Mathunjwa purges rivals in shake-up

Associated Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa has executed another big purge within his union and is intent on ousting his deputy, Sanele Myeza, as the battle for control of the union heats up, and regions in Gauteng and Mpumalanga prepare to take him on.

Amcu currently has 250 000 members and represents the majority of workers in the platinum and coal mining sectors. In the gold sector, it is the second-biggest union behind the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). But Amcu has been plagued by internal squabbles about transparency and an apparently dictatorial style of leadership by the charismatic Mathunjwa.

The union has failed to hold an elective congress since it rose to prominence in the wake of the six-week long strike at Lonmin platinum and the Marikana massacre in
2012, during which 44 people were killed.

READ MORE: Amcu workers too scared to strike

Myeza last week told the Mail & Guardian that his status within Amcu is a “very sensitive matter ,” but wouldn’t comment further on the dismissal of his allies within the union.

The former Amcu deputy had started gaining support among Amcu regions to challenge Mathunjwa for the leadership of the union and now faces the axe, according to Amcu insiders. By this week, his picture and details had been removed from the official Amcu website.

The union’s general secretary, Jeff Mphahlele, was sent detailed questions about the dismissals, but only said that the claims were “erroneous and false”. Instead, Mphahlele laid a complaint with the M&G about the writer’s apparent personal vendetta against Mathunjwa.

Mathunjwa was supposed to convene a national congress that would hold leadership elections in May but postponed it to September. Now that gathering has also been scrapped and union officials who oppose the Amcu leader have been purged.

These include Mpumalanga’s regional organiser, John Tlou, and head office organiser Thomas Nkosi. In Gauteng, Mathunjwa sacked Desmond Jeza and Ernest Mohale, regional organisers in Carletonville, and Sibongile Tshisa, the chairperson of the union’s West Rand region.

The reasons for the officials’ dismissals put forward by Amcu range from not servicing members correctly and their poor management of work stoppages to officials losing their jobs, making them ineligible to be worker representatives.

Tshisa described Mathunjwa as paranoid, and said he would protect his control over Amcu at any cost.

“The real problem was that we wanted a national conference. There was a conference which was not completed in 2012, and a promise was made that a special congress was to be called, but it hasn’t been,” he said.

“The president himself felt threatened that we wanted to unseat him, Myeza and I, because we know each other. He felt insecure and was paranoid because he doesn’t want anyone who opposes him,” Tshisa added.

According to Jeza, Mathunjwa started targeting his opponents in the union late last year, when it became evident the officials in the regions were unhappy with what they saw as his unilateral decision-making and his lack of transparency.

Jeza was dismissed for rendering poor service to members in 2013 and 2014, but the charges were only brought in December 2017.

“These people have cooked up stories against [me] such as misconduct. They said I never served the workers,” he said. Jeza was furious about his dismissal and decided to take Amcu to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

“We settled at the CCMA for three months’ salary, because they could see they didn’t have a case against me,” he said.

Then, in January, Mohale and Amcu paralegal officer Vusi Shonge resigned — they said it was constructive dismissal — after they were accused of inadequately managing a work stoppage in Carletonville. At the end of January, Tshisa was sacked after he lost his job at Harmony Gold’s Kusasalethu mine.

His departure from Harmony Gold left the workers at Kusasalethu confused, Tshisa said.

At least three Amcu members at the mine confirmed that Mathunjwa had visited the shaft twice since dismissing Tshisa, but said he did not properly explain why the decision was made.

“The president came here twice to assassinate Tshisa’s character, and said he was sleeping with Amcu leaders and his wife is recruiting for Numsa [the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa],” a rock drill operator at Kusasalethu said anonymously, fearing victimisation for speaking out against Mathunjwa.

“A number of our comrades have now left Amcu for Numsa and NUM,” he said.

Tshisa’s dismissal letter from the Amcu head office states that he was sacked because the union’s constitution requires that, for a member to be eligible for an elected position, he or she must be an employee of a mining or construction company and contribute a monthly subscription from his or her salary.

But this clause would mean that Mathunjwa himself would be ineligible to serve as president, former registrar of labour Johan Crouse told the M&G.

Mathunjwa and Amcu treasurer Jimmy Gama accepted retrenchment packages from BHP Billiton in 2014, and are currently serving as full-time paid officials of the union.

Crouse said he wrote to Mathunjwa in 2016, seeking clarity on why he continued to occupy the position of president despite the provisions of the Amcu constitution, but was ignored.

“This guy has, at least for the past five years, been ignoring us straight,” Crouse said.

“It is an illegitimate union and it is not operating constitutionally. It has been established and is being run by people who cannot call themselves legitimate office bearers.”

He explained that, technically, Amcu is not a worker-controlled union, because its top leadership was not elected by any of its members.

“They all wanted to be office bearers but I said that they can’t, because the provisions of the constitution say, once you become elected to the committee as an office bearer, you immediately become a paid official of the union,” Crouse explained.

READ MORE: Climate of fear grips Amcu ‘rebels’

Before he was ousted in a controversial public spat with the minister of labour, Crouse intended to confront Mathunjwa about his failure to convene a conference and submit the names of elected officials.

“They don’t submit the names of the committees or elected positions. You hear there was an election [in 2012] but they say we didn’t have that election; it was abandoned,” he said.

This week the department of labour confirmed that Mathunjwa had still not responded to the letter and remains solely employed by the union.

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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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