South Africa

Numsa: Long live militancy and revolution!

By Khadija Patel 13 June 2012

Back in February, Stephen Grootes, still a Maverick writer, touted the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa as the Julius Malema of Cosatu. It was fitting, then, that just as Gwede Mantashe called time on Malema’s career at Luthuli House, Numsa was ready to reassure the nation that a “campaigning, militant and revolutionary” presence lived on in the tripartite alliance. By KHADIJA PATEL

Numsa has forcefully filled the void left by Malema, once more putting the call for nationalisation into the public sphere.

“Numsa, in line with the Freedom Charter demands, has demanded that nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, mines, land, strategic and monopoly industries without compensation must take place with speed, if we are to avoid sliding into anarchy and violence as a result of the cruel impact of the continuing Colonialism of a Special Type which breeds poverty, unemployment and extreme inequalities in South Africa today,” Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said.
Although there remains a great uneasiness in South Africa at the very mention of “nationalisation”, South Africa’s economic reality – the vast disparities between the wealthy and poor – make it impossible to wave away these calls in boredom. Jim quoted various statistics to illustrate the degree of inequality in South Africa, noting “Reports to (the Numsa) congress confirmed what all black and African South African workers feel and know.”

South Africa’s economic salvation then, according to Numsa, lies in revoking Gear and embracing a more socialist approach to economic governance – an approach it terms “the most advanced democracy ever known to humankind.”
Like the ANC Youth League, Numsa references the Freedom Charter in its call for nationalisation. “Numsa is inviting all South Africans to read the Freedom Charter. It is no longer a banned document,” Jim said. The Freedom Charter of course says: “The wealth of the country shall be shared among all who live in it.”

Yet, for all the celebration of the Freedom Charter, there remains rampant suspicion of populist nationalistion. Business leaders and even certain members from within the ruling ANC alliance have previously warned against the threat it posed to foreign investment in South Africa. Patience among ordinary South Africans, and particularly younger unemployed South Africans, is wearing thin.

It is in cognisance of this impatience that Numsa announced on Tuesday that it would support constitutional reform to better facilitate the land redistribution programme. “On the issue of land we were unanimous in the belief that the land must be returned to the people of this country in accordance with the Freedom Charter and that expropriation without compensation must be complemented by abolishing the principle of ‘willing buyer – willing seller’,” Jim said.

He went on to lambast subversive elements in the Codesa process who, he claims, sought to protect the interests of white capital in the country through the Constitution. “We are very firm that section 25 of the Constitution is a problem. Our government cannot do anything, it cannot break the back of white monopoly capital that has become an enclave swimming in… wealth that was not redistributed,” Jim said.

According to him, should the ANC take a clear stand in favour of nationalisation, promising expropriation without compensation, it would succeed to decry voting trends and support would come in droves, delivering the ANC the required two-thirds majority to effect constitutional change. “If the ANC takes a decision from both its policy and national conference and says it wants to review the Constitution, our people will vote for the African National Congress. We will deliver more than two-thirds (in the National Assembly),” Jim said.

Guided by his outspoken pronouncements, Numsa is fast gathering clout, if not within the broader political spectacle then certainly within Cosatu. Like Malema, calls for nationalisation and an emphasis on the black working class seem to throw up the polar realities of black and white, an apparent emphasis on the rights of one at the cost of the other.

“We are not narrowly pursuing another race (situation). We think that equal access to the economy of this country is in the best interests of both black and white,” Jim said.  And though some may long for a day when a discussion of the rights of the poor is not entrenched in racial terms, we have yet to grapple with poverty and inequality with the acknowledgement that, after 18 years of democracy, the poorest people in the country are still black. It was apt then that Jim noted, “Unless both blacks and whites have equal access to the wealth this country has, the country is going nowhere.”

The last time nationalisation was the subject of heated debate, I asked Bobby Godsell, chairman of Business Leadership SA and a former CEO at mining giant AngloGold, how he saw the calls for nationalisation in the context of South Africa’s severe inequality. He responded: “Smart business leaders understand the extent of ‘excluded’ South Africans, that is those without economic activity, secure shelter, quality education, decent healthcare, in short, a place to stand in the new South Africa.” 

He continued: “I have no ‘theological’ opposition to governments owning and controlling companies that produce goods and services. I would ask only that there be a clear public interest as to why they do that, and then that they, like everyone else, should be judged by their results.”

It is almost painfully funny that the ANC-led government’s failure to deliver basic services to some of the poorest in the country will accelerate calls towards nationalisation. And Numsa will be right in front. DM

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Photo: Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim addresses the media beside Numsa President Cedric Gina. Numsa have renewed their call for nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, mines, land and what they term “strategic monopolies.” Despite the fear any mention of “nationalisation” provokes among South Africans not sporting a Youth League beret, Jim and Numsa are adamant – nationalisation must happen to remedy South Africa of poverty and inequality. They are even prepared to back a constitutional review to make way for nationalisation. (Khadija Patel/Daily Maverick)


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