National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's delegates  during the union's Special congress at Birchwood hotel in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni.
Picture: Boxer Ngwenya
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's delegates during the union's Special congress at Birchwood hotel in Boksburg, Ekurhuleni. 181213 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Is the alliance at breaking point?

By Lesiba Seshoka and Karl Cloete Time of article published Dec 22, 2013

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Leshiba Seshoka and Karl Cloete discuss Numsa’s relationship with the ruling party and Cosatu.


Allies must contest the policy space as quitting will not benefit workers, says Leshiba Seshoka.

For years now pundits and liberals such as Sakhela Buhlungu and his ilk have been advocating for the collapse of the tripartite alliance, highlighting what they termed the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the mandarins in Pretoria and downplaying their successes.

For example, in Cosatu’s Contested Legacy, a book penned by Buhlungu and his crew, he highlights that the tripartite alliance provides union leaders with opportunities for accessing lucrative positions in local government, provincial legislatures, Parliament and the state bureaucracy.

This is a “discovery” that the good sociology professor has taken to every other platform in the country, including the Numsa special congress this week where he argued our union has no leadership.

But he downplays a vital finding by his co-authors who argue that the alliance is a vital stabilising force for South Africa’s democracy. Like many liberals and capitalists, the intention is to cast doubt on the alliance, capture its soul and have capital on the driving seat of the alliance.

Many may, of course, argue that capital is already in charge of the ANC with the introduction of the e-tolls, the labour brokers, the National Development plan, all of which we vociferously oppose.

But the ruling party has within it people from all walks of life who have come to contest the space and ensure that their ideas see the light of day.

For many years there has been an argument that the ruling party is a broad church led by the working class and the counter-argument was that those who constitute the ANC national executive committee are largely business men and women.

This led to Cosatu taking a decision to swell the ranks of the ruling party with the hope to transform the ruling party from within. This strategy, like all strategies, had its downs and ups.

The downs are that some of those deployed were co-opted by capital and were unable to pursue our agenda further.

But some pursued the working-class agenda and this is why we continue to enjoy the benefits of our largely progressive labour laws, which business has labelled as inflexible.

It is incorrect therefore to paint all leaders with the same brush. What the ANC’s alliance partners need to do is to contest the space more vigorously internally, rather than move externally to allow capital to be in charge of a ruling party, the consequences of which are disastrous. Simply put, the contestation of the classes within the ruling alliance is like the fight over a vehicle steering wheel.

Whoever wins it can steer the vehicle into the direction he wishes.

Thus, if the alliance was to break today, the biggest losers will be the working class, while capital will smile all the way to the bank. It will be like having abandoned the vehicle in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

We will be trampling on the legacy of Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and many others who have sacrificed their lives for the poor. Of course, some will be quick to point out that Mandela himself argued that the day the ruling party becomes arrogant, people must do what they did to apartheid. But he may not have meant that in the literal sense of the word.

We will be entering a real era of political entrepreneurship as more political parties are established, thus fragmenting the unity of working-class people.

In the US, for example, where one had some time to understudy their political systems, capital is in charge.

The country has dozens of one-issue social movements funded by capital whose agenda is not to ensure that the state becomes more caring for ordinary people, but to lobby largely on behalf of capital itself.

The largest trade union federation, with 12 million members, called ALFCIO, has no real power, because capital is rooted. Obamacare, which is President Barack Obama’s intention to extend health care to the poor, similar to our National Health Insurance, fails to take root as capital’s lobby is more powerful than the fragmented voices of social movements and the unions.

The US has a population of about 340 million people, many of whom are just too happy looking after their personal interests.

This is a model that the pundits want us to follow. A model comprising single issue movements such as Freedom Under Law, the Treatment Action Campaign, Equal Education; small and fragmented trade unions and political parties.

Not that the existence of such movements is a threat to anyone, but the fragmentation is a problem to the sacrosanct unity of the working class.

Of course, the biggest gripe the elite has over the tripartite alliance is its consistent and unshakable relations with the poor. What incenses business more, is the ruling party’s refusal to allow the elite to scavenge on the carcasses of the poor, the refusal to allow business to enslave the marginalised.

Thus, business has put aside millions of rand to divide the working class through sponsorship of social movements and formation of new trade unions.

It is, of course, not only business that does so, but foreign governments as well. In the eyes of the liberals, it is taboo for a political party to work hand in glove with trade unions. Trade unions should be independent, they argue. But as one has indicated before, the trade union movement should continue to combine bread- and-butter struggles with broader social, political and economic campaigns. A working-class movement solely concerned with workplace struggles is bound to lose, since the broader political context is shaped by capital’s agenda.

Experiences in many parts of the world demonstrate that engagement and struggles on a broad platform have delivered more to the working class than a narrow, parochial approach.

