Saftu opens the door to Cosatu’s Western Cape leader

Cosatu’s Western Cape secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, has informally met senior leaders of the South African Federation of Trade Unions and could soon join Saftu.

Ehrenreich joined the trade union federation Cosatu in 1989 and is its most senior leader in the province. He was elected as deputy general secretary in 1999 but stepped down after one year to take up a position as secretary of the Western Cape.

This week he announced his intention to resign from his position after Cosatu’s provincial conference next month. It came just one week after he appeared alongside Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi at a march against proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act.

“He is very key in the coloured community there and, if you want to infiltrate the Western Cape labour movement, you need him,” a senior Saftu leader said, speaking anonymously. “We have made some efforts and the reception has been encouraging. We have met him and he told us that they [Cosatu Western Cape] are going to a congress and he is not going to stand again.”

Ehrenreich denied that he had been officially approached by any other federation and would not elaborate on the overtures from Saftu. Instead he said: “I believe for the interest of the workers of South Africa, the federations must work together.”

Saftu’s leadership believes Ehrenreich could serve as an elected official if he decided to join an affiliated union, or could be employed directly by the federation.

“We can also use him in a strategic role, internally. We need someone to do our parliamentary work and he could excel in that. We need someone to do international solidarity work and he can excel in that. We need someone for education and organising department,” a Saftu official said.

Officially, Ehrenreich has written to Cosatu saying he will not stand for re-election because he wants to take a sabbatical.

“He has been asking for a break for a while. He wanted to take sabbatical leave, which he is entitled to, last term [in 2016]. The letter he wrote, he said he wanted to take a sabbatical leave and not avail himself for the position of secretary, but he is open to whatever mandate he will be given by a union or the federation,” Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said.

But Ntshalintshali doubted whether Ehrenreich would be suited to Saftu. “He has been with us for ages and I don’t think his politics will fit well with what is happening there … But of course people are opportunistic and want to approach him. I don’t think Tony will take that kind that approach,” Ntshalintshali said.

Meanwhile, Saftu says it has taken note of which political parties supported its strike and will decide whether to endorse a political party before the end of the year. It was backed by the Economic Freedom Fighters, the United Democratic Movement and the Pan Africanist Congress.

“As Saftu we will not allow a maybe vote from workers. Before the end of this year we will be clear on whether we will endorse a political party. We could be saying we need our own workers’ party because the Numsa [National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa] party is at an advanced stage,” the federation’s deputy general secretary Moleko Phakedi said.

Saftu has been swelling its ranks by collaborating with civic organisations and unions such as the Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Amcu had officially deregistered from the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) and could not join Saftu, Phakedi said.

“We have started a long time ago with Amcu. Nactu and Amcu were with us, they were part and parcel of the steering committee, they went to the workers’ summit and we don’t know what happened. We believe that they are finding it appropriate now that they join the federation.” 

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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