Opinionista Zwelinzima Vavi 26 September 2017

Why Saftu and Numsa will not be part of Cosatu’s strike

The fellows who are calling on workers to sacrifice their wages are still to acknowledge their role in the creation of this monumental disaster. They are still to acknowledge their role in the destruction of the very Cosatu which today is a sorry shadow of its former self. A response to Mkhuseli ‘Khusta’ Jack.

Mkhuseli ‘KhustaJack has used Facebook to disagree with the statement by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa in which the union explains why it will not be participating in the Cosatu strike against corruption and state capture.

The campaign to save SA is not a medal hunting or publicity seeking,” he writes. “It is a matter of national existence. To criticise those who stand up to the destruction of our nation is natural obnoxiousness… Please stop being ideologically myopic.”

Some of us who know those characters in Cosatu just as well as we know our own hands will not be fooled by the charlatan Khusta Jack’s newly found militancy and newly found hatred for corruption.

There is no principle being pursued by the leaders of Cosatu; if anything this strike is about maintaining the status quo – which is class exploitation. As somebody has said it is about puppies looking for a new owner to serve. If Cosatu was serious about fighting corruption it would start to clean its own house. If it was genuinely concerned about job losses it wouldn’t be continuously voting for the continuation of neoliberalism and unbridled capitalism in every election.

Let me start by explaining where it all went wrong. The shenanigans of using the state and abusing state power didn’t start with the Zuma presidency; ask Adv Vusi Pikoli what happened to him.

But certainly corruption and abuse of the state institutions has worsened during the Zuma presidency. President Mbeki looks more like an angel now thanks to his successor. Some of us can hardly sleep at night for that monumental disastrous political error of elevating someone facing 783 charges into the highest office in the land.

Every day we pinch ourselves, asking what we drank to believe in a conspiracy theory that Zuma was a victim of the shenanigans – the use of the state to deal with political opponents inside the congress movement. Cosatu, including myself and Numsa, are guilty as charged. History has proven some correct because Jacob Zuma knows how to prove his detractors correct and how to prove his supporters utterly stupid.

Some of us had to come clean and we profusely apologised for being so gullible. Our hands are not clean – but then, show me a single person with squeaky clean hands in the congress movement.

The fellows who are calling on workers to sacrifice their wages are still to acknowledge their role in the creation of this monumental disaster. They are still to acknowledge their role in the destruction of the very Cosatu which today is a sorry shadow of its former self, following their own “operation mabahambe” that saw the purging of hundreds of thousands of members not only in Numsa, but also the purges within Popcru, Ceppwawu, Sadtu, Samwu, Satawu and others, resulting in splits in these unions.

Acknowledgement and fixing the mess should be more of an internal process, a process of introspection, than the rush to look outward. Who is Cosatu to point a finger at Jacob Zuma when three fingers are pointing at their own chest? Why did they do nothing when Samwu members were marching and submitting memorandums about the R176-million that went missing in their union accounts? Why did they embrace those charged in the courts of law for this pillaging in Samwu and Satawu? These characters are the very ones urging workers to strike against Zuma corruption.

This purging and intolerance was part of a deliberate programme to hollow out and domesticate every organ of people’s power. It succeeded to domesticate not just Cosatu but the ANCYL, ANCWL, SANCO, Congress student formations and, may I add, the ANC and the SACP. More worryingly, it is the programme that hollowed most of the state-owned enterprises and institutions of democracy such as the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and the police. It is the same project that led to the vicious attacks on the judges, the media and the office of the public protector.

Who can take Cosatu’s sudden crocodile tears seriously when they have the audacity to point to Zuma’s corruption when they themselves stand accused of the same crimes? Let’s say we were to join hands with these people, what would those former members say in this march of convenience?

Above all, exactly when did they discover that there was a state capture programme? Hundreds of thousands have been in the streets protesting this since 2015 and before. They called those who demonstrated names. Of course, everyone is capable of changing; we too changed from believing that rubbish in 2005 right until early 2010. We suffered the consequences as you know.

But we are not bitter, as the mabahambe brigade like to say; we are happy we were liberated from the politics of lies. We will not be part of pulling the wool over the eyes of workers any more. We have created an independent, truly democratic and campaigning federation thanks to the lessons of trying to fix something that has long been broken.

The reason why we don’t trust their intention is that we think this sudden discovery of ethics and morality has more to do with factional battles inside the ANC. Let me remind you that that crowd simply ignored the passionate pleas of the very Ramaphosas, Mantashes, Mufamadis, Ledwabas, Gxanyanas and countless others when they were embarking on the self-destruction programme because of their unshakable loyalty to the Zuma and Nzimande project at the time. All of a sudden we must march against Zuma and endorse Ramaphosa without them first admitting their mistakes. Was it a mistake or political opportunism and dishonesty?

We are the last to be accused of narrow sectarian or purist approaches to struggles. Some of us, precisely because of our understanding of how deep and how dangerous this state capture programme is to our immediate future, marched alongside political parties with which we have such fundamental political and ideological differences. You know that some of our own comrades criticised us for this.

We are part of civil society and have agreed to be patrons of their endeavours. There is no Cosatu there because it has refused to participate in all of these efforts. We are not talking about last year; we are talking about the efforts to protest the removal of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas in order to appoint Gupta-approved ministers in the Treasury a few months ago.

It is a fact that Numsa was the first organisation to call on Zuma to resign before it became fashionable to do so at least within the congress movement.

Why did Numsa do that after it played such an important role in ensuring that Zuma ascend to the Presidency and that the ANC wins every election since 1994 until the 2011 local government elections? This leads us to the second reason for the Cosatu strike.

They say they are protesting against job losses. It is true that there is a job-loss bloodbath. We have been losing jobs since apartheid’s dying days. Why? The main reason is that the ANC has abandoned its historic mission. The economic and social demands of the Freedom Charter, such as the demand that the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industries shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole and that other industries shall be managed for the benefit of the people, have been sidelined in favour of a trickle-down approach to development and now worsened by the Guptarisation of the economy.

This was the first and most decisive state capture by white monopoly capital in order to maintain the status quo and to introduce peripheral programmes such as BEE, the Black Industrialists Programme, etc, which will leave the legacy of apartheid and colonialism intact.

Instead of driving a programme of fundamental change the ANC embarked on anti-working class and pro-big business programmes such as:

  • The 1995 privatization programme,
  • The 1996 GEAR neoliberal programme,
  • The commodification programme including Eskom leading to us losing our historic competitive advantages for cheap electricity,
  • The introduction of e-tolls, which meant replacement of racially based apartheid with economic status-based apartheid,
  • Austerity measures that reduced government spending on such essential programmes as healthcare, leading to the Esidimeni crisis.

We have casualisation of labour, outsourcing, refusal to ban labour brokers, the reduction of corporate taxes from 54% during apartheid towards the 26% target, removal of the exchange controls so that the bosses can move their loot to tax havens, doing nothing about illicit cash outflows, etc. We can write the full book on this betrayal of the poor.

It was desperation that landed us in the arms of Jacob Zuma. We won in policy terms in Polokwane and got an economic programme centred on the need to change the economic structure and a growth path based on strategic state interventions and industrialisation. We won again in the 2009 ANC manifesto when the issue of decent work, education, health, rural development and fighting crime and corruption were the first five priorities. All of this came to zero – completely betrayed in favour of neoliberal economic policy and worse austerity measures.

The result of all this is that the black majority are largely where apartheid and colonialism had placed them; they have no property and they have no land but in addition they face worsening unemployment, poverty and inequality. Cosatu’s national congress after national congress decried this state of affairs. It had called for the revolution to be put back on track. It had called for the alliance as a whole to be a political centre so that the phenomenon where workers are only important on the eve of the elections comes to the end. Zuma and this leadership collective acknowledged these – just read his speech to the ANC policy conference in 2012. But have they implemented anything of that kind in practice – dololo!

Yet Cosatu keeps on deluding itself and pulling wool over the eyes of workers that something good is about to happen. Cosatu mobilised for Zuma to be elected president not once but twice despite the overwhelming evidence that poverty, unemployment, inequality and corruption were getting worse. They voted for the ANC and we remember the posters in the last local government elections where they were urging workers to vote for jobs when there was a jobs-loss bloodbath was under way. They knew they were telling a lie that neoliberalism and austerity measures can create jobs but continued to mislead their members nevertheless. Now we are supposed to join in the march to protest against what they have helped entrench.

Numsa didn’t just turn against Zuma and the ANC without a serious engagement. It engaged with him directly and on countless occasions, spending union resources to travel to Nkandla. It was during that discussion in response to Numsa pleas for a change of direction that JZ raised my name saying it would have been good if I had agreed to serve in the ANC NEC as it would have made it easy to lobby for me to occupy the Deputy President position. Yet factionalists and tale-bearers have turned this around to sell a narrative that Numsa went to Nkandla to lobby for me to be in the Deputy President position.

But when everything failed and Ramaphosa became the deputy and Motlanthe was humiliated, Numsa convened a special congress where it not only called on Zuma to resign but called on Cosatu to move out of the dysfunctional and effectively pro-rich alliance. This followed a thoroughgoing political assessment and a rigorous internal debate involving all the structures of the union. It was out of that assessment that they undertook to create a political organ to advance the working class’s interests. Instead of Cosatu opening a democratic debate on all these issues raised by Numsa, the leadership chose to purge them and many others in other unions as pointed out above.

Even now with things truly falling apart, Cosatu is not opening a debate on what has gone wrong. There is no analysis because any analysis will clearly demonstrate beyond any doubt that the ANC, just like the rest of the liberation movements on the continent, has, post-liberation, been taken over by the black bourgeoisie, not to liberate the black masses from the yoke of colonialism and apartheid but to find a place for itself to amass wealth and replace white oppressors in the continuing oppression and exploitation of the black majority.

That’s why we count black multibillionaires on one hand while the blacks trapped in structural unemployment and poverty remain in their millions. That is why, 23 years after so-called freedom, the economy is still largely benefiting white monopoly capital. That’s why the main beneficiaries of so-called economic transformation and freedom are the same old white males that were the main beneficiaries of the apartheid and colonial system.

How does Cosatu respond to this unfolding carnage and catastrophe that has meant that 36.6% are unemployed, 55% trapped in poverty with our country becoming the most unequal in the world? It rallies behind a black bourgeoisie and tells workers that these capitalists are ready to commit class suicide to liberate the working class, notwithstanding what we know about the Marikana Massacre, clearly in order to propel this candidate and outsmart other candidates whose hands are certainly not clean either in this whole betrayal.

Please don’t ask us to commit the error we committed in the past, in anger and desperation to defeat the immediate challenge, embrace something that is essentially anti-working class and anti-South Africa as we did in 2005. Don’t ask us to throw away our historical materialism and our class analysis. How could we join another coalition of the wounded and throw away principles as we did in 2007?

We have learnt the hard way to always ask the question: In whose class interests is this 27 September 2017 strike action? Blade Nzimande has a famous saying that before you climb into the bus don’t just look at what is written as its destination, but check who is the driver and who are the passengers inside the bus. Is it truly about the job losses or against state capture?

Our conclusion based on this class analysis is that this strike is about sorting out the eating queue in 2017 and 2019. It’s about puppies trying to find another master, a new master to serve at the expense of the working class as it has happened for 23 years now. We won’t be duped twice! Alixhoshwa kabili! DM

Zwelinzima Vavi is General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions

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