South Africa

Alliance Avengers: The curious clash of political heavyweights and what lies beneath it

By Ranjeni Munusamy 19 March 2013

You might not have noticed, but there has been an unusual but vicious row playing out between high-profile figures in the tripartite alliance, with a volley of bizarre exchanges in public statements, press releases, open letters, blogs and online newsletters. The fight appears to be ostensibly over the National Development Plan, but once again this seems to be a proxy battle for something much bigger. Whatever it is, the fight is about to be thrown into high gear as Numsa’s Irvin Jim grabs the mike again. But first, what the hell is all this about? RANJENI MUNUSAMY explains.

It all started two weeks ago when the central committee (CC) of metalworkers union Numsa decided at a meeting that it really, seriously didn’t care much for the National Development Plan (NDP), now adopted by the ANC as the holy grail of economic and social policy.

Numsa believes the answer to South Africa’s economic woes lies in the tenets of socio-economic equality embraced in the Freedom Charter. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) also adopted the Freedom Charter as the centrepiece for economic policy at its national congress last year, but this was casually disregarded by the ANC at its national conference in Mangaung last December as it decided to superimpose the NDP blueprint over all its policy and planning.

Cosatu has been extremely unhappy about this and Numsa, through its expressive general secretary, Irvin Jim, has been particularly vocal in condemning the NDP.  

To wit: “We firmly believe that the NDP will reproduce the same results we have suffered under the current neoliberal economic trajectory – mass poverty, rising unemployment and deepening inequalities, mostly affecting the black working class, including the marginalised and despondent youth of country.

“After a thorough analysis, the CC came to the extremely disturbing conclusion that significant and strategic parts of the NDP were directly lifted from DA (Democratic Alliance) policy documents, especially its chapters on economic restructuring, infrastructure, role of the state, agriculture and rural development,” Jim said in the Numsa statement.

And the sentence that really turned the knife: “The fact that the ANC has adopted the NDP, now buries whatever differences existed between it and the DA on matters of socio-economic transformation.”

Trevor Manuel, the minister responsible for the National Planning Commission, does not often engage in public bouts, but when he does, he hits hard – as former government spokesman Jimmy Manyi can attest.

His media statement in response to Jim, though, was particularly acerbic: “Whilst generally we would not respond to the musings of Mr Jim, we will make this one exception. He arrogates to himself, as a custodian of ANC policies, power much greater than the 4,500 delegates who gathered at the ANC 53rd national conference in Mangaung.

“What gives Mr Jim the right to suggest that the delegates were misled? Mr Jim suffers from an infantile disorder that manifests as an acute aversion to anything rational.”

Jim did not respond directly to Manuel then, but don’t worry, the hellfire is coming. Jim and the rest of his union’s national officials will address a media conference on Tuesday to unveil “a detailed and comprehensive study done by Numsa in its conclusion that the NDP was lifted from Democratic Alliance policies”. It will not be a polite chit-chat.

In the meantime, Jim got hit by another missile, this time launched by the SA Communist Party, in the form of its deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin. Cronin, it would seem, has had a bone to pick with Jim since last September regarding a statement Numsa issued on the Marikana massacre, but decided that now was the appropriate time to tackle him, in an “open letter” through the SACP’s online newsletter. Cronin also takes issue with Jim over his defence of Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu general secretary, who is under attack from within the trade union federation, and Jim’s suggestion of state collusion against Vavi. 

Cronin’s particular gripe, though, is a September 2012 statement released by Numsa’s central committee in which it lashed out at the state and the police for the “savage, cowardly actions and excessive force, which invariably led to the deaths of 44 workers”.

Cronin says Numsa’s Marikana death toll “knowingly obscures the fact that the first 10 of those 44 deaths were not at the hands of the police”.

“It is hard not to draw the conclusion that behind this apparently militant anti-state, anti-police, anti-capitalist position lurks another unspoken anti. The CC statement shows a remarkable lack of solidarity with Numsa’s sister Cosatu affiliate – NUM (National Union of Mineworkers). Whatever NUM’s weaknesses, and surely it has many challenges, Numsa’s extensive CC statement contains not one single expression of sympathy for or solidarity with its sister affiliate,” Cronin wrote.

Why Cronin is so aggrieved on behalf of NUM that he had to confront Jim and Numsa six months later is anyone’s guess. 

Cronin also takes issue with the same Numsa statement on economic policy issues, particularly the “strengthening of the state sector in mining in particular”. 

Cronin says: “If there is any logical consistency in all of this, then Numsa must be calling for the mines to be taken over by a state that operates in the interests of mining capitalists! Which I don’t think is Numsa’s intention – but it was certainly the motivation behind the ‘nationalisation’ rhetoric of certain ex-ANC Youth Leaguers.”

Jim has not responded to Cronin, probably because he is still trying to figure out what the 1,700-word letter is in aid of. The retort to Cronin, however, came completely from left field: former ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu, who himself seems to have been bottling things up for a long time.

Shivambu’s letter, titled “Dear Jeremy Cronin on behalf of Irvin Jim”, first appeared on his blog and was re-run by Politicsweb, the link to which was tweeted by former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema. (We hope you’re still keeping up and joining all the dots on the matrix)

Shivambu says in the letter that he had no approval from Jim to respond to Cronin, nor does he have his number or email address. His point of contention is obviously Cronin’s mention of nationalisation, which he and Malema’s ANC Youth League championed.

