Often politicians say what they don’t mean. You are no different. What does your recent letter to Cosatu really mean? Let me introduce what we will from now on call the 'Frank Decoder'. I owe this idea to my friend Makhudu Sefara who used to do this with great aplomb when he was political editor at the City Press a few years ago. So let me decode you.
Re: The crisis in the federation
Decoded: Re: I am about to be fired, please do something.
I take this unprecedented step of writing this letter to you in my capacity as the general secretary but also in my personal capacity as an activist who grew up in this movement.
Decoded: I shouldn’t be writing this letter to you as I am supposed to represent collective decisions. But I have to do this to intimidate those who are gunning for me.
I have an unbroken record of commitment to building a strong united and effective Federation, and like many others, deeply care for its future. Recent events have brought this home to me in a very sharp way.
Decoded: Please ignore my recent scandal as I have done many good things.
There is no doubt that the federation is going through the most painful period in its entire life. There can be little doubt where we are heading unless the current logjam is tackled.
Decoded: Please stop the tide that is coming my way. If they try to do this I will complicate their lives. I won’t go down alone.
The risk we are facing is crystal clear — that we are in imminent danger of destroying what was painstakingly built through the blood and sweat of workers for many decades.
Decoded: These guys are so brazen if they were able to fire an entire union they are definitely gunning for me. Let’s remind them that they can’t do this.
I believe that there will be no winners if we allow the federation to fracture permanently.
Decoded: I will be without a job and these guys won’t care. I will be the loser here.
The impact on workers and the poor will be felt for many years, and there is a serious risk that we may never fully retain the strength that made us to be respected by so many within and outside the borders of South Africa.
Decoded: If they get rid of me the investors will think all reason has left the room. But more importantly I will be in the political wilderness.
Yet I believe it must never be too late to act to save the future of the federation…
Decoded: It’s too late for me because my biggest backers are now in the cold and I am going to be next. I am calling for insurrection now.
… and if we do not do everything we can, history will judge all of us extremely harshly. I believe we have to now put personal considerations and feelings aside. Scoring a victory today will be hollow if it leads to a weakening of the working class.
Decoded: The crisis of my imminent firing has not mobilised you enough to do something drastic enough to stop it in its tracks.
I remain an optimist. My faith in the working class is stronger today than even in the days of my youth. I sincerely believe that if given the opportunity, we can address the challenges that we face and overcome them. With an honest commitment to unity, based on principles that have guided all of our lives, and in particular reflective of the resolutions agreed by the ground breaking 11th National Congress, I believe that we can work together to save our Federation from imminent disaster.
Decoded: Don’t allow these guys to fire me please.
We have arrived at a point in my view where the future of the federation must transcend who is right or wrong, or which faction is correct or mistaken or who has the numbers or not. It is the future of the Federation that is at stake. For two years now we have operated well below our capacity at a great cost to workers and their future they face.
Decoded: I know I stuffed up. I am not the only one. I won’t go down alone. Stop this otherwise I will expose those among you who are equally wrong.
Today, Cosatu is making daily headlines, not on the basis of what it has achieved, or what its programme is – fighting for a living wage, improved working conditions, addressing unemployment etc. We are making headlines for all the wrong reasons and are being lampooned by cartoonists, and subject to commentary from all sections of society.
Decoded: I used to make headlines using the Cosatu platform to speak truth to power. This has been replaced by my scandalous headlines. We need to restore this so I can hog the headlines again.
I have expressed my views to the special CEC (central executive committee) held on the 21- 23 October 2014 and on the 7 November 2014 regarding the expulsion of Numsa (National Union of Metalworkers of SA). I stand by those views and the appeals I made at that time for a calm and reasoned response to the challenges we face. I still hold this view, and appeal again for a rational discussion.
Decoded: It was my turn to defend Numsa after they defended me. I failed but no one can say I did not try.
I completely respect internal democracy and democratic centralism.
Decoded: I think it’s all nonsense, this centralism story, hence this letter.
This is what I have practiced all my life in whatever labour movement organisation I have been active in. I am ready to admit that at times I have had to articulate views that contradicted my own, but always with the firm belief that they were arrived at democratically, and therefore have had to serve as a disciplined cadre.
Decoded: When it comes to defending my career I couldn’t really give a hoot about democracy.
However, the magnitude of the decision that was taken by the special CEC is not only of historical importance but has momentous implications. I have to say that I view the decisions that were taken as ones that could destroy what we have jointly built for so many years.
Decoded: Democratic centralism must surely not apply to a decision that will result in my ultimate firing. We respect it at my peril.
In advancing this I am not in any way suggesting that there should be no discipline in the organisation. I am advancing this argument with only one consideration that has weighed against all other considerations — what is in the best interest of the federation at this moment. Let me repeat what I have said above — it does no longer matter who is right or wrong — what is at stake here is the future of workers as a whole.
Decoded: There is no discipline in the organisation anyway. So why should we pretend and then I end up the victim? I mean look at number one. No one is gunning for him.
From that point of view I plead with you to understand that I will not be able to defend a decision that I honestly believe is contradicting and undermining organised workers and broader working class unity, a decision that will have momentous implications for years to come.
Decoded: Please save me I tried to save Numsa; everyone knows I tried.
I remain an optimist. My faith in the working class is stronger today than even in the days of my youth. I sincerely believe that if given the opportunity, we can address the challenges that we face and overcome them. With an honest commitment to unity, based on principles that have guided all of our lives, and in particular reflective of the resolutions agreed by the ground breaking 11th national congress, I believe that we can work together to save our federation from imminent disaster.
Decoded: You better do something. Let’s work together to make sure these guys don’t fire me.
I strongly believe that the basis of our unity has to be adherence to 11th congress resolutions as well as all existing policies of the federation. The decisions made by our sovereign democratic structure, the Workers Parliament, cannot be undermined or manipulated for narrow interests.
Decoded: If you let these guys fire me all the noise I have been making will amount to zero. I mean even Corruption Watch did not fire me.
These are the reasons why I have decided not to participate in the NOB (national office bearer) press conference of this afternoon or to conduct interviews or participate in any activity that will exacerbate division further, or will further jeopardise any chance of the federation committing suicide by jumping off the cliff. There must an alternative to this.
Decoded: If I participated I would have betrayed Numsa after they went out on a limb for me when I was caught with my pants down.
Comrade Vavi, you are decoded.
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM
Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is one of South Africas leading media and communications specialists, as well as a community activist and a business executive. He is currently the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings an International Advisory Company. His most recent roles were Head of Communications for COPE , Political Advisor to the COPE parliamentary Leader as well as a Corporate Affairs Executive at the JSE listed Altron. He is a member of the University of the Western Cape Council, where he is an appointee of the Minister of Higher Education after serving two terms on the council of the Northwest University. He is an Associate of the prestigious international Institute of Independent Business (IIB). He is a regular columnist for The Sunday Independent and Pretoria News. In 2011 he rejoined the ANC as an ordinary member. Tabane is a PHD Candidate in Media and Journalism Studies at WITS University.
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall