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Unionists to choose sides

Matuma Letsoalo

The ANC has been keeping a close eye on two union leadership contests, namely the National Union of Mineworkers and National Union of Metalworkers.

The outcome of leadership contests in two of Cosatu’s most powerful affiliates, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), will be an important political bellwether for both the union federation and the tripartite alliance.

The NUM’s general secretary, Frans Baleni, faces a challenge from his deputy, Oupa Komane, at the union’s congress in May, according to union officials party to early lobbying for the post.

A pragmatic critic of the ANC Youth League’s nationalisation proposals, Baleni is regarded as a supporter of ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe (his predecessor at the union) and, through him, of President Jacob Zuma and Communist Party chief Blade Nzimande. He is also regarded as close to Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.

Komane is described by union insiders as sympathetic to Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and those in the ANC who are working to replace Mantashe with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. This group would prefer to see Zuma unseated.

In contrast to Baleni, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim is a strenuous supporter of nationalisation who has aligned himself closely with Zuma’s critics.

In any potential Cosatu leadership contest and ultimately in the federation’s debate over ANC succession, union officials say, Jim would support Vavi. His position looks relatively secure on the basis that regional leaders who support him have already been re-elected.

However, Numsa president and SABC board member Cedric Gina is regarded as sympathetic to Zuma and is also likely to retain his position.

If both Jim and Baleni keep their positions, their differing styles and politics will continue to accentuate the debate in Cosatu.

Leadership nominations for the NUM open in April, but officials told the Mail & Guardian that some regions were already beginning to mobilise support for Komane.

According to sources involved in the discussions, efforts on Komane’s behalf are focused on regions such as KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern and Northern Cape. Baleni is said to retain substantial support in Carletonville and parts of the Free State and Kimberley.

This week Baleni said, although he was not aware of any plans to replace him, he did not have any problem with anyone who wanted to stand for a leadership position in the NUM.
“What I know is that NUM positions are by invitation. Our term as leaders comes to an end at every national congress. No one has entitlement to positions in the union. It is up to members to nominate leaders of their choice,” said Baleni.

He was satisfied that, under his leadership, the union had performed better and increased its membership numbers. “We have done what was supposed to be done. At the moment we are the best-run union in the country. We improved efficiency, internal audit systems and our reserves.”

Baleni dismissed criticism from some NUM members for employing professionals without a background in mining. He said under his leadership the union had won 90% of legal cases affecting ordinary NUM members. “We spent millions of rand protecting our members,” he said.

Baleni also defended his close relationship with Mantashe and Nzimande, saying his union had a standing resolution to support both the ANC and the SACP.

“Whatever we do is in accordance with that resolution. Why should I be hostile to the ANC and the SACP? People like to manufacture certain perceptions even where they don’t exist,” he said.

Other unions are similarly conflicted over whether to back Vavi and his increasing association with calls for change in the ANC, or to support Dlamini. A faction of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), led by its president, Thobile Ntola, and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union appear to be lining up with Jim and Numsa behind the Cosatu general secretary.

Meanwhile, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union and its general secretary, Fikile Majola, plus a Sadtu faction led by general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, are sympathetic to Baleni and Dlamini’s position supporting Mantashe and Zuma.

These differences are set to play out ever more vigorously across union structures in the coming months.

Baleni, Jim compare notes on major issues
NUM general secretary Frans Baleni and Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim are regarded as frontrunners for Cosatu’s powerful position of general secretary, should Zwelinzima Vavi ascend to the ANC’s top six in December.

The Mail & Guardian looks at their positions on a few important issues.

On the ANC succession battle:
Jim: “Numsa, like all formations of the working class, has a duty to contest for leadership in all the formations of the liberation movement. As an affiliate of Cosatu and with Cosatu being in an alliance with the ANC, we have a duty to influence the policy and leadership processes of both Cosatu and the ANC. We are also open to be influenced by these organisations.”

Baleni: “As Cosatu, we took a decision that we will not call for names like we did prior to the Polokwane conference. We will take part in the succession debates as members of the ANC.”

On calls to nationalise mines and other key sectors of the economy:
Jim: “Without nationalising the banks, mines and key strategic sectors of the economy, any sensible person will tell you that it is impossible to achieve balanced and sustainable economic growth without first liberating the whole of society from the dominance of the minerals-energy-finance complex.”

Baleni: “We support state intervention in strategic sectors of the economy.”

On the 50% super-tax on mines proposed by the ANC policy research team:
Jim: “In our understanding of the 2010 national general council of the ANC, this report should have produced the most viable model on how to nationalise the mines and other strategic sectors. Instead, the report responds to wrong terms of reference, as if the council never took place.”

Baleni: “We support the outcome of the ANC research team.”

On the expropriation of land without compensation:
Jim: “The land was stolen from Africans. We know about the wars of resistance, which culminated in the brutal subjugation and forced proletarianisation of African people by white people. We also know about the 1913 Land Act, which cemented the Union of South Africa against Africans. South Africa will be the only country to reward historical thieves and robbers. In fact, we should be taking our land and demanding interest on its market-based value over the years.”

Baleni: “We all agree that the approach to the land issue is not workable. We support the review of land policies by the government.”—Matuma Letsoalo


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