An­gry and at a cross­roads

Fum­ing over this week’s new tax law, the Cosatu head is declar­ing a dead­lock with the ANC while be­ing man­dated to cam­paign for the party

CityPress - - News -

It was a move that stunned many: labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini ac­cused the ANC gov­ern­ment of ig­nor­ing work­ers and pre­fer­ring to im­press big busi­ness. Mil­i­tant and fu­ri­ous, Dlamini slated the “un­for­tu­nate” way that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma sneaked be­hind work­ers’ backs to rub­ber-stamp the con­tentious tax amend­ment law that dic­tates how em­ploy­ees must spend their hard-earned prov­i­dent funds.

On Wed­nes­day, Dlamini is­sued an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic and strongly worded state­ment de­scrib­ing Zuma’s sign­ing of the bill as “an out­ra­geous and bla­tant act of provo­ca­tion” by Cosatu’s tri­par­tite part­ner. Many read it twice.

Cosatu con­sid­ers the Tax Ad­min­is­tra­tion Laws Amend­ments Act a dec­la­ra­tion of war by the ANC against work­ers, who Dlamini says are the vot­ing ma­jor­ity.

In an in­ter­view on Thurs­day, Dlamini said Cosatu was not in­formed that Zuma would go ahead and sign the leg­is­la­tion so soon af­ter it was tabled in Par­lia­ment.

Dlamini was frus­trated. He cited meet­ings held in De­cem­ber with leg­is­la­tors af­ter the bill was tabled, say­ing he hoped there would be some con­sen­sus. Among those he met were Trea­sury of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on fi­nance.

“That meet­ing agreed to al­low par­ties to en­gage,” said Dlamini.

The fa­ther of three, whose mid­dle name is Mbon­geni, is now lead­ing from the front – mark­ing a stark com­par­i­son with past oc­ca­sions, when he was of­ten over­ruled by his gen­eral sec­re­tary, Zwelinz­ima Vavi – now his neme­sis – who reg­u­larly stole the spot­light from him.

Dlamini was kept in his job at a tense Cosatu na­tional con­gress in Septem­ber where Vavi’s al­lies tried un­suc­cess­fully to have him and met­al­work­ers’ union Numsa re­in­stated.

This spelt vic­tory for the Swazi­land-born pro­fes­sional nurse, as he emerged em­bold­ened with his right-hand man, for­mer taxi driver Bheki Nt­shalinthali, re­plac­ing Vavi as gen­eral sec­re­tary.

De­spite all this, Zuma ap­par­ently did not pay him any heed. City Press un­der­stands Dlamini met with the pres­i­dent and cau­tioned against him sign­ing what Cosatu be­lieved was a law not in work­ers’ in­ter­ests.

This week it be­came ev­i­dent that those talks had been a fu­tile ex­er­cise.

Dlamini said he had also trav­elled to Cape Town to ex­press con­cerns about how Cosatu’s views were con­tin­u­ously be­ing ig­nored and was told “a ma­jor­ity is okay with it”.

“Clearly, they did not take into ac­count what we are say­ing,” he charged.

“The ques­tion is, who is the ma­jor­ity when we are talk­ing about work­ers’ money? Who is this ma­jor­ity when the work­ers are sup­posed to be the vot­ing ma­jor­ity you rep­re­sent?” he asked, his voice in­creas­ing in vol­ume.

“That ma­jor­ity they talk of is big busi­ness, fund man­agers and ad­min­is­tra­tors who are di­rect ben­e­fi­cia­ries of this law. They string [sic] ahead with it, with­out car­ing about the con­cerns of work­ers as a ma­jor­ity.”

To try to make gov­ern­ment lis­ten, Cosatu is now pre­par­ing for a mas­sive protest against the new tax laws. But Dlamini hopes of­fi­cials will catch a “wake-up” be­fore the protest hap­pens.

“We hope they will still wake up and re­alise this thing is wrong, or al­low some space for en­gage­ment. ‘Our com­rades’ man­date is clear. We need to mo­bilise for a march.”

In 1984, at the age of 17, Dlamini led his first protest in ru­ral KwaZulu-Natal’s Ing­wavuma High School – against an un­equal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the abuse of school funds, as well as to de­mand a ban on cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.

In 1990, he joined the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Health and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union while work­ing as a nurse at Prince Mshiyeni Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal in KwaZulu-Natal, where he was elected shop stew­ard. He led six ma­jor strikes be­fore ris­ing in the ranks to be­come Cosatu pres­i­dent in 2009.

The union now finds it­self at a cross­roads, with two con­tra­dic­tory man­dates from its Septem­ber con­gress – to cam­paign for the ANC dur­ing the up­com­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions and to fight the ANC gov­ern­ment if it forges ahead with the new tax­a­tion law.

Zuma’s de­ci­sion to ap­prove the new law has placed strain on an al­ready bat­tered al­liance, forc­ing Cosatu to pro­claim un­equiv­o­cally that it will find it hard to con­vince work­ers to cam­paign for its ally.

Dlamini dis­misses as­ser­tions that Cosatu has mis­un­der­stood what the new law seeks to do, in­clud­ing ex­pla­na­tions that work­ers will still be able to ac­cess their money.

“Com­pa­nies are not re­spect­ing that very law. If you speak to work­ers who have made at­tempts to ac­cess their money from prov­i­dent funds to­day, they will tell you the com­pa­nies will not al­low them to draw that money,” he said.

Asked whether this has been enough for Cosatu to shun the ANC in the elec­tions, Dlamini, who is also a mem­ber of the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, said the work­ers would have to de­cide.

As a loyal mem­ber of the ANC who took up mem­ber­ship in 1990, Dlamini finds him­self in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion. After los­ing the fight against e-tolls, and bat­tling claims that Cosatu un­der him has been noth­ing but an ANC labour desk, he has a lot to prove.

PHOTO: GALLO

BE­TWIXT AND BE­TWEEN

This week’s cri­sis marks a time of reck­on­ing for Cosatu pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini

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