Numsa maps out its brave new world

Numsa's United Front movement is 'a coalition of people fighting for basic services in different communities'. (Reuters)

Numsa's United Front movement is 'a coalition of people fighting for basic services in different communities'. (Reuters)

NEWS ANALYSIS

The National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) is throwing two very different parties: one is a free-for-all gig and the other is an invitation-only affair for strictly the most red-blooded socialists. Naturally people have confused the two.

A press conference on Tuesday, led by Numsa’s firebrand leader Irvin Jim, reiterated the sort of things that have characterised the union’s breakaway from trade union federation Cosatu in slow motion over the past year. They were tired of the ruling ANC and of the alliance with the party that Cosatu was locked into.

They wanted Cosatu to break with the ANC and come with them into a brave new socialist future where they could perhaps launch their own political party.
And the creation of their United Front movement was going very nicely with a launch planned in December. 

Cue the articles announcing the launch of the union’s own political party in December to contest the local government elections in 2016. But Dinga Sikwebu, the head of education for the union, was emphatic that this was not the case.

“We’re doing two things: establishing a United Front, not a political party. It’s a coalition of people fighting for basic services in different communities,” he said. The United Front would be launched at a conference from December 13 to 16.

“This is separate from the process of forming a party. In February 2015, we will have a conference on socialism in South Africa, where we’ll invite all socialist parties and organisations in South Africa.”

The outcome of this would form part of a report that would be tabled by Numsa. “Only then will we decide about forming a political party.”

United Front
The United Front echoes the formation of the United Democratic Front in the mid-1980s – a loose coalition of social movements that retained their autonomy but united around the common goal of fighting the apartheid machine.

For the United Front, it is a battle against the damaging effects of neoliberal policies on areas such as water, electricity and housing.

So far, the United Front has coalesced around community issues so its spread has been patchy. Mpumalanga has the only provincial structure set up so far, with the Eastern Cape and Gauteng expected to get going in November, just before the national launch in December.

There are about nine active regions. The emphasis is on partnering with local organisations and a bottom-up growth of the movement.

Plans for a political party are far more nascent. The report that will be tabled in March will include input from February’s conference, four working visits to leftist movements in other countries and the outcome of Numsa’s political school and its previous symposium of leftist parties.

“Clearly we hope that the United Front will create fertile ground for the party,” he said. “But it is not a stepping stone.”

Unlikely to attend
Although February’s event will include invitations for everyone, including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), these two organisations did not attend the last symposium and the EFF is unlikely to attend the next. 

“You don’t just invite us to a conference,” the EFF spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, said. “They must appreciate that we have captured the public’s imagination.”

Ndlozi said that, although the EFF thought very highly of Numsa, it did not attend the last symposium as it refused to share a platform with the SACP – and the EFF didn’t take kindly to Numsa not responding to attempts by the new political party to engage directly with the union.

In an earlier Mail & Guardian interview, Sikwebu expressed reservations about the party, which further alienated the EFF.

SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said Numsa had not responded to requests for “bilateral meetings” and it did not attend the last symposium as the entire organisation was not invited. “If they invite the organisation [next time] we will positively consider the invitation,” he said.

Ndlozi was still positive about the developments. “We think there has to be a collective effort to bring all progressive left forces to act as a collective.”

The party, it seems, is just getting started.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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