The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union’s long-awaited national elective congress kicked off this week in an effort that its leaders believe will put any criticism about the union’s legitimacy to rest.
During a media briefing on Wednesday, Amcu general secretary Jeff Mphahlele said the three-day congress proves that the union is democratic. “And we owe nobody any proof,” he added.
“If our members are happy, then they are the ones who are running the organisation. So if they are happy, we are happy.”
Amcu’s elective congress follows the announcement by labour registrar Lehohonolo Molefe that his office had suspended its plans to deregister the union. The registrar’s decision followed submissions regarding the union’s plans to hold its national congress.
In April, it emerged that the Amcu — which rose to prominence during the labour unrest which led to the Marikana massacre in 2012 — was in danger of losing its status as a trade union when the office of the labour registrar issued a notice of its intent to cancel the registration.
The reasons provided include that the union has “ceased to function in terms of its constitution” and that the “trade union is not a genuine trade union as envisaged in the [Labour Relations] Act”.
In a statement following the notice, Molefe said Amcu’s failure to hold a congress was in contravention of the unions own constitution. Amcu last held an elective congress in 2013.
“Since 2015 up to 2018, there have been numerous letters to Amcu requesting the date of their national congress without success,” Molefe said in a statement issued by the department.
“The registrar said every time they enquired about the union’s national congress, Amcu has on several occasions come with excuses.”
Amcu had last year undertaken to hold its national congress in May 2019, but when contacted about this by the registrar in February, the union said it was concerned over the “unusual attention” the union was paying to it.
At Wednesday’s press briefing Mphahlele reiterated the unions concerns that it was being targeted by the labour department because of its militancy.
Despite this enmity between the department and Amcu, Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi has been invited to address the congress on Thursday.
“We are not operating in a vacuum. We operate within South Africa, a democratic country which has got its laws that govern every establishment. So we belong to that department,” Mphahlele said.
“The question of whether they like us or if they don’t is neither here nor there. We have invited them because they are custodians of the labour issues.”
He added that Nxesi’s invitation “is just a token for us to say that we have invited the department”.
“You will remember that it was the very same department that wanted to deregister us because of the congress issues. Now if they come to see that Amcu is quite a democratised union: We follow to the letter what we are doing in terms of our constitution,” Mphahlele said.
“So for them it will be a fact-finding mission in order for them to assess better than speaking about us not having been with us. So I think it will give a new spectrum in terms of viewing Amcu as an organisation, rather than criticising us from a distance.”
At the briefing, Amcu’s head of organisational development Krister van Rensburg revealed that five national office bearer positions — including the union’s president, the deputy president national chairperson for health and safety, the national treasurer and the national chairperson for education — were opened for nominations.
All five positions are uncontested, pending nominations from the floor, Van Rensburg said.