South Africa

SACP: Hands off the workers, Numsa, they’re ours!

By Greg Nicolson 2 December 2013

For all the bluster and bickering this year, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa) have resisted tearing at each others' throats. That was before the union seriously started considering forming a workers' party. If it does, Numsa will vie directly with the Communist Party to see who can be more Marxist. The gloves are off and the SACP looks threatened and threatening. By GREG NICOLSON.

Yes, the SACP and Numsa have been at odds in 2013. It was inevitable since Jacob Zuma was re-elected ANC president and the forces of radical change purged from the party’s agenda. Like distant lovers, they have bounced letters back and forth on their disagreement over the National Development Plan (NDP). Numsa supports none of it; SACP some. Numsa has also accused the SACP of trying to split Cosatu and persecute Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi – who has been suspended for having sex with an employee at work – to benefit the forces of minority capital.

The Communist Party has stepped it up a notch. Numsa, the largest union in the country and the biggest Cosatu affiliate, is considering withdrawing support from the ANC in the 2014 elections and establishing a workers’ party to eventually contest elections. The union goes to a special conference this month to decide what to do next. It’s the ultimate betrayal to the alliance, which so far has been able to claim the working class. In Bold and the Beautiful terms, it’s like Ridge leaving Taylor for Brooke, again.

At a meeting of its central committee this weekend, the SACP decided to take the gloves off and get into a good old political brawl (make allegations of financial impropriety). “We have patiently endeavoured to engage with the Numsa general secretary and his clique in a constructive if robust ideological debate. However sceptical we might have been, we decided to take him at his word that he was seeking to advance an anti-capitalist, left-wing perspective and line of action. We have even opened up the columns of our own publications for him to vent against us. [Numsa General Secretary] Irvin Jim has consistently abused all of these sincere endeavours. It is now glaringly obvious that he and his clique have another agenda. It is not an agenda of building working class unity. It is not agenda of respecting left-wing diversity. It is an agenda informed by unbridled personal ambition and personal wealth accumulation,” read SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande.

He continued: “Numsa is convening a special congress later this month, ostensibly to obtain a democratic mandate from its membership on the future of the union’s participation in the ANC-led alliance and the role of Numsa in next year’s elections. But despite all the rhetoric about worker democracy, the leadership clique has already predetermined its strategy. Last week on Thursday the clique convened a secret, off-the-record meeting with selected journalists to tell them that NUMSA would launch an independent workers party in 2015.”

Before voting, Numsa members should ask its leaders some questions, said the communists. They think Jim and his deputy Karl Cloete should undergo lifestyle audits. Jim must explain his role as head of the Eastern Cape tender board. Members need to ask about Numsa’s relationship with Doves (the funeral, etc, company) and query bank accounts with ABSA and FNB related to deals with Doves, Brevity Trade and Eriotrax. “Can the Numsa leadership clique assure Numsa members that funds earned through Doves and other Numsa Investment arm activities are not being diverted into a web of personal accounts, businesses and war-chests?” asked the SACP.

On Sunday, Numsa released the discussion documents for its upcoming conference. While not categorically supporting the establishment of a new party, there’s little room to stay within the alliance, which the union says is simply a vote-grabbing machine. “The continuing divergence between Numsa and the SACP, and the high levels of disappointment with the ANC are clear indications that Numsa is not in agreement with the direction that is being pursued by the alliance,” say the documents, which support a more radical approach to South Africa’s problems of unemployment, inequality and poverty than the NDP.

Clearly, they are unhappy with the leaders of the ANC and the SACP. The discussion documents continue: “Numsa therefore cannot accept the political leadership that has emerged in the alliance, nor can we accept the current ideological orientation of the SACP leadership, if we truly believe in the Freedom Charter as the most direct programme towards a socialist South Africa. We would have to convince ourselves, for example, that the shareholders at Lonmin and Goldfields will lead a successful socialist-oriented [national democratic revolution].” Numsa lists the ANC’s key goals on issues such as work, housing, rural development, water and sanitation before providing dot points highlighting the party’s failures.

One of Numsa’s sore points is the treatment of Vavi. On Thursday, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe advised Cosatu that it should seek a political solution to the Vavi problem if the cost of disciplining him is too high. Nzimande on Sunday said Cosatu should be allowed to follow its own internal procedures and argued that Mantashe’s comments were misinterpreted. The ANC has responded to reports that he was chastised for his remarks. “We have often and unequivocally stated that a strong and united Cosatu is in the best interests of the African National Congress and the people of South Africa,” said spokesperson Jackson Mthembu on Sunday. “The cohesion of Cosatu is a critical precondition for the advancement of our revolution and that dealing with an individual, whether for or against that individual, should never undermine the unity of the federation.”

That unity seems unlikely to hold. The Communist Party continually referred to Numsa as a “business union” on Sunday. They argued that Jim and his leadership are using their union to benefit themselves financially. It’s most likely an attempt by the SACP to divide Numsa so that its members vote to stay within the alliance or, if they do go, convince some Numsa members to leave the union and stick with Cosatu and ANC-voting unions.

Nzimande, never one to mince words, knows Numsa is probably going to leave. Before it does, the SACP wants to hollow out the union’s support. And why not? A workers’ party with a strong base could mobilise on all the ideas the SACP claims to espouse but fails to implement. DM

Photo: SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. (Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA)

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