he defeat of Frans Baleni, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), is being seen as a triumph by allies of axed labour federation Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi. Baleni, who lost to Free State secretary David Sipunzi by nine votes on Friday night at the NUM’s national congress, was one of the architects of Vavi’s axing from Cosatu three months ago. He was also instrumental in the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) from the labour federation in November last year.
Baleni’s defeat is a blow to the Cosatu faction led by its president, Sdumo Dlamini, and comes only a month before a special congress where the future of the federation will be decided. Vavi’s axing and Numsa’s ejection will top the agenda at the congress. Of the top five pro-Dlamini leaders, only the NUM president, Piet Matosa, survived. Vavi was among the first to celebrate Baleni’s fall. “The proletariat has spoken,” he tweeted, adding that it was “an extremely significant development which could change the cause [sic] of history. I hope election of the new NUM leadership may be what we need not only to save NUM but Cosatu from destruction. That’s the union that produced me but was turned against me by a few. [I] will have a very peaceful sleep.”
Also in a celebratory mood was Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim, who took to Twitter to gloat.
“Baleni out, yes. You can fool all other classes but there is one class you can’t fool forever; the working class, it makes history,” wrote Jim.
According to insiders at the NUM, the leadership overhaul could be a game changer in the Cosatu wars and the succession battle in the ANC. They said it could derail the campaign by some NUM leaders to throw the union’s weight behind former general secretaries Cyril Ramaphosa and Gwede Mantashe for ANC president and deputy president, respectively.
A regional secretary of the Free State region since 1999, Sipunzi is still carrying the wounds of losing a challenge for the deputy president’s post to Piet Matosa in 2009. Matosa took over as president when former NUM head Senzeni Zokwana was elected agriculture minister last year.
Delegates told City Press Baleni had not foreseen his downfall. His rivals had lulled him into a false sense of security by waging an “underground” campaign while professing to back him.
One delegate said: “Baleni was definitely expecting a landslide victory, forgetting that he had detached himself from the branches. With nine regions behind him and only two for Sipunzi, it seemed obvious. But underground lobbyists had prepared some regional members to shout his name but vote otherwise.”
Delegates and the NUM veterans said Baleni had dug his own grave by allowing the once-powerful union to deteriorate. On his watch, it had lost ground to the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is largely led by the NUM leaders Baleni and his predecessor, Mantashe, had marginalised. The NUM has plunged from almost 300 000 members to its current 231 000.
One delegate said: “He orchestrated the purging of
TRIUMPHANT Zwelinzima Vavi
NEW MAN David Sipunzi