The best of South African literature
If Numsa loses the special Cosatu congress and calls it quits, it will not be the first time it has demanded a split, says Moshoeshoe Monare.
Johannesburg - If THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) loses the special Cosatu congress and calls it quits, it will not be the first time it has demanded a split. In the winter of 1993, Numsa ignited a debate for the breaking away from the ANC-led alliance and a possibility of forming a workers’ party.
It was at a time when some radical unionists accused ANC negotiators at the multiparty talks of selling out the workers.
At its fourth congress in Kempton Park the same year, Numsa’s then general secretary, Moses Mayekiso, said the union should deal with the ANC as “the government of the day”. Numsa was joined by the textile union.
Its congress in Durban resolved that the alliance should split after the Constituent Assembly – a parliamentary constitution-making body – had finalised the constitution.
The textile union’s intellectually sharp and eloquent leader has justified their decision by saying that they were committed “to union independence”.
That leader is now ANC Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel. The separatists tried to court and drag the SACP with them, but Jeremy Cronin – the party deputy leader – said their call was “understandable but wrong”.
The mineworkers were solidly behind the alliance and dismissive of Numsa’s call. Twenty years later, the two unions are still at the opposing poles within the federation.
The National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) position on the alliance won the day then. But 20 years is a long time. Numsa has overtaken its sister union as the largest affiliate within Cosatu. It is not the first time the federation holds a special congress over the status of the general secretary. Cosatu held one in 1994 to replace Jay Naidoo with Mbhazima Shilowa. It is also not the first battle over the position.
Shortly after the special congress, conspiratorial rumours emerged over Shilowa’s leadership, threatening to tear the federation apart.
Like Vavi, Shilowa was accused of “overriding affiliates, not delegating and not seeking advice”. His political ambition was also questioned.
Some members wanted him to be contested at the next congress.
Ironically, Vavi and Patel refused to contest Shilowa.
Shilowa survived, and later became a successful premier of Gauteng, but a disastrous leader of Cope. Will Vavi survive and become a disastrous premier but successful leader of a splinter group?
It is too soon for his allies to celebrate their victory for a special congress. There is no block voting, and Numsa is not necessarily Irvin Jim, nor does Frans Baleni vote for the whole of NUM.
In fact, Vavi should remember the spring of 2006 when he thought he would replace Willie Madisha with Zanoxolo Wayile for Cosatu presidency. This was based on skewed calculations of affiliate support.
Madisha prevailed with 42 votes. Vavi, who was seated disappointedly at the back of the Gallagher Estate conference hall, couldn’t comprehend how the “unpopular” Madisha managed to retain his presidency. I reminded him – in jest though – that Madisha was a heavyweight amateur boxer who once knocked out one Pangaman Sekgapane.
This time, Vavi might remind me that Sdumo Dlamini – the Cosatu president – is no heavyweight and that he (Vavi) is no Pangaman.
* Moshoeshoe Monare is editor of the Sunday Independent.