More than a thousand National Union of Mineworkers members in Klerksdorp have defected to the rival metalworkers’ union, Numsa, because of factional battles — which could cost the NUM its position as the majority union in the area.
The NUM represents 59% of all mineworkers in the gold sector, but represents only 55% of workers in its Matlosana region, which covers the Klerksdorp area.
Members from the Vaal Reef and AngloGold Ashanti mines in Stilfontein and Klerksdorp left the NUM after accusing the Matlosana regional leaders of tribalism because the members have been excluded from an upcoming regional conference.
They said isiXhosa-speaking people were being parachuted in to head the NUM’s offices.
“Members decided to leave NUM for the sake of peace and to avoid being labelled as foreigners who are using a passport,” a worker at the AngloGold Ashanti mine said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “NUM is dead and its president and national office bearers have killed it.”
This week, NUM general secretary David Sipunzi confirmed the exodus but said the exact numbers and reasons workers are leaving was underplayed at a national executive committee (NEC) meeting at the weekend.
“The Matlosana region did make a presentation to the NEC. But the manner in which [secretary Khaya Ngeleka] put it, he was pouring cold water on to that [claim of an exodus].”
Sipunzi said Ngeleka told the NEC that members had appealed their exclusion from the regional conference. They “are now recruiting members to Numsa. And the number that have left is in excess of a thousand,” Sipunzi said on Tuesday.
The incumbent regional officials are known to back NUM president Piet Matosa, who is involved in a bitter factional battle with Sipunzi over competing loyalty and dominance of the union.
Matosa is known to have backed the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) from trade union federation Cosatu and has called on NUM members to fight back against their rival on the platinum belt, the Association of Metal and Construction Workers’ Union (Amcu).
Sipunzi was unsuccessful in the charge to have Numsa readmitted to Cosatu and suggested allying the NUM with Amcu after his election in 2015.
Whoever wins the factional battle could take control of the NUM at its national conference next year, and there are plans afoot to oust Sipunzi.
“The NUM youth structures [in that area] are being locked out of regional conferences because they do not support [Matosa],” said a senior member of the NEC who backs Sipunzi, speaking anonymously.
Sipunzi said he regretted the loss of members and that he could sympathise with them. “These members should have given the union the opportunity to cleanse itself. Very soon there will be regional conference … But unfortunately it might be that they are not given the opportunity to attend the regional conference and make their own choice.”
The NUM general secretary has now called for the union to conduct a fact-finding mission and visit the area to arrest membership losses.
Numsa, an affiliate of the newly formed South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), has been “aggressively” recruiting mineworkers in the area and has secured a majority at other mines where the NUM was once dominant, said Numsa’s spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi.
“It is true that, as Numsa, we are aggressively recruiting the mining area. We are right now the majority at Glencore. When members come to us and want to join, we don’t ask whether you were NUM or Amcu, we just service them,” Hlubi said.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was delighted by the workers joining Numsa and predicted the downfall of the NUM.
“In no time, there will be no NUM left, because of their own doing. [As Saftu] we are quite excited. The NUM is sucked into the corruption and because of that it is now using tribalism to divide workers. There is a Xhosa gang there that is mercilessly dealing with people who don’t speak Xhosa,” Vavi said.
But Matosa denied allegations of tribalism and said the union had a policy of campaigning against it.
He also denied that isiXhosa-speaking people were being parachuted in, saying the officials had been properly elected.
Ngeleka would not respond to the allegations, but confirmed that the exodus of members would be discussed at a regional executive committee meeting this week.
Sipunzi also said the NUM’s national office bearers were confronted about a 2012 trip to London by its then general secretary Frans Baleni and president Senzeni Zokwana.
The trip was undertaken at the invitation of former JP Morgan vice-chairperson Robin Renwick, who was seeking reassurances from the NUM about the stability of the workforce, following the Marikana massacre, when police shot and killed 34 mineworkers.
Sipunzi said the matter was swept under the carpet. “In the national office bearers’ meeting, [NUM national education chairperson] Peter Bailey raised the matter and unfortunately we felt that he was just defending the indefensible.”