Numsa’s new party likely to be still­born

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - ● Marrian is po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor.


Yet an­other po­lit­i­cal party is gear­ing up to con­test the 2019 elec­tions. As the elec­torate col­lec­tively rolls its eyes, Numsa’s So­cial­ist Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Work­ers Party fan­cies it­self as hav­ing a shot at cap­tur­ing the imag­i­na­tion of enough South Africans to land it in par­lia­ment.

So does Andile Mngxi­tama’s Gupta mili­tia, Black First Land First. But apart from in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal trends go­ing against the left and lean­ing ever more har­row­ingly to the right — even the Brazil­ians voted in hard rightwinger Jair Bol­sonaro — the met­al­worker union’s new party is en­ter­ing hos­tile ter­rain.

For those with short mem­o­ries, Numsa has been down this road be­fore, when its “United Front” con­tested the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, mainly in the Eastern Cape. The party ger­mi­nated in 2013 when Numsa re­solved at a spe­cial na­tional congress to call on union fed­er­a­tion Cosatu to leave the tri­par­tite al­liance with the ANC and form a work­ers’ party to con­test fu­ture elec­tions.

Con­flict within Numsa’s lead­er­ship was at the heart of these dif­fer­ences, with deep ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences within the union en­sur­ing the new party was still­born.

Now Numsa is set to be the “cat­a­lyst” for an­other new po­lit­i­cal party, yet the lead­ers in­volved are no dif­fer­ent from the group that sought to launch the ill-fated United Front.

Also in­ter­est­ing is the si­lence of the new Numsa-aligned labour fed­er­a­tion, the SA Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (Saftu), which is run by for­mer Cosatu gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi.

Crit­ics of the fed­er­a­tion in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles have a rather cyn­i­cal view of the Num­saaligned work­ers’ party. The word is that there are deep dif­fer­ences be­tween Numsa gen­eral sec­re­tary Irvin Jim and Saftu gen­eral sec­re­tary Vavi. Jim, in­sid­ers say, has been at the helm of Numsa for a long time and ini­tially ex­pected to head Saftu, but he is un­likely to go any­where in the fed­er­a­tion as long as Vavi is en­trenched there.

The next log­i­cal ca­reer op­tion for Jim would be to take the helm of a po­lit­i­cal party, and pos­si­bly take a seat in par­lia­ment. This is all well and good, but the key ques­tion is whether the worker party has done the ground­work to garner enough votes to make it to the steps of par­lia­ment.

At this stage, the an­swer ap­pears to be no. The party is set to hold its first congress only in De­cem­ber and will set up struc­tures there­after. Jim has stressed that Numsa will not be con­vert­ing to a po­lit­i­cal party, but sees it­self as the “cat­a­lyst”.

It is not im­pos­si­ble for the new party to gain a lit­tle trac­tion by May 2019 — the EFF and Cope also launched shortly be­fore elec­tions and at­tracted a rea­son­able num­ber of votes. Cope im­ploded pretty rapidly there­after, and my guess is it will dis­ap­pear in the 2019 polls.

The EFF’s suc­cess is at­trib­ut­able to the fact that it was able to con­vert many of the ANC Youth League’s (ANCYL) struc­tures into the ground forces of the red berets. This is the main rea­son the ANCYL has been pretty much oblit­er­ated.

The EFF ac­com­plished this largely through the ef­forts of Julius Malema, who con­tin­ues to hold enough pop­u­lar sup­port to sus­tain the EFF. It is an open ques­tion what will be­come of the EFF once he steps down — if he ever steps down.

Per­haps Numsa’s work­ers’ party will be able to mo­bilise the gen­er­ally dor­mant Cosatu unions they left be­hind and per­suade them to join forces. Af­ter all, the party states that its pri­mary aim is to unite work­ers across the board.

As things stand, this too seems un­likely. While Numsa hopes to con­sci­en­tise work­ers across fed­er­a­tions to “unite” in the face of ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment, poverty and in­equal­ity, Numsa’s ap­proach has tra­di­tion­ally been too rad­i­cal for Cosatu’s rank and file mem­ber­ship. And the fed­er­a­tion is now dom­i­nated by pub­lic sec­tor work­ers, em­ployed by the very gov­ern­ment Numsa is hop­ing to bring down.

What Numsa may do is at­tract a hand­ful of hard­core sup­port­ers of the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma fac­tion of the ANC who are look­ing to aban­don the ANC af­ter Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa won the pres­i­dency at Nas­rec in De­cem­ber 2017.

Busi­ness Day re­ported in 2017 that Numsa held talks with this group­ing and with DlaminiZuma her­self. Yet she has been work­ing well with Ramaphosa in her role as a min­is­ter in the pres­i­dency since her ap­point­ment in Fe­bru­ary.

On the face of it, Numsa’s party is sim­i­lar in ide­o­log­i­cal out­look to the EFF. Will it split the fiery party’s vote come 2019? Again, prob­a­bly not. Numsa is not prac­ti­cal or pop­ulist enough, and Vavi does not have Malema’s charis­matic pull. How­ever, the EFF is hav­ing to deal with an in­creas­ing num­ber of its own demons on the eve of the elec­tion, es­pe­cially the VBS Mu­tual Bank “heist”, which in­volved char­ac­ters linked to its lead­ers.

But with the EFF con­stituency com­pris­ing mainly those who are dis­grun­tled with the ANC or too young to have voted be­fore, it is un­clear whether they would nec­es­sar­ily vote for a new­comer should they de­cide to with­draw their sup­port for the EFF.

Lastly, what will the ef­fect of the So­cial­ist Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Work­ers Party be on the SA Com­mu­nist Party (SACP)? Very lit­tle, since it is un­likely that the SACP will con­test the 2019 elec­tion un­der its own ban­ner, de­spite hav­ing threat­ened to do so.

Un­less Numsa pulls a rab­bit out the hat at its congress in De­cem­ber, its new party is likely to crash and burn at the polls in 2019, just as the United Front did in 2016.


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