Suspended regional leaders of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) have claimed they are victims of a “brutal purge” linked to the fierce battle for control of trade union federation Cosatu.
A powerful faction opposed to the re-election of Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary of Cosatu at its national congress next year is purging Sadtu leaders it deems a threat, the Mail & Guardian has been told.
Mugwena Maluleke, Sadtu’s general secretary, is alleged to be leading this faction within the union. The bloc is said to be dominant in the union’s national executive committee (NEC), a structure accused of orchestrating the suspensions.
Many unionists seen to be supporting Vavi and Sadtu’s expelled president Thobile Ntola have been suspended in recent months.
The M&G spoke to suspended members in six provinces this week. These are the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Northern Cape and the Free State.
All claimed they’ve been targeted for their known or suspected support for Vavi and Ntola.
“It’s more political, and not isolated from the main battle for the heart and soul of Cosatu,” said Jihad Seonya, a suspended leader in the Free State.
The two leaders, Vavi and Ntola, are closely linked to a left-wing Cosatu faction that is pushing for leadership and policy change in the federation. Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, is spearheading this group.
The affected members said their suspensions have been orchestrated to ensure they do not participate in the union’s provincial elective conferences.
This means they won’t be represented at Sadtu’s national congress in October. Their absence would bar them from pushing for Ntola’s reinstatement and his re-election as president.
Sadtu would send delegates in favour of Vavi’s removal to the Cosatu congress next year.
Seonya, until recently the provincial deputy secretary, is one of four suspended leaders in the Free State.
Four branches in the province have been disbanded, and two branch chairpersons have been expelled.
Seonya blamed the purges on “those who want to control Cosatu [and] make it a labour desk [of the ANC].
“Our contention has been that, no, we can’t allow that. We’re an independent federation representing the interests of the workers.”
Last month, Maluleke told 24 regional leaders in the North West that they had been suspended for failing to explain why they invited Ntola to address their “meeting[s], despite his suspension by the NEC”.
In an earlier letter the leaders told Maluleke that their suspension was designed to “ensure that we are silenced and prevented from being part of the provincial conference”.
One of the suspended leaders in the region told the M&G: “Right now there’s this wave of fear across the entire organisation.
“This is the year of the conference. So everybody who poses a particular threat or anything in that direction is removed. It’s bad now. It’s really, really bad.”
Seven branches in KwaZulu-Natal have had their leaders suspended.
A member who has not been suspended but who is close to the leaders who have been placed on ice said they are “seen as people supporting Vavi and Ntola”.
“They are purging everyone,” said the member, who asked not to be named. “They [might] have ammunition against me. And knowing how brutal these people are, they [might] even kill me.”
A Western Cape leader, one of 10 suspended in the province, said they were targeted after attending a meeting addressed by Ntola.
All in agreement
“Ntola has been critical of the direction the ANC is taking,” he said. “Now as a member of Sadtu or the ANC you can’t ask about the Nkandla issue. It’s about ensuring everyone agrees.”
Sadtu’s NEC last month threatened to suspend the entire provincial executive committee (PEC) of the Eastern Cape and accused it of providing a platform for the then suspended Ntola and Vavi to address members.
The Eastern Cape committee hit back in its letter to the NEC, arguing that Sadtu and Cosatu’s constitutions were flouted and violated when Ntola and Vavi were suspended.
Sources this week told the M&G that the province and the NEC are currently negotiating a settlement that would see the PEC staying put.
Pule Mogopodi, a Northern Cape member who has been suspended since 2011, said the campaign targeting those perceived to support Ntola isn’t new.
“They suspected me of being close to the president [Ntola],” he said. “Anyone deemed to be close to the president has been dealt with.
“This thing comes a long way. It didn’t start in 2011. It started in 2010 [when Ntola was elected president of the union].”
Mogopodi said the campaign to remove Ntola “started getting serious” at the union’s general council meeting in December 2011, when Ntola said there would be blood on the floor if the government implemented the Protection of State Information Bill.
The M&G reported then on knives being out for Ntola for publicly denouncing the ANC MP’s endorsement of the Bill (“Sadtu boss in hot water over info Bill”, December 2 2011).
Nkosana Dolopi, deputy general secretary of Sadtu, rejected claims that members were being purged based on factional battles.
Sadtu is “fairly united”, and not divided over Cosatu leadership battles, Dolopi added.
“Let me be honest. I can’t see them [the suspensions and Cosatu congress] linked,” he said. “We have not started discussing that.”
There was nothing questionable about the suspensions coinciding with provincial elective congresses, he said.
“The constitution of the union guides the union [to act] at any time, whether it’s before a congress or after it. It’s not a question of timing, but a question of responding to a conduct inconsistent [with] our constitution and policies.”