/ 7 August 2023

Gwede Mantashe: Suspension of NUM general secretary is ‘madness’

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe. (Ntswe Mokoena)

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe has condemned the suspension of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary William Mabapa, calling it madness. 

Speaking at the South African Communist Party’s (SACP’s) 102 anniversary in Marikana this weekend, Mantashe said the trade unions were at the weakest points in their histories. 

“I was talking to [NUM president] Dan [Baipile]. I asked him, how do you fire and suspend a general secretary? That is never done. You don’t just suspend a general secretary unless you are mad, it’s madness,” Mantashe said. 

Mabapa was suspended late last month after a national executive committee meeting over internal issues, said NUM national spokesperson Livhuwani Mammburu, adding that the NUM’s national office bearers would respond to Mantashe later on Monday.

According to the Financial Mail, Mabapa was suspended on 28 July, apparently for authorising a flight for a delegate from the Eastern Cape to attend a conference of the union’s youth wing in Johannesburg. He was suspended with full pay, pending the outcome of an investigation into his conduct.

One NUM provincial leader said there was concern in the union that the suspension would cause a further divide in the leadership structures. 

The NUM lost its prestige as the biggest affiliate of trade union federation Cosatu in 2013 when its status was usurped by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa). Despite the dissolution of Numsa’s affiliation with Cosatu, the NUM’s numbers continued to dwindle. 

The NUM has a strong history with the ANC as its first president was Cyril Ramaphosa. Other ANC leaders including Mantashe and Kgalema Montlathe also led the structure. 

Speaking at the SACP event, Mantashe said that although the ANC had managed to reconstruct its internal structures, the alliance had not applied its mind to the labour movement. 

“That has weakened it dramatically. I led NUM then, it was the biggest in the federation. Today [the] political component of the federation is so weak that it is close to non-existent. We are not discussing that as communists and the alliance. We see it as a natural accident but it’s not a natural accident. Trade union density is in the 20 percent, it comes from the Seventies. That is a challenge we must confront together as the alliance,” Mantashe said. 

He added that if the alliance does not address the weakened labour movement, “we are going to wake up one day with no unions”.  

The ANC leader said the alliance needed to be unified before next year’s elections, cautioning that there was an objective to remove the ANC and its alliance partners from power. 

“A threat is when apartheid parties and Bantustan parties think they can pull together and develop confidence, that they can just remove the liberation movement from power, that is a threat,” he said.