state ownership of mineral resources.”
Jim said Numsa was pledging its support for the commission of inquiry as the truth needed to be told about the massacre.
“Who instructed the police to shoot the workers? We want to know why they were carrying automatic rifles with live ammunition. This massacre has set a terrible precedent and could be a dress rehearsal for the working class to be massacred.”
He said Numsa was also demanding to know why police officers involved in the shooting of the mineworkers were still at work. “They should be suspended pending the completion of the investigation as to what happened. I don’t know why they are still going to work like nothing happened.”
Jim, however, would not be drawn on the role of NUM in the Lonmin platinum mine dispute that lead to the massacre, although there is no love lost between the leaders of the two affiliates. “NUM is our sister union and we stay away from criticising them in public. There are internal platforms where we could share our views with them.”
He said exploitation of workers by mine bosses was however now plain to see, despite reaping around R160-billion from the platinum sector over five years. “Although mining companies had committed through the Mining Charter to developing proper infrastructure to workers, people are staying in squatter camps. They were supposed to move from hostels to proper communities but instead they are moving backwards, back to squatter camps,” Jim said.
While Numsa was firmly in the pro-nationalisation grouping lobbying for the resolution on “strategic nationalisation” at the ANC’s policy conference in June, Cosatu has not yet taken a firm position on it. The issue is bound to be hotly debated at the Cosatu congress, with NUM and Numsa likely to assume conflicting positions.
Numsa is deliberately raising the bar for the Cosatu congress as it wants to lead a fightback by the Left for all the disappointments in government over the past five years. But it seems internal divisions are leading Numsa to backtrack on its push for major changes in the ANC leadership. Other unions in the federation will be watching Numsa closely in order to decide their own position on the succession battle.
Cosatu could also end up balking on the matter at its congress, as it might prove difficult for the federation’s leaders to bridge consensus when the issue is so fraught. Mangaung can and will be the only decider. DM
Photo: The National Union of Metal workers of South Africa (NUMSA) march in the city of Johannesburg July 4, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko