Defend Truth


Numsa is in a big fat mess, and its leadership has lost control of the union


Roger Etkind is a former Numsa official and contract worker and editor of Amandla! ( He worked for Numsa from 1988 to 1995, and then again on contract from 2012 to May 2022.

Numsa is not the first union in South Africa to have fallen into the hands of people who want to line their pockets. And the operations of investment companies have more often than not featured prominently. The union’s ‘pot of gold’ becomes too much of a temptation.

Numsa national leadership has lost control of the union. This puts all the members of the union at risk. That is why some members have taken the drastic step of taking the union to the Labour Court for breach of Numsa’s constitution.

The most recent example of this problem is the failure to pay salaries on time this month. It is a terrible irony that the union that was once the most militant defender of workers is now unable to even pay its own employees.

And the cause of the problem? According to an official letter, it seems that Numsa’s leadership has just “discovered” that the union has only 79,000 members in its engineering sector, when they thought they had 111,000; and only 59,000 in its motor sector when they thought they had 75,000.

What kind of leadership is so out of touch with what is happening in the union that it loses tens of thousands of its members without even realising it? Nearly 30% of its members in the engineering sector and they didn’t notice. More than 20% of its members in the motor sector.

Constitutional delinquents

And they are equally careless when it comes to operating according to the constitution, which is the reason for the application under s158 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) to have a number of Numsa meetings declared unconstitutional and of no force or effect. These include the 11th National Congress held, despite an interdict against it, in Cape Town last year, an “extended” Central Committee meeting in December last year, and two elective meetings in the Hlanganani Region earlier last year.

What have they done? So many sins, it’s hard to know where to start.

The entire Mpumalanga Region was excluded from the congress because the region had failed to have a successful regional congress. But the constitution has no role for the region in electing delegates to congress. That is the job of the Local. And every Local was properly constituted and did just what the constitution says — they elected delegates who were then prevented from attending.

As if this was not enough, the leadership then allowed that very same Mpumalanga Region to attend the Central Committee at the end of the year. Had the regional congress sat, as required for the congress? No. Nothing had changed except the minds of the leadership.

This is arbitrary, reckless behaviour. How can a leadership which picks and chooses who will be allowed to participate in its “worker-controlled” structures be allowed to continue to put the union at risk?

And there is more

The credentials committee at congress failed to ensure that all delegates were paid-up members who were also shop stewards. That’s what the constitution requires. In the same way, in the Rustenburg Local, the elective Local Shop Stewards Council was attended by 31 identified people who were either not Numsa members or not shop stewards or both. The attendance register proves it.

And now this leadership has decided to put its Western Cape Region “under administration” — to be run from head office. The only problem is they don’t have the power in the constitution to do so. The judge in the application which successfully interdicted the congress pointed this out in his judgment.

The Numsa constitution was very carefully drafted. By the time Numsa was formed in 1987, it had an established, experienced leadership. It intentionally gave the power to the regions, through its structures, to initiate the “administration” of a region. National structures have no power to take over the affairs of a region unless a regional congress suspends the regional executive committee (REC). Again, this is what the constitution says, in black and white.

And that has not happened. In fact, far from suspending the REC, all the structures in the region support their leadership as they persist in questioning the national leadership about what is happening in the Numsa Investment Company (NIC).

Questioning corruption is forbidden

They support their leadership because they have seen court papers in which auditors clearly show that the NIC spent R50,000 on giving the Numsa general secretary a birthday party and R15,000 on giving his daughter a laptop. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So the sin of the Western Cape Region has been to question corruption at the top of the union. And for that, they are not forgiven. For that, they are summarily and arbitrarily and unconstitutionally removed.

Numsa is not the first union in South Africa to have fallen into the hands of people who want to line their pockets. And the operations of investment companies have more often than not featured prominently. The union’s “pot of gold” becomes too much of a temptation.

And once leadership takes such a step, the rest follows inevitably. Once there is something to cover up, people and structures who ask too many questions must be taken out.

Significant numbers of staff and members are currently facing so-called “disciplinary” procedures. For staff, they will lead to dismissal; for members, they will lead (and already have led) to expulsion. The second deputy president of Numsa, who was unconstitutionally removed at the 11th National Congress, is due to face a disciplinary process later in April.

Start again with another congress

This destruction of the union must stop. And that is what the s158 application is designed to do. If it is successful, the union will be obliged to start again — to convene another congress, this time constitutionally, to revive the democracy of the union.

There will be complaints that if the union is currently unable to pay salaries, how will they be able to pay for another congress? There are two answers to this.

First, it is not necessary to spend nearly R50-million on a congress. It can be done on a much more modest basis. For example, back in the 1980s, there were no flights for delegates to congress. They went on buses. Not as convenient, it is true, but a lot less expensive.

And the second answer is that Numsa must get back the money that it loaned to its investment company — more than R100-million in workers’ subscriptions. So far the investment company has refused to honour agreements to repay this loan, and they have been protected by the national leadership. That must stop.

It would be worth spending some of that money to begin the long and arduous process required to restore democracy and worker control in Numsa. The time to start that process is now. DM

You can visit the Amandla! website here.


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  • Sam van Coller says:

    So tragic. There were some wonderful trade union leaders in the two unions that merged to form NUMSA – Bernie Fanaroff and Moses Mayekiso in the steel and engineering industry and Freddie Sauls and Brian Fredericks in the motor assembly interest. They had worker interests at heart and achieved so much for their members. Wish their example could be followed

    • Larry Palk says:

      Hey Sam. Delighted to see you are alive and kicking. Taffy Adler also a great unionist in numsa

      • Sam van Coller says:

        Thanks for your greeting. Hope you are also kicking strongly. Forgive my old age (85) for forgetting Taffy. I had a high regard for Taffy. He helped me to understand what was happening on a number of occasions

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