SA’s blind loy­alty is dan­ger­ous

CityPress - - Business & Tenders - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Unity for the sake of unity is dan­ger­ous. To rally around a flag, an in­di­vid­ual a la­bel or a brand, and to fol­low blindly, is a recipe for dis­as­ter. Yet this is de­manded loudly to­day in South Africa.

It is also a call that has been heeded far too of­ten in the re­cent past.

And to­mor­row, Work­ers’ Day, there will be de­mands to unite be­hind var­i­ous par­ties, fac­tions, frac­tions and oth­ers who are push­ing their own agen­das.

The main cry will prob­a­bly come from the em­bat­tled and fac­tion-rid­den ANC, and el­e­ments of what ap­pears to be a tri­par­tite po­lit­i­cal al­liance that is in the process of dis­in­te­gra­tion.

This is un­der­stand­able: such calls for what is, in essence, blind loy­alty, have been par­tic­u­larly vo­cif­er­ous in the run-up to, and launch of, the new SA Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (Saftu).

The for­ma­tion of this fed­er­a­tion epit­o­mises the breach in the gov­ern­ing al­liance.

Ac­cord­ing to for­mer Na­tional Union of Minework­ers gen­eral sec­re­tary – and now sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the ANC – Gwede Man­tashe, Saftu has joined the ranks of “the en­emy”.

This de­pic­tion of all who op­pose the ANC as the en­emy (of the peo­ple) is based on the long-stand­ing myth that the ANC was and is the only true rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple of South Africa.

It was a claim made through­out the long years of ex­ile and was just as fal­la­cious then as it is now.

Mil­i­tant trade unions, along with hu­man rights and other groups, ