Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency(ANA)

Samwu forced to halt conference amid coronavirus outbreak

By SIVIWE FEKETHA Time of article published Mar 18, 2020

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Johannesburg - Embattled Cosatu-affiliated municipal union Samwu has decried President Cyril Ramaphosa’s approach in declaring a state of national disaster regarding the coronavirus outbreak, which sees gatherings of more than 100 people being prohibited.

The union, which is the most divided of Cosatu affiliates, had hoped to use the conference to try and forge stability and address its challenges, which include the existence of parallel structures and allegations of financial irregularities and maladministration.

Samwu general secretary Koena Ramotlou said while the union would comply with the announcement by Ramaphosa, it had been dealt a huge blow to efforts at rebuilding it.

“This thing has now compromised all that we have put in place. It has messed us up,” Ramotlou said.

He said the party’s leadership was now scrambling for solutions, as the announcement came on the eve of the conference, when everything had been put in place and financial commitments had been made.

“We are going to meet as the national office bearers through a tele- conference, and do a proper assessment of what we need to do in moving it away, given the announcement by the president,” Ramotlou said.

“It put us in trouble because we were going to have a maximum of 600 delegates there, but with this announcement, everything falls.”

In recent years, the union has had to grapple with parallel factions that respectively claimed legitimacy to the union, from national level down to regional structures, and with leaders fighting over the right to occupy union offices and access to the subscriptions of members.

Divisions in the union had seen it banned from participating as an affiliate of Cosatu in provincial and national conferences, as the federation could not resolve the matter of which faction to recognise.

It was hoped that the conference would help mend relations between the factions of the union, which remains the biggest municipal union in the country despite its challenges.

Ramotlou said the union had to take the “painful” but justifiable decision to postpone the conference until the state of national disaster had been lifted.

“We have further taken a decision to postpone our special central executive committee and financial committee meetings, which were scheduled to be held before the national congress. As a precautionary measure, we advise all our structures to abide by the pronouncements of the president,” he said.

The union has, however, expressed concerns about the health and wellbeing of its members, whose exposure to the virus was high, as its ranks include bus drivers, community health workers, frontline cashiers and other workers who also had no alternative but to use crowded public transport, such as trains, buses and taxis.

“We therefore call on the South African Local Government Association, as a representative of the country’s municipalities, to speak out and announce a health plan that will ensure the safety of the country’s municipal workers,” Ramotlou said.

Political Bureau

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