“Now this is a sad reflection because you once again are trying to banish the nationalisation of mines debate, which the ANC national general council in 2011 developed greater consensus on whilst you and fellow neoliberals like Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan, Rob Davies, Frans Baleni, and Ebrahim Patel dismally failed to convince 98% of the Commission of Economic Transformation that nationalisation is not the way.”

Shivambu goes on to reveal what allegedly transpired behind the scenes in this closed commission, probably deciding that since he is already exiled from the ANC, he cannot be punished further. 

“Do you remember that Cde Irvin Jim was amongst those who dismissed you and Frans Baleni when you argued neoliberal politics?? Do you remember that the Economic Transformation Commission was more than two-thirds of the national general council? (for the first time since the unbanning of the ANC in 1990) For your memory’s sake, do you remember that out of the 148 people who spoke in the commission on economic transformation, it was only the seven of you who spoke against nationalisation of mines…?”

Shivambu continues: “Do you remember that in the resolutions committee, which we were both members of, you sided with Trevor Manuel and Jesse Duarte trying to change what the resolutions of the economic transformation commission said until then Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said no resolution committee can change resolutions of the commission?

“Do you remember me saying in front of everyone that you should keep quiet because you mislead the Communist Party and now want to mislead the ANC? Do you remember throwing tantrums and writing a statement on behalf of the SACP during the procession of the NGC, accusing the ANC Youth League and more than 90% of NGC of being bought by black capitalists? Do you remember that after you wrote that statement, the NGC Steering Committee instructed you to apologise to the ANC Youth League and to the NGC for your tantrums???”

Shivambu, clearly still extremely bitter about his suspension from the ANC, rounds up, saying: “I just thought you must be reminded of all those recent past developments because you have potential of going around claiming that the nationalisation of mines debate was defeat through a democratic debate whilst you know that banishments and isolation of true fighters for economic freedom gave you a free ride in Mangaung.”

Because Shivambu and Malema now have pariah status, nobody in the ANC or alliance will acknowledge or duel with them. But the sentiments must have stung.

Jessie Duarte, the ANC deputy secretary general, came out to play next – in a letter to Business Day. Obviously not able to respond to non-existing Shivambu, her target was Numsa, over its opposition to the NDP, which she says was approved after “the most extensive policy consultation process that the ANC has ever embarked on”.

“Numsa is standing out like a sore thumb, against the grain of the entire nation in its poor attempt to create further uncertainty in the local and international investor markets – the stability necessary to create the very jobs that Numsa claims the NDP will never create. But we are somewhat not surprised – Numsa has always driven a populist, short-term vision for our country, a constraint we have lived with in the strategic alliance we have forged with the Congress of South African Trade Unions, where Numsa is an important ally,” Duarte said, suggesting that the ANC is fed up with putting up with Numsa.

Of course Numsa came back fighting: “At least metalworkers now know what the DSG of the ANC thinks about their history, and a history of their struggles, since 1987”, Jim’s deputy Karl Cloete wrote in an open letter to Duarte.

“You say we are populists. What do you mean? Your letter does not enlighten us on this score. In our understanding populism has a disregard for class interests, regarding ‘people, nations, society’ as if they are homogeneous or, to borrow from Comrade Cronin, ‘monolithic’.” (Obviously Numsa was stung by Cronin’s letter even though it did not respond to it).

Cloete zeros in on Cosatu’s big issue at present: “Comrade Jessie, do answer us this at least: During the 2014 elections, where does this leave your ally, Cosatu, whom you never told that the Alliance is now newly-founded on the NDP, not the Freedom Charter?  Where does this leave the working class, to which you say you are biased? What happened to the ANC being ‘a disciplined force of the Left’?”

Numsa is still not done. Spurred on by all the crossfire, as well as allegations that Vavi and Jim are the targets of a campaign to excise them from their positions, the union leaders are bound to bring the roof down in their media conference on Tuesday on the NDP.

But is this about the NDP or is this yet another proxy fight for deeper problems in the alliance? And does it have anything to do with the rest of us? So far, South Africans seem to be mere spectators in this bizarre brawl between people who all call each other “comrades” but have little in common in terms of policy and perspective. They also don’t seem to like each other much.

The crux of the matter is this: Is Cosatu (Vavi’s part of it), and its most radical affiliate, Numsa, still wanted and needed as an ally to the ANC? The NDP will stand and fall on its implementation but this question will remain as new issues come and go.

All the messaging coming from the ANC, and its cheerleading squad in the SACP, suggests that Cosatu is a major irritant and its policies and campaigns are running against the grain of the ruling party. With such irreconcilable positions, and now allegations that people’s lives and reputations are in danger, just how much longer can they hang together? The answer will have a lasting impact on South Africa’s future. And, if the way things are hotting up within the alliance is any gauge, we might have that answer surprisingly soon. DM

Photo: Jessie Duarte, Jeremy Cronin, Irvin Jim, Floyd Shivambu and Julius Malema, with Jacob Zuma as the Incredible Hulk.

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