Numsa to take on limping ANC

Socialism on the streets: Metalworkers' union Numsa during a recent march to Parliament in Cape Town. (David Harrison, M&G)

Socialism on the streets: Metalworkers' union Numsa during a recent march to Parliament in Cape Town. (David Harrison, M&G)

A new and potentially powerful workers’ party will contest local polls in 2016 to take advantage of the ANC’s dismal electoral performance in key metros this past election.

Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which withdrew its support for the ruling party in the 2014 election, wants to use its members in the country’s metal industries to contest for electoral power.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim told the Mail & Guardian that the union resolved at its central committee meeting this week to establish a new political party to contest local government elections in 2016.

Over the next few months the union will convene a consultative platform, known as the United Front, as the precursor to a national conference on socialism and the formation of a political party.

The new party, provisionally called the Movement for Socialism, is due to be formally launched next year, preceded by a process of learning from Latin America, “where there is a revolution of the left”.

Township forums
The United Front will include a programme to build township-based political discussion forums to canvass support and explore the possibilities of taking up local issues.

“Numsa regions were firm during the central committee meeting that there is no turning back on the decision to form a socialist movement to tackle the bread-and-butter issues of the poor,” Jim said. “We think it is now time for the working class to organise itself through a socialist movement. Such a movement must contest local government elections in 2016.”

Jim expressed confidence that the new party will do well in all the major metropolitan municipalities across the country, as most are in industrial areas where Numsa organises workers.

“Numsa is extremely dominant in all the metros, including Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane. We are targeting those areas for the 2016 local government elections.”

Most of the country’s large metros are under ANC control, but last week’s general election saw a decline in the ruling party’s support.

Diminished support
In Ekurhuleni, the ANC dropped from 67.53% in 2009 to 56.41%. In the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, it recorded less than 50% support, and in Tshwane it only managed 50.96%. In Johannesburg, the ANC’s share of the vote fell to 53.63%.

Jim claims: “The ANC was winning [comfortably] in the past elections because we persuaded the working class to vote for them.”

He said the past two decades have benefited capital more than the working class.

“We need to give workers an alternative party that will look after their interests. Workers can’t just vote for any political party. This new movement must have a legacy of tackling worker issues such as water, electricity and tariffs. We are not a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to that,” said Jim.

Numsa plans to organise a socialist conference later this year at which civil society movements, trade unions and left-leaning political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will be invited to chart the way forward.

“We are not going to advertise posts for leadership, like some parties. Leaders for the new movement will be born in the theatre of the struggle. We have an abundance of conscientious people. Some of them are not socialists but are committed to rooting out corruption,” said Jim.

“We are not driven by power and who must go to Parliament. Our main aim is to mobilise the working class.”

He accused the South African Communist Party (SACP) of failing to push the struggle of the working class and the poor.

“The communist party has been co-opted by the ANC. It is now a darling of the ruling class and its leaders are happy to get huge salaries while the working class is struggling.”

Jim accused President Jacob Zuma of misleading workers. “The neoliberal trajectory under Zuma’s leadership has been taken to a higher level. We are seeing the implementation of e-tolls and the youth wage subsidy, the adoption of the National Development Plan and the refusal to ban labour brokers.”

Labour analyst Sakhela Buhlungu said a party of the left is necessary. “A political market is waiting for that to happen,” he said. “But the problem is that the electorate in South Africa is not making choices in terms of principle.

“Yes, the rot is deep, but the electorate is not looking at that. If Numsa goes for this [launching a new party], it must know it’s not easy. People will continue to say the ANC is wrong but will continue to support it.”

“Voting in South Africa is still based on loyalty. Cosatu members will continue to vote for the ANC,” Buhlungu said. “The challenge is to build working-class politics. At the moment we are not seeing that.”

Presidential ‘scapegoat’
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu rebuked Jim for using Zuma as a “scapegoat” to pursue “personal ambitions”.

“We are not saying all is well, but we have done a lot and we are a listening party. The workers of this country know what the ANC has done for them; that’s why they voted for the ANC.”

SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo dismissed Numsa’s attacks as “a political agenda aimed at establishing a different political organisation … The SACP remains an independent political party that is in alliance with the ANC.”

Mashilo also called on Jim to reveal his own salary and benefits.

“Huge salaries are not just in government; there are [also huge] salaries in the private sector and in the trade union movement,” he said. – Additional reporting by Verashni Pillay and Mmanaledi Mataboge



Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award. Read more from ML

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