The disintegration of such a vital stabilising force can only spell disaster for a country that has been hailed globally as a model of democracy and for its stability. Besides, more than 70 percent of Cosatu members said the federation should stay in the tripartite alliance in the last workers’ survey conducted by Naledi.

* Seshoka is spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers of SA.



The alliance operates only during the elections to benefit the ruling ANC, writes Karl Cloete.

The Numsa special national congress was convened by the Numsa central committee held on August 11, which realised that the working class was in grave danger of remaining trapped in perpetual poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Our daily reality is consistent community protests, killing of workers who demand a living wage, privatisation of public roads, using and abusing taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of private capital through a national youth wage subsidy and so the long list goes on and on.

When Numsa members were interviewed by SWOP from Wits University in 2011/12, the vast majority said that Numsa had not disappointed them. The satisfied workers told us that as a Numsa member, they had been united with other workers, their wages had increased, they were defended at work, their grievances were taken up, discrimination was fought and that Numsa had represented them politically.

It was proposed to the Numsa ninth national congress held in June last year in Durban that Numsa should develop a service charter with a view to ensuring that Numsa provides an effective and quality service to its members.

If we expect our members to continue the militant fight that we have planned, we must make sure that we constantly improve our ability to protect and defend them. We believe our service to our members is good; but we know that it can improve. We realised that even though we have a Numsa constitution and policies, there is no document that sets out clearly what a member can expect from Numsa and what Numsa expects from members.

Trade unions cannot pretend that these material changes at the level of production have no effect on their capacity to fight and for workers to consolidate and extend their power. Drawing on international experiences, we then realised that the current Cosatu policy on one union, one industry is not only outdated but is not in keeping with the changes bulldozed by the capitalists. The Numsa special national congress was therefore asked by the union to develop a resolution for Numsa and for the Cosatu 2015 national congress to align ourselves with world reality.

A Numsa national executive committee this year adopted demands based on the call for full implementation of the Freedom Charter.

Through working class struggle, Numsa intends to build real working power with the prime aim of getting the ANC government to implement fully the demands of the Freedom Charter. This of course Numsa cannot do alone and therefore the special congress was implored to rally broader society to walk with us on the road to economic freedom.

The federation is in paralysis and about to implode if no serious measures are undertaken to save it, unify it, rebuild it and reclaim it from forces who want to destroy or liquidate it. Cosatu is no longer a campaigning federation. There has been a failure to implement congress resolutions such as those for a campaign against labour brokers, against e-tolling and the proposed youth wage subsidy.

Within Cosatu there are two voices, crystallised into two camps, coming from within and among top leadership:

One camp that wants Cosatu to continue to fight for socialism and against neo-liberalism.

Another camp wants a Cosatu that acts as the “labour desk” of the ANC, thereby consciously or unconsciously advancing the neo-liberal project under way.

The working class must understand that at play in post-1994 South Africa is the battle to death between forces of capitalist reaction and those of socialism, as the only solution to the crisis of humanity and development.

We must resist all attempts to divide the working class into “industrial” and “public sector” workers. We live in a capitalist society, and are governed by a capitalist state. Public sector workers are therefore employees of a capitalist state and not a workers’ state – they have no business making this state better able to exploit either the public or private sector workers. We are all confronting capital – private or public,

The alliance is dysfunctional, in crisis, paralysed and dominated by infighting and factionalism. It has been captured by right wing forces. As a result:

* The Freedom Charter, which we understood as the minimum platform of the alliance, has been abandoned in favour of right wing and neo-liberal policies such as the National Development Plan.

* Those who are perceived to be against neo-liberalism or to be advocates of policies in favour of the working class and the poor are seen as problematic, isolated or purged.

* There is little common understanding in the alliance of the real objectives of the national democratic revolution.

The alliance operates only during election periods. It is used to rubber-stamp neo-liberal policies of the ANC and not as a centre of power that debates policy issues and implementation. The working class is being used by the leader of the alliance, the ANC, as voting fodder. Therefore the Numsa special national congress had to engage with this painful reality.

Since 1994, Numsa, like other Cosatu affiliates, has invested resources and person power towards ensuring an ANC victory in elections. The Freedom Charter, as the basis of our existence as an alliance, the glue that brought the alliance together, has not found expression in government policies. The ANC no longer adheres to it. The ANC has not only departed from the Freedom Charter, but also from the Morogoro Conference core values and the Reconstruction and Development Plan.

The ANC-led government has imposed the National Development Plan (NDP), which is a neo-liberal policy embedded in the failed Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy of 1996. It will not address the triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality. In fact, it has the potential to reverse working class gains, even those secured under apartheid. Given that the NDP is now ANC policy, it was made clear by the ANC leadership that the NDP will be the government’s strategy until 2030. In this regard, the Numsa special national congress had to evaluate carefully why Numsa must again repeat what it has done since 1994.

* Cloete is Numsa deputy general secretary.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent

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