March to 'defend the ANC' shows union divides

Unions. (Madelene Cronje)

Unions. (Madelene Cronje)

The march, which started at Curries Fountain and went through Durban’s CBD before stopping at the Gugu Dlamini Park, drew well over 50 000 people and was attended by various Cosatu affiliates and provincial branches of the SACP. The stated aim of the march was to "defend the ANC," and, according to KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Cosatu Zet Luzipho, "deal with distortions of what has been achieved [in the past 20 years]." 

The axing of Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi (which was overturned by the South Gauteng High court earlier this month) had intensified bad blood within the federation, with Numsa being most vocal of the federation’s perceived soft stance towards the ANC’s endorsement of neoliberal policies and its handling of the suspension of Vavi following an office sex scandal with a subordinate.

Earlier in the week, Numsa’s provincial leadership, which did not endorse the march, said its primary objective was to show uncritical support to the state president Jacob Zuma by opposing Numsa’s position of not campaigning at all. Taking to the podium in a red Numsa baseball cap, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said, in an apparent slight to Numsa, "If you come between us, and make us stand on our heads with our feet in the air, Cosatu will close ranks and defeat you, left, right, all out."

Adjusting his headgear for effect, Dlamini said, "This is a Numsa cap, and Cosatu has 19 affiliates.
Those affiliates belong to members and not leaders." He said members contributed subscriptions so they could continue to be the custodians of their unions and that Cosatu would continue to work with the "vanguard party and the liberation party" and that "no-one should come late and claim to have a miracle to give workers what they want."

There was a strong presence of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), National Education, Health and Allied Workers (Nehawu), Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU and the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu). Numsa member Mzokhona Nene, who did not attend the march, said on Friday that the march would further divide the workers and show the country that in some unions, there is no worker control.

"The difference with some of these public sector unions is that they can easily talk things out with the ruling party. Private sector unions feel the pinch of the very same government’s neoliberal stance daily." Nene who said he had worked at appliance manufacturer Defy for the past ten years, had witnessed the moving in of a foreign investor who systematically overhauled the company’s structure and stripped the company’s management of its decision-making powers.

"At the same time, you’re faced with a Cosatu that has failed to carry forward simple propositions by the workers, like our position on labour brokering," he said dressed in union gear from Numsa’s regional headquarters in Durban.

Unconditional support

An often-repeated line by alliance leaders and workers interviewed by the Mail & Guardian at the march was that opposition parties "had turned the Nkandla issue into their manifestos".

One worker, in a Numsa t-shirt who said "he did not agree with Numsa general-secretary Irvin Jim’s manner of screaming to the whole world if he had issues with Cosatu," said the overwhelming support for Jacob Zuma in the province was because they would stand by any leader brought forward by the ANC to lead, just as they had supported [former state presidents Nelson] Mandela and [Thabo] Mbeki.

Earlier this week, at the press conference to announce the march, SACP provincial secretary Themba Mthembu unveiled a graphic he said was doing the rounds among social media users in the province, which read: "Sizovotela uMsholozi noma engashisa iphalamende. [We will vote for Msholozi even if he burns down parliament.]" The support for Zuma among many of Cosatu’s affiliates in the province seemed to stem from the logic that no other party, not even one coming from within the ranks of the working class, stood a chance against the ANC.

As one worker, who chose to remain anonymous said, "Issues such as labour brokering and so forth, we’ll keep on fighting those issues during and after Msholozi’s next term. What we are talking about as workers is resisting within our organisation. Yes there are bad eggs in the organisation [the ANC], and Cosatu’s energy is low because of people with parliamentary dreams. But if the ANC offers you a job, will you refuse it because you are in Cosatu? What Vavi can do is come back into the fold because if Numsa splits from Cosatu, it will be on him."

Before Dlamini’s address, the march’s MC Zet Luzipho announced that Dlamini had refused being placed as an ANC parliamentary candidate because "he wanted to finish his term as Cosatu president." If there was a clear sign that fissures within Cosatu were far from mended, one needs to consider Friday’s standoff in downtown Johannesburg between members of Sadtu (representing Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and North West) sympathetic to the reinstatement of suspended president Thobile Ntola and those opposed to it.

Police prevented the two members from coming to blows, just as they did when Sadtu stormed a gathering of pro-Vavi shopstewards in Durban earlier this month.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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