Before the tripartite alliance meets this week for a summit on the beleaguered economy, South African Communist Party (SACP) leaders met in Johannesburg this weekend to discuss a range of issues. They won’t let anyone leave Cosatu without a fight, want an end to SA’s liberal economics and will damn well call the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) vigilantes if they want to. By GREG NICOLSON.
Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande explained his position on Cosatu’s factionalism on Sunday, walking a fine line after comments directed at the trade union federation’s suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim. Speaking at a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) event last week, the minister of higher education warned any union considering leaving the trade union federation “they will first have to open this red door”. In response, Jim, whose union said it may consider leaving Cosatu, accused Nzimande and parts of the ANC of driving factionalism in Cosatu.
Suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi replied to Nzimande on Twitter this weekend. “Regrettably alliance has not functioned in a manner wherein all components can claim to be driving revolution together,” tweeted Vavi, who faces disciplinary proceedings for having sex with an employee at work. “We can’t take responsibility for the Guptarisation of the economy, downright looting of resources through rampant corruption,” he added. “In your book to be ANC is to tolerate corruption? To be enemy is to fight e-tolls and demand public transport system, pro-poor policies?”
The SACP discussed Cosatu’s problems in its Central Committee meeting this weekend in Johannesburg. Capitalism, said the party, was trying to drive a wedge between the ANC and Cosatu. “Unfortunately, elements within Cosatu have taken the bait.”
Nzimande maintained his line that the SACP would not intervene in Cosatu’s factionalism, “but we won’t at the same time be spectators when Cosatu is being divided with these threats of walkouts. This federation was built in blood, not on the basis of individual leaders’ idiosyncratic preferences. So we won’t fold our arms… So when people are threatening walkouts on the basis of personalised and strange agendas we won’t fold our arms as the party because we think that… people who are doing that are inadvertently if not deliberately serving the agenda of the bosses because a divided Cosatu won’t benefit workers; it will benefit the bosses.”
The SACP plans to “comradely” intensify its engagement with Cosatu affiliates, including Numsa, said Nzimande. SACP deputy secretary general Jeremy Cronin added, “Of course it would be the workers’ decision and not the SACP’s decision [whether unions want to leave Cosatu] but it’s part of our responsibility to explain to workers what’s at play in this and who stands to gain from the decisions and splits in Cosatu and who loses and we certainly take that as a serious responsibility.”
The SACP’s criticism of Vavi and Jim was veiled in alliance diplomacy, but it was forthright on the issue of violence in the mining industry. Nzimande said the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) displays “typical vigilante behaviour”. “They’ll find every excuse not to sign a peace agreement. They’ll find every excuse to blame everybody else except themselves. We as the SACP want to go on record: we fully support the peace process and the initiative as led by the deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe … but fully supporting that does not mean we must be blind. What is killing these workers, by the way, if it’s not vigilante unionism?”
Speaking before the commemoration of the Marikana killings, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa complained that leaders in the tripartite alliance had labelled AMCU vigilantes and cockroaches. He said it signalled hatred towards the union and could herald a “second Marikana”.
On Sunday, SACP national chairperson and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana said his union demonstrates peacefully while AMCU uses intimidation. “Vigilantism is about those characteristics of intimidation, of violence, of killings, which are currently associated with AMCU. We never see that when there’s a NUM march.”
Speaking recently, Mathunjwa said the media has not focused on AMCU members who have been killed in the ongoing violence. Zokwana cited some of the recent killings of NUM members and laid the blame squarely on AMCU. “Trade unions don’t kill. They don’t kill other workers … They know who their enemy is. The other workers are not their enemies, but those ones [AMCU], they kill other workers in the name of trade unionism.” Nzimande dismissed inter-union rivalry as the cause of the violence and instead blamed mining companies for creating the hostile conditions.
While many of the questions posed to the SACP leadership related to Cosatu, Cronin said the party’s discussions focused heavily on how to boost investment in South Africa. They took Sasol to task for planning to invest R200-billion to build a fuel plant in the United States and proposed a windfall tax on the energy company’s profits. Cronin, who is also the deputy minister of public works, unpacked the post-Apartheid economy and said the alliance had hoped that the conditions were created for local investment, similar to West Germany’s post-war economic growth.
“What we’ve seen is a massive, massive failure of, if you like, patriotic investment into our economy,” he noted, citing estimates that 20-25% of GDP since 1994 has been invested outside of South Africa.
“We’ve got to put a windfall tax. No more gentlemen’s agreements, with Sasol for instance, no more illusions that by loosening up increasingly exchange controls we will attract investment in. We get hot money, which flows in and out and creates huge volatilities in our currency. We don’t get serious investment into bricks and mortar, into jobs in our country. We’ve really got to tighten up a whole series of macro-economic policies which we’ve over-liberalised.”
The SACP will look at the problem of disinvestment during the tripartite alliance’s economic summit this week. It’s likely to support the process of state-led intervention into the economy. But as the ANC, SACP and Cosatu meet to discuss the economy, issues of factionalism are sure to be bubbling under the surface. DM
Photo: SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande attends Popcru’s national political school in Benoni, Thursday, 22 August 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
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