Expelled and suspended members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union have resolved to form a trade union open to all public sector workers.
The national coordinating committee of the splinter group met in Johannesburg on Friday and resolved to form a new, non-aligned trade union. Attendees hailed from Sadtu structures across six provinces with the Eastern Cape issuing an apology.
Thobile Ntola, the expelled Sadtu president, was also seen at the meeting. The Mail & Guardian understands he also addressed it.
Coordinator Paul “Bazooka” Mbele – expelled from the union last year – told the M&G, “The dominating voice is that we must look at the modalities of starting a new organisation.”
Though propelled by disgruntled Sadtu members, Mbele said they were creating a union open to every public sector worker.
This means it would not recruit teachers alone, but would eye those aligned to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) such as the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru).
“It will not have limitations. Anybody that is employed in the public sector should be able to join. The meeting is talking massive here, not sectorial.
“Its context is that you must unify all the workers in the public service under one umbrella and be able to pursue all their interests and protect their rights within the embodiment of an organisation that is fully representative of everyone,” Mbele explained.
Demand for a new union
Coordinator Jihad Seonya said there was a demand for a new union.
“In the whole endeavor, we’re not proving to anybody that this is the power that we can build. We’re merely responding to the outcry of members on the ground,” said Seonya.
These are the “members” building the union on the ground, Mbele added. “It is the members that are going to own and shape this organisation. It’s not going to be shaped by those that were in this meeting.”
“Those in this meeting are coordinating on the basis of a clarion call made by people on the ground that they want a better life. Not a better life for a few but a better life for the majority.”
The name and constitution of the new union have yet to be determined.
Its announcement comes amidst political fall-out in Sadtu and its mother federation, Cosatu.
The M&G reported last week that suspended regional leaders claimed they were victims of a “brutal purge”.
Leaders in six provinces claimed they were targeted for opposing the expulsion of Ntola and supporting the retention of Zwelinzima Vavi as Cosatu general secretary.
Battle for numbers
Cosatu is going to an elective congress next year and factions are battling it out to ensure strong numbers.
Seonya was deputy secretary of Sadtu in the Free State when he was suspended earlier this year for organising a meeting addressed by Ntola. The charge by the union was that it was irregular to provide a platform for Ntola who was on suspension at the time.
Seonya is now one of the leading forces behind the new union. He told the M&G there was no hope that Sadtu could remain their home.
“You can’t be whipping a dead horse. We’ve come to that realisation that engaging further and further doesn’t assist.
“The whole thing of fighting from within does not work any longer because the more you engage, the more you face challenges.”
Mbele claimed that even “people who are still in good standing [in Sadtu] were prepared to resign from that organisation”.
“Simply put, those who are very frank and brutal about the truth are saying the relationship between us and Sadtu is beyond repair. We don’t have confidence in Sadtu; neither do we want to go back there.”
Sadtu’s national executive committee has consistently denied that critical members were being purged but maintained it was dealing with unruly elements.
Nkosana Dolopi, Sadtu’s deputy general secretary, last week said suspensions were “a question of responding to a conduct inconsistent to our constitution and policies”.
He also said Sadtu was “fairly united”.