NUM: A union's striking fall from grace
- ANC fiddles while NUM waits for roaming Malema to burn out
- Amcu blames NUM, politics for Lonmin massacre
- Amcu treading on NUM territory at Lonmin mine
The arrogance of being a majority union, increased resources and the ballooning salaries of leaders were some of the key factors contributing to the current crisis within the NUM.
The union has tried hard to present a brave face in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, but it is becoming clear that it is losing touch with ordinary members. The past few weeks saw thousands of disgruntled union members who work in mines such as Aurora, Gold Fields and Marikana's Lonmin embarking on illegal strikes and denouncing the union's leadership. Political analysts have warned of the fragmentation of the union, which has been the most dominant and influential in the mining industry.
This fragmentation has led to the emergence of the Association of Mine and Construction Union (Amcu). The leadership vacuum has also seen expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and Friends of the Youth League take up the grievances of workers who have lost trust in the NUM leadership through their campaign to "revolutionise" the mines.
A former NUM leader who asked not to be named said the underlying factor for members' loss of faith was a lack of leadership within the union. "Everyone can see there is lack of leadership. They could have handled the Marikana saga differently. What they needed to do was to call all stakeholders, irrespective of who was involved, to find a resolution in the interest of stability. You need injection of leadership. What I observed is reluctance to respond to the situation. When they are in crisis, people take to hiding," said the former leader.
He blamed the current leadership for prevaricating on the debates around the nationalisation of mines.
"They took a hiding when the issue of nationalisation was raised. How does a union, which organises in mining, keep quiet on such a critical issue? The union had a clear resolution that mines should be nationalised. But this has been changed to protect the interest of a few leaders within the union and the ANC. The NUM has lost credibility for many reasons. If the union wants ordinary workers to take it seriously, it must swallow the pride of being a majority union. They are arrogant. They want to dictate terms."
Author and political analyst William Gumede said mineworkers believed that union leaders were not listening to their demands because management has co-opted them.
"The NUM leadership is now in top management. Its leaders occupy senior leadership positions in both the ANC, business and government. After 1994, The NUM repositioned itself. It started an investment arm [the Mineworkers Investment Company that is now valued at R2.8-billion], a bank and its members sit on the boards of blue-chip companies," said Gumede.
The NUM disclosed at its national congress earlier this year that its reserves had grown to more than R200-million.
Gumede said mineworkers viewed the NUM leadership with suspicion because most of them have become part of the establishment.
"They own shares in the mines. Ironically, the decision to reinvent itself has become its Achilles heel. Worse, the mining companies have not done proper empowerment of their mineworkers in the past or offered them a stake in the mines. Instead of empowering the miners they empower black economic empowerment types who are politically connected with the ANC elite," said Gumede.
ANC heavyweight and prominent businessman Cyril Ramaphosa is the non-executive director of the Lonmin board.
Ramaphosa, the former general secretary of the NUM, owns Shanduka Resources, which has a 50% stake in Incwala Resources, Lonmin's black economic empowerment partner. Ramaphosa was criticised for giving families of the deceased miners R2-million but he was prepared to pay R19.5-million for a buffalo at an auction in Rustenburg in April.
The lavish lifestyle of former and present leaders has caused resentment among mineworkers who have to make do with meagre salaries.
The former leader said: "Members look at the luxury life of their leaders. We discussed the implications of our salary increases before. We represent the sector that is the lowest paid and skilled. But you have leaders who go home with a staggering R1.4-million salary [a package equivalent to the deputy president's salary]. When they [workers] see this, members ask if the leaders pay themselves with our own money. They [union leaders] are beginning to compete with the capitalists."
The former NUM leader accused the current leadership of running the union like a private company that was only interested in the bottom line at the expense of ordinary workers.
"The union had many members. In the 1990s, because of its numbers the union became arrogant. This led to all the affiliates in [trade union federation] Cosatu turning against it because it had numbers and resources. Everything that they raised [in Cosatu affiliates' meetings] was shot down [because of their arrogance]," said the former leader.
"When last did [general secretary Frans] Baleni address the masses in the mines? Past leaders like James Motlatsi and Gwede Mantashe used to address mass meetings. To some extent they [the current leadership] lost touch. There have been problems before, but they were able to resolve them. Maybe it is how we addressed those problems before. Gwede had the ability of containing these problems. [Former deputy general secretary] Archie Palane was entrenched on the ground. Things got out of control now. If the NUM members can go on strike because union leaders and management imposed insurance on them, it clearly shows you leaders are not in touch with members," said the former leader.
Gumede said the NUM was at a crossroads and its leaders' biggest challenge would be to change perceptions and convince mineworkers that they have their best interests at heart.
A senior Cosatu leader told the M&G that the difference between the NUM and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was that the latter had the best shop stewards and was more militant. He said Numsa also offered its members better service than the NUM. It fought hard for workers' remuneration and better working conditions. Numsa had a great tradition of worker control, which ensured that the union's power lay in the hands of the workers.
Gumede said the NUM was set to lose thousands of members as the alliance fractured.
"There will be more splinter trade unions and breakaway organisations. The mine workers are going to join these splinter unions because they are more radical as the rise of Amcu and Malema's mining revolution demonstrated. If their influence spreads, the South African mining sector could face a major crisis because of the absence of union leadership. Political opportunists will obviously exploit the situation".
Clarence Maseko, acting provincial secretary of the Mpumalanga ANC Youth League, said the union has lost touch with its core membership because it is preoccupied with the politics of the ANC.
"The unions are preoccupied with political battles in the ANC with a view of getting closer to power and joining the blue-light brigade. Cabinet is full of members of Parliament who were trade unionists. Union leaders are also interested in investment opportunities and buying shares. Cosatu was also bidding for the e-tolls at the South African National Roads Agency Limited. What is the union doing there? Where are the interests of our people?" asked Maseko.