Union bosses punt ANC president as a friend of the working class ahead of leadership battles. Matuma Letsoalo reports.
The National Union of Mineworkers’ conference this week was turned into a platform to campaign for the re-election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president.
Key speakers, most of whom are aligned to Zuma’s re-election campaign, appealed to delegates not to allow the party and the union to be hijacked by tenderpreneurs who did not have the interest of the poor at heart – a clear reference to those supporting Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to replace Zuma and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general.
Two months ago, Cosatu launched one of the biggest protest actions against Zuma’s government for its refusal to scrap e-tolling and the labour broking system. At the conference, however, Zuma was presented by the current union leaders and Blade Nzimande as a leader who had delivered most for workers.
When he delivered his address, Zuma was at pains to convince the more than 1000 delegates that he was firmly in control and had the interest of the working class at heart.
The NUM, the largest Cosatu affiliate with more than 270000 members, is regarded as one of the most influential unions in South Africa and has produced a string of great leaders for the ANC, including Motlanthe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Zwelinzima Vavi and Mantashe.
The outcome of its national conference is expected to set the tone for the leadership battle in Cosatu and later the ANC, ahead of its crucial conference in Mangaung in December.
Union general secretary Frans Baleni is said to be sympathetic to calls to retain Zuma as ANC president and, under his leadership, the union has become less critical of the ruling party and of government. Baleni’s stance is in sharp contrast to that of his counterpart, general secretary of Cosatu’s metalworkers’ union Irvin Jim, who has been pushing for radical policy changes including the nationalisation of mines without compensation.
For the first time since his election as general secretary in 2006, Baleni is facing a tough contest from deputy Oupa Komane for the union’s top position.
Komane is regarded as a close ally of Cosatu general secretary Vavi, who has since fallen out with Zuma, Mantashe, South African Communist Party boss Nzimande for consistently criticising Zuma’s administration.
For the first time in years Vavi did not address the delegates, but he still received the loudest applause when his presence was acknowledged. In what could be interpreted as a veiled attack on Vavi, Nzimande on Thursday lashed out at alliance leaders who criticised the government to appear on TV and in newspapers.
“When we raise the challenges, we must not lose sight. We must not forget the gains since 1994. Let us not [raise the criticism because we want to] be seen on TV or newspapers. Those who want to be in newspapers do not belong here,” said Nzimande.
He also encouraged delegates to reject calls to nationalise mines.
We want the same things
“Nationalisation [is] in whose interest? We cannot support the call that we do not see. We do not want to nationalise debt. [We must] say no to that. As a revolutionary, you can not get into a bus without knowing where you are going. We must not make a mistake that if we speak the same language, we want the same things,” said Nzimande.
He praised Zuma’s government for announcing the largest infrastructure programme since 1994.
“Never in our history have we had this [programme]. Let us make sure this is not hijacked by tenderpreneurs”. He also praised Zuma’s administration for putting a stop to privatisation of parastatals and introducing industrial policy and the national health insurance.
Like Baleni and NUM president Senzeni Zokwane, Nzimande implied that a vote for Komane and presidential candidate Joseph Montiisetse, was like selling the union to the highest bidder.
“The [union] was built through sweat and blood. We dare not compromise that unity. There is a tendency to capture our movement by people who want to enrich themselves. We must not make a mistake that the new tendency is only in the ANC. You [the union] are also a target for corrupt practices,” said Nzimande.
On Wednesday, Baleni and Zokwane claimed that they were aware that Komane and his people were sponsored by business to topple them. Komane has dismissed the claim. Voting for new leadership will take place on Saturday.