Just two items from one of the frequent compilations posted by Patrick Bond on Debate List, South Africa. DM, where they are copied from is the Daily Maverick List, also in South Africa.
Now read on...
Towering over trains in Park Station in Johannesburg, a billboard advertising the 30th anniversary of the formation of the National Union of Mineworkers is a timely reminder of the history of the union. Sure, that history may be a proud one. But what’s the future? By KHADIJA PATEL.
“If we were a sweetheart union we would not have lasted until now,” National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) General Secretary Frans Baleni said at press briefing at its headquarters in Johannesburg on Tuesday. NUM had called the briefing to offer their perspective on peace talks at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, as well as the latest from the Gold Fields strike at KDC East. In between, Baleni and NUM president Senzeni Zokwana berated Julius Malema for taking advantage of unsuspecting mineworkers. And yet, increasingly, it’s Malema and not NUM that is being held up as the voice of the workers.
For NUM to be fighting Malema for a claim to its own members tells of a feeling of insecurity amongst NUM’s national leadership. If Malema, a person “expelled from his organisation for ill discipline”, as he was described by Baleni, is indeed just a political opportunist with a sudden appetite for mine workers’ issues, then NUM, as the single largest trade union in the history of the country, ought to be able to shake him off with ease. But they have not been able to just ignore him and get on with what they are supposed to – namely, represent mineworkers during an especially volatile time in the industry.
Yet if NUM is to be judged on its history, then it certainly does hold the rights of the mineworkers above politics or indeed its own survival. The significance of NUM as an agent for change was not limited to the mines alone. Remember, both Kgalema Motlanthe (or Dilemma Motlanthe, as he’s known in these parts) and Cyril Ramaphosa were both general secretaries for NUM. The union has been a nursery for political and business leadership. The union has also been an agent of social change – social change that outstrips the mines. The union’s history is linked intimately with the struggle for social transformation in the country.
And however incomplete that transformation may be, NUM finds itself today as the country’s largest union, greatly advantaged by a rich, proud history in a rapidly declining industry.
The formation of NUM in 1982 was the first successful formation of a “black” mining union since the African Mineworkers Union was mercilessly quashed by the state in a 1946 strike. Since its formation, NUM certainly has done a great deal to improve the lot of mineworkers in the country. There is a semblance of humanity, a grudging acceptance from mine owners that mine workers too are human beings.
Working by the motto, “Only the best for the mineworker”, NUM created opportunities for ordinary mineworkers to contribute to the decision-making processes of the union. And as the union grew, so too did its successes. The mineworkers’ provident fund, established in 1989, is reported to be worth more than R10 billion. In many ways, NUM is not just a union. It is a political force within the ruling tripartite alliance. It is also a business in its own right. But at the bottom of it all, it is as a union that must survive.
The fate of mines is, of course, precarious. Mines by their nature have to close at some point. But as long as the Earth continues to serve up minerals, mining remains a crucial tenet of the economy – and NUM retains its significance.
In recent years, it is the demand for platinum from emerging markets that has lent the South African mining industry a new lease of life. It’s no coincidence that the greatest concentration of NUM members is in Rustenburg, and it is then perhaps also not such a mystery that it is here, in the platinum belt, that the greatest challenge to NUM is being launched.
It is some feat that NUM has remained as united as it has been until now. But what we’ve seen in Amcu’s challenge to NUM in Marikana and in the litany of complaints levelled against branch leadership in the Gold Fields strike in Westonaria is a significant splintering of the union. There is a fundamental disconnect between union leaders and members, and events in Marikana and Westonaria demonstrate the inability of NUM to bridge that gap.
NUM may well still hold the rights and demands of workers at heart – though for a trade union they do show an astounding deference towards international investment and a rather curious fondness for a “return to normalcy” – and despite the naysayers, they may well still be guided by what workers want. If indeed that is what they are trying to do, however, there has been a breakdown in communication within the union. Yes, it may be a function of social distance – the upper echelons of the union may be too prosperous to identify adequately with the ordinary miner – but it does also point to an erosion of the democratic culture of the union. Workers feel cut off from the decision-making structures, and that’s likely to pose a significant problem going forward.
NUM is itself aware of these challenges. On Tuesday, Baleni indicated that the union continued to research the attitudes of its members towards the leadership. And alongside Baleni, other senior officials of NUM conceded that there were weaknesses “at the branch level”. But even as these officials mull over how best to go forward, there is a growing impatience at that same branch level.
NUM has changed, as have the times.
And the impact of whatever happens to NUM, its success or failure to withstand these challenges, will not be restricted to the mining industry. It will be felt in the skulduggery of the ANC leadership battle, yes, but it will also point the way ahead for the rest of the country. After all, it’s not just within NUM that people feel like their leaders act without accountability to the people they are meant to serve. Whatever happens within NUM will foretell whether the government will be able to overcome its inability to communicate adequately, and to represent the needs of the people. DM
The combination of Mangaung convulsions and the Marikana crisis has left the 2.2-million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions somewhat battered. Cosatu heads to its 11th National Congress later this month on the back foot, with its biggest affiliate under siege and the majority of its members saying the federation is not carrying out its core purpose. It’s time for Cosatu to search its soul – or maybe to rediscover it. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Cosatu’s 10th National Congress in 2009 was something of a victory party for South Africa’s biggest trade union federation. Under the leadership of General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu had undertaken a major gamble by supporting Jacob Zuma during his criminal trials and in his campaign to be ANC president. The gamble paid off.
When Thabo Mbeki was president, Cosatu had become almost a pariah in the tripartite alliance, shut out of decision-making processes as its leaders struggled to secure positions in the ANC. All that changed after the ANC’s Polokwane conference. Cosatu got its man into power and therefore had direct access to the presidency. When Zuma became state president, he consulted Cosatu on the restructuring of government. Senior Cosatu leaders made it to Parliament and Cabinet.
So when Cosatu held its congress in September 2009, there was some major backslapping and high-fiving. In his political report to that congress, Vavi said:
“If we cannot succeed with the agenda of decent work and poverty eradication with Jacob Zuma as the President, Kgalema Motlanthe as the deputy president responsible for poverty eradication, Gwede Mantashe as the ANC secretary general, Ebrahim Patel as the minster of Economic Development and Rob Davies as the minister of Trade and Industry, then there is little possibility that we can succeed to make any next period that of workers and the poor. This is the moment that comes once in a long time. We, the leaders of the generation largely responsible for this political climate, so pregnant with real possibilities, cannot afford to squander this moment.”
As it turned out, that once-in-a-lifetime moment fizzled out rather quickly. Cosatu found Zuma was not that great a president, Mantashe started telling off the unions and the federation’s deployees in Cabinet were not performing very well. The former president of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, became a member of the ANC National Executive Committee and later minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. She was fired in a Cabinet reshuffle in October 2010, posted to a foreign mission and not heard of since.
While Cosatu was also celebrating the deployment of SACP leaders Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin to Cabinet in 2009, it later decided this was a mistake and that the party needed its leaders to be running the organisation full time. This became a major source of contention between Cosatu and the SACP, putting a strain on the entire alliance. It is part of the reason some of the SACP’s leaders now want Vavi booted out of his post.
The Zuma camp has disintegrated since Cosatu’s last congress, and as a result the federation’s internal cohesion has come undone. Like the ANC, Cosatu is now feeling the pressure of factional battles and it, too, has a serious case of Mangaung fever. Loyalties within the 20 affiliates and among Cosatu senior leaders are split between those supporting Zuma’s second term bid and those strongly against it. While the ANC’s power battles have affected Cosatu in the past, the effect of the federation’s cohesion now is unprecedented.
But it’s the Marikana massacre which is really forcing Cosatu to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Cosatu’s response to the police killing of 34 mineworkers on 16 August was rather low-key as compared to its robust voice on major social and economic issues in the country. The reason was because its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), was at the centre of the dispute at the Lonmin platinum mine that led to the wildcat strike and the confrontation with the police.
NUM’s role in the dispute will now be interrogated by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the massacre and its leaders are now scampering to repair the union’s dented image. With strike action extending from the platinum sector to the gold mines, NUM, by far the most dominant union in the mining industry, is battling to contend with the unhappiness of its members.
NUM’s leaders are being put under further pressure by expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema who is whipping up emotion among mineworkers to reject their union representatives and take matters into their own hands. All of this has exposed NUM’s internal weaknesses and its lack of activism in dealing with the wave of dissatisfaction among mineworkers.
While NUM has traditionally been the “elder brother” at Cosatu congresses, setting the tone for discussions through its influence and sheer size, it is now fighting to regain credibility. The superiority complex NUM used to radiate, which grew from its line of high-pedigree leaders who went on to senior positions in the ANC, is now moderated as it prepares for intensive scrutiny at Cosatu’s 11th National Congress, being held in Midrand from 17 to 20 September.
In the Organisational Report to be presented to the congress, Cosatu acknowledges it is under severe stress, and lists NUM’s troubles as part of the reason. “We need a critical assessment because we are meeting at a time when we are facing serious organisational challenges on many fronts,” the report states.
“Our biggest affiliate the NUM is under attack in the platinum belt from its former members and other forces,” it reads, referring to the challenge to NUM’s dominance in the mining sector from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
Speaking to Gauteng shop stewards this week, Vavi said Cosatu was going to its congress “not in the best of space”. The organisational report details why this is so, among other reasons revealing the results of a survey Cosatu conducted to evaluate the level of worker satisfaction with their unions. The survey found that 60% of Cosatu members were not satisfied with how their unions dealt with securing better wages – the core function of a trade union. According to the survey, 37% are less than satisfied with their union’s handling of disciplinary cases.
“Dissatisfaction with service is (a) recipe for breakaways and splits,” the report states. These findings, together with the rebellion in the mining sector, are bound to push the Cosatu congress into adopting a more militant approach to labour disputes in order regain the confidence of its members.
The federation is also expected to confront its affiliates with a report of how many individual members come directly to Cosatu for intervention in disputes due to their frustration with how their unions handle matters. This has caused friction between union and Cosatu leaders, with affiliates accusing Vavi and others of usurping their role.
NUM leaders were affronted by Vavi’s attempt to resolve a dispute at the Implats mine outside Rustenburg earlier this year, part of the reason he stayed out of the Lonmin dispute even when intervention was required.
While Cosatu’s membership has grown by 230,000 (11.7%) to 2.2-million since its 2009 congress, the organisational report does raise concerns about the federation’s inability to recruit and organise vulnerable workers such as farm and domestic labourers. The workers survey also found that the average age of Cosatu’s members is around 40, meaning that younger people were not joining unions.
Measuring the impact of Cosatu’s campaigns, the survey found its voice was resounding beyond its membership base. Cosatu’s campaigns against e-tolling, labour brokers and rising electricity prices, followed by its anti-corruption drive, attracted high levels of support outside union membership. This is reflective of Cosatu’s significant voice in civil society and its ability to mobilise major support on issues critical of government. It is a sore point in inter-alliance relations.
The discussions at the upcoming Cosatu congress will define the posture of the largest formation of organised workers in the country. While its decisions on ANC leadership are bound to grab the most attention, it is Cosatu’s ability to read and respond to the mood of its members which will have the most impact on society.
And with a worker rebellion close to brewing, Cosatu will need to decide now whether it will lead it or be destroyed by it. DM
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