Zuma issue derails transport union

Transport union general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu is pitted against its president, who wants Jacob Zuma out as ANC president. (Dumisani Sibeko, ­Independent Newspapers)

Transport union general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu is pitted against its president, who wants Jacob Zuma out as ANC president. (Dumisani Sibeko, ­Independent Newspapers)

The union is deeply divided over who to support at the ANC's conference in Mangaung in December and in battles surrounding the multibillion-rand rail renewal project by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa).

A faction aligned to Satawu general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu wants to oust the union's president, Ephraim Mphahlele, at a central executive committee meeting in August. Mphahlele's faction is said by union officials to be aligned with those who want Zuma replaced as party president, whereas Mahlangu and his supporters are pro-Zuma.

The transport union is a member of Cosatu, which is also divided over the issue – the federation's president Sdumo Dlamini is described in union circles as a supporter of Zuma, but general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is seen as favouring a change of leadership.

Liver Mngomezulu, a former Satawu chairperson, claimed in an interview this week that Mahlangu was mobilising union members in Gauteng to support Zuma.

Mngomezulu was expelled as the union's Gauteng chairperson for entering into an allegedly unauthorised agreement with a service provider that binds the union to monthly payments of R590 808 for five years.

Unsubstantiated
Although Mahlangu admitted that he personally supported Zuma's bid for a second term, he denied that he was encouraging union members to follow suit.

Mphahlele said this week that he was aware of the plans to unseat him. "At the central executive committee meeting in April, provincial members had been mobilised to ­support the removal of the president," he said.

Mphahlele has also been at the forefront of a campaign to have the chief executive of the rail agency, Lucky Montana, removed.
But none of Satawu's other top five officials support Mphahlele because they believe his allegations are unsubstantiated.

It is understood that Mphahlele is lobbying for the agency's suspended chief financial officer, Sindi Mabaso, to take over from Montana.

Mabaso was suspended after she allegedly submitted irregular financial statements. She was also previously fired as group financial officer of Transnet by former chief executive Maria Ramos.

Jockeying for tenders
Some in the union see the manoeuvring as a proof of jockeying for tenders that may flow from the agency's R137-billion renewal programme. Sandile Zungu, secretary of the Black Business Council, recently accused the rail agency of sidelining black business after the parastatal had issued a tender for train coaches. But Mphahlele denied claims that he wanted Mabaso to replace Montana.

Mngomezulu and the former Satawu deputy chairperson in Gauteng, Reuben Molefe, have since formed a rival union, the National Allied Transport Workers' Union, which is believed to have Mphahlele's support.

Satawu provincial secretary Chris Nkosi claimed Mphahlele was colluding with the two men and said the province was investigating the matter and would seek Mphahlele's removal if he is found to have been involved with the rival union.

The Mail & Guardian was told by critics of Mphahlele that he is close to Mngomezulu and Molefe and has spent a lot of time in meetings with the two at the union's Kempton Park office.

Both Mngomezulu and Mphahlele denied his claim, although Mngo­mezulu said the new union would welcome Mphahlele if he was to join and it was likely Mphahlele would bring a large number of Satawu's members with him.

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