Another Mbeki supporter purged from union

Trade union supporters of ANC president Jacob Zuma scored a victory this week by toppling one of former president Thabo Mbeki’s most vocal supporters.

Silumko Nondwangu was dropped as general secretary of Cosatu’s powerful metal workers’ affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers, Numsa.

Nondwangu, with three more Numsa national office bearers, became the newest victims of the purge of Mbeki supporters within the trade union movement when they were voted out of their positions at Numsa’s eighth national congress in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng, this week.

Nondwangu, who has served as Numsa’s general secretary since 2000, lost his position to the union’s Eastern Cape secretary and Zuma hardliner, Irvin Jim.

Cedric Gina was elected as the new Numsa president, after Mthuthuzeli Tom—another Mbeki ally—decided not to stand for the position.

Other new leaders aligned to Zuma elected to the top six positions include former Numsa Western Cape provincial secretary Karl Kloete as deputy general secretary, Phil Bokaba as first deputy president and Numsa’s Western Cape chairperson, Christine Olivier, as second deputy president.
Philemon Shiburi was re-elected as treasurer.

Nondwangu’s position in Numsa has been under threat since he agreed to be on Mbeki’s national executive committee list in defiance of the labour federation’s formal endorsement of Zuma.

His ideological conflict with other Cosatu leaders and public criticism of the federation’s endorsement of Zuma as ANC president are cited by political observers as major contri­buting factors to his downfall.

Nondwangu has argued repeatedly in discussion papers against Cosatu’s interference in the ANC’s internal affairs. His view has been that the trade union movement should not allow itself to be an instrument for attaining individual political office.

But Nondwangu lost the debate this week, with the majority of dele­gates and alliance leaders likening his argument to a workerist approach, the aim of which is to isolate trade unions from the struggle for national liberation.

In his address to the Numsa congress this week South African Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande, said there was no contradiction between the independence of the trade union movement and its participation in broader struggles in society and in alliances that would advance working-class interests.

“Building the capacity to wage workplace struggles successfully is integrally intertwined with broader struggles in society,” said Nzimande, before ripping into the “bourgeoisie”.

“To ask the trade union movement to restrict itself only to workplace issues in a narrow way is also disingenuous in another sense.

“While the bourgeoisie’s core mission is to make a profit, it is heavily involved in politics, using all manner of strategies—including economic blackmail and the golf course—to try influence, if not determine, the political direction of the country, to create fertile grounds for expanded capital accumulation.”

Nondwangu told the Mail & Guardian this week he accepted the outcome of the election and was confident that he had left a legacy of a strong organisation with sound finances. He said his priority would be to unite metal workers and sustain the union’s membership.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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