Faction-riven and bleeding, NUM turns on itself

A bitter feud between rival groups in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) will come to a head at its elective conference next month, when general secretary David Sipunzi and president Piet Matosa go head to head over the union’s top positions.

Sipunzi’s supporters, who spoke on condition of anonymity this week, said he stood a good chance to retain his position. “The writing is on the wall,” one of the Free State regional organisers said. “It won’t be a narrow victory like last time. I think things have changed dramatically in terms of performance, and it is clear the current GS [general secretary] is favoured overwhelmingly.”

This week, the Kopanong branch in Klerksdorp, in the Matlosana region, marched to the NUM’s regional office calling for Matosa to be re-elected unopposed.

The union has been haemorrhaging support to the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union. The NUM’s membership went from 308 628 before the Marikana massacre in 2012 to 198 000 in 2016.

Sipunzi’s faction represents the new NUM leadership, which emerged after 2012, whereas Matosa represents the old guard, who rose to the top alongside former NUM president Senzeni Zokwana.

READ MORE: It’s NUM vs NUM as leadership scuffle hits branches

Sipunzi’s faction wants Matosa to be replaced by NUM deputy president Joseph Montisetsi and Matosa’s faction is pushing for Carletonville regional secretary Mbuyiseli Hibana to take over from Sipunzi as general secretary. But Matosa’s supporters seem intent on dissuading Montisetsi from going up against Matosa. Sipunzi narrowly defeated Frans Baleni, former general secretary and Matosa’s ally, in 2015 in an election that threatened to split the union. Since his defeat, the divisions between the two factions have been cemented and the union has continued to lose members.

Matosa took over as NUM acting president in 2014 after Zokwana was appointed to former president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet. Matosa was formally elected to the position at the NUM’s national congress in 2015.

The looming battle has left Matosa’s supporters looking to former leaders such as Baleni for assistance, one of his backers said this week. “He would be the strongest to contest for the GS position.”

Matosa’s supporters are largely based in the mining town of Klerksdorp, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and North West.


Sipunzi enjoys majority support from the union’s biggest regions in Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Free State.

Approached for comment this week, Sipunzi would only say the environment was “highly contested” and Matosa declined to comment.

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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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