Numsa’s new party likely to be stillborn
THE KEY QUESTION IS WHETHER THE WORKER PARTY HAS DONE THE GROUNDWORK TO GARNER ENOUGH VOTES TO MAKE IT TO THE STEPS OF PARLIAMENT
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.