Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 10 April 2013

Dear Zwelinzima Vavi, let’s talk frankly…

The Cosatu general secretary may have corruption in his sights, but he pays scant attention to the shortcomings of affiliates such as the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. Frankly, the failure to reign in reactionary attacks by these unions on the National Development Plan, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and the ANC itself, smacks of hypocrisy.

Dear Zwelinzima Vavi,

You have been under some considerable fire since Mangaung but you have held your own. Voices like yours are needed in our society no matter how we may personally feel about them. Our movement, as you know, does not always leap for joy at independent and critical thought. You are still going to be under fire, especially if you don’t keep quiet about corruption that is tearing at the soul of our society. But I have to applaud you for keeping the subject at the top of the agenda of our society. Your pioneering of Corruption Watch, among other initiatives, stands out as practical speaking of truth to power. We are yet to see its impact, but I am certain it is much more than keeping mum about corruption. Your guns aimed at some among us in the movement can have much more impact than any opposition, because you know us intimately. I have to say, keep it up. But also, frankly, good luck, as the guns from within will also not spare you.

But I have some beef with you. Your guns have not been equally cocked against some of the most puzzling of behaviour of your affiliated unions. There is a trend that can now qualify as reactionary among some of the unions. The toying of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) with the future of our children by refusing to have education declared as an essential service demonstrates what the key interests of Sadtu really are. Sadtu, under its nose, had a huge text book scandal that embarrassed our movement, carrying on for months, but there was not a word of protest from you and them until the NGO Section 27 made noise. No matter how liberal you may think they are, they brought to our attention what we would have had to ignore in the wake of empty explanations from the powers that be. It can’t be that Sadtu can reserve for itself the right to bring education to a halt but any suggestion of accountability as proposed by the president related to bringing back inspectors is met with disdain. How is this different from government ministers refusing to account to Parliament – something you are very vocal about? Why is Sadtu not able to take its grievances against an ANC minister to the ANC and win that battle there, rather than make our children a football of collapsing alliance relationships? Surely the union cannot hope to win this battle for the minister to resign if they can’t persuade the person who appointed her to fire her? Your silence on this matter is truly deafening and sails close to hypocrisy.     

But what takes the cake is the recent attack on the minister of planning by yet another union under your wing, Nehawu (the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union). A clearly off-on-a-tangent attack of Trevor Manuel was a mark of cowardice and intellectual dishonesty. Who can really believe the bile that Manuel does not acknowledge the legacy of Apartheid? You and many leaders of the alliance lived under the so-called class project for years unable to challenge Manuel. To come years later and try and blame one man, when this policy was discussed and accepted in your structures and used by the ANC to stay in power for close to two decades, is one of the most disingenuous attacks on your own government that has ever been seen. Manuel is right and you know it. We can’t blame Apartheid for everything that is going wrong in our democracy two decades on. This is a glaring truth – truth you can’t stand when it points a finger at your members. Surely the public can attest to the fact that there are lazy civil servants who give the rest a bad name and don’t put our people first. When Manuel points this out and makes the point that these “servants” cannot blame Apartheid, he earns insulting wrath from your union, which is unjustified and frankly pathetic in its reduction of all our problems to so- called  Manuel policies – in fact ANC policies. He is even attacked for good measure for electing not to stand for the ANC’s NEC. I have never come across such a thing – where a person who is clearly not liked by the union is now being attacked for not standing for office. I thought you would welcome that he will not be in your hair?  You will agree with me, Comrade Vavi, that this is the height of hypocrisy.

As if that is not enough, enter Numsa (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) and its ideologically challenged Jim-comes-to-Joburg. After months of the National Development Plan being tabled for discussion by all and sundry, Numsa has just discovered that this policy, accepted by almost all in society, has traces of the DA policies. So as far as the gospel according to Jim goes, if the DA does not want the ANC to implement something that is good for the country all it has to do is to write it in its policies. This escapes logic. What we want for the country and its future will never be a preserve of one section of our society, no matter how revolutionary. I know that saying the ANC policies are a cut-and-paste of some DA policies makes you sound very revolutionary to the uncritical, but to the thinking it makes you look totally silly. In building the country, surely we must seek consensus across political fault lines? What needs to be acknowledged is that this administration, unlike any other since 1994, has tabled a document that has united the country. What can be so bad about that? Is it so hard to acknowledge this mark of success?

These three instances of your affiliated unions making total nonsense of democracy, making a mockery of the existence of any sort of alliance with the ANC, are things that may well make your well considered noises of criticism diminish as the charity of such criticism does not begin in your back yard. Can you really justify the fact that Sadtu did nothing when children they teach go without text books for six months – but as soon as the issue of salaries comes up they go into the streets leaving the same children to their own devices? Can you really justify the refusal of unions to be subjected to inspectors in order to safeguard the quality of our education? Can you really justify the grotesque attack on an ANC minister for stating what we all know, that there are bad apples in the public sector who should not blame Apartheid for their laziness? Can we really justify with a straight face a belated criticism of the NDP when more so than many in society – you had absolute access to the ANC policy conference and ANC NEC meetings that discussed the plan, as well as the Mangaung conference where the ANC adopted this plan? All this sails very close to hypocrisy – but I don’t expect you to agree. The unions are an important part of our body politic yet these inconsistencies in behaviour tend to result in their being taken a tad less seriously. I hope that in the same way that you have placed corruption at the top of the agenda of the country, you can rescue this reputation of the unions that is going to ruin.

Yours frankly, 

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM


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