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‘The rogue must stop’ — NUM lashes out at Mantashe’s comments over suspension of its general secretary

‘The rogue must stop’ — NUM lashes out at Mantashe’s comments over suspension of its general secretary
Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | National Union of Mineworkers logo. (Image: Wikipedia)

The past couple of weeks have seen unprecedented events in the four-decade history of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and this bodes ill for the governing ANC. First, the union suspended General Secretary (GS) William Mabapa. Now the union has lashed out at former GS and ANC heavyweight Gwede Mantashe after he waded into the fray.

The NUM on Thursday accused Gwede Mantashe, the ANC chairperson who is also Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, of “intrusive political mischief” for saying that the union’s suspension of its general secretary, William Mabapa, was “madness”. 

To wit, Mabapa was suspended with pay by the union’s Nation Executive Committee (NEC) in late July amid reports of an internal investigation into the alleged mismanagement of funds. That was a first in the history of a union whose former leaders include President Cyril Ramaphosa and Mantashe — in short, ANC pedigree. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: NUM suspends General Secretary William Mabapa amid reports of internal probe 

Mantashe, who is not known for being shy about his views, reportedly described the move to suspend Mabapa as “madness” during a South African Communist Party rally at Marikana on Sunday.  

The NUM, in a statement, was scathing in its response.  

“We have noted with concern the recent Gwede Mantashe public outburst on [the] NUM’s decision to suspend its General Secretary. Unfortunately, the National Chairperson of the ANC has invited himself into the internal matters of [the] NUM. The NEC takes serious exception to his intrusive political mischief,” the statement said. 

“Mantashe must be reminded of his own ‘madness’. For instance, when the ANC suspended and expelled its Secretary General Ace Magashule we respected their decision and never interfered. When the ANC expelled Carl Niehaus we respected this decision too. When the ANC expelled Julius Malema we still respected their decision,” the statement said.  

“He should have spoken privately, he has an open door to the NEC, and so this enraged the NEC. He was given a briefing ahead of the rally where he spoke and he still chose to attack the NUM in public. As a respected former leader, we believe he should know better. We still respect him but we are disappointed with his public outbursts,” NUM spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu told Daily Maverick

There also remains a political element around this.

“The public outbursts by Mantashe are not innocent; they are driven by desperate opportunism now that the ANC Parliamentary Deployment List Process machinery is imminent to roll,” the NUM statement said.  

The NUM has long been a key base of political support for the ANC as part of the wider Cosatu framework, and so the union’s pointed reference to the “deployment list process” raises questions that may be discomfiting for the ruling party. 

For one thing, Mantashe’s comments about “madness”are interesting in light of the fact that the earthy Mabapa always seemed more focused on bread-and-butter union issues than ANC politics.  

Mabapa is also the NUM leader who made peace with the stridently anti-ANC Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) led by the militant Joseph Mathunjwa. That remains the most significant development in labour relations in SA’s mining sector in the past decade, leading to an era of almost unprecedented labour stability in the shafts, which has probably benefited labour and capital alike.   

Reading the tea leaves — which can certainly be misread — one would have thought an ANC cadre like Mantashe was not that warm on Mabapa, and he was apparently informed about the reasons behind his suspension.  

Mantashe, it must be said, has also won approval from NUM for his stance on coal. The union has seen him as a fighter for jobs in the sector in the face of the global transition to clean energy, a backdrop that throws this spat into sharper relief.  

“Here and now the rogue must stop,” the NUM statement said. Mantashe has certainly been accused of going rogue on the renewable energy front. That the NUM would accuse him of doing so is a potentially seismic political shift. DM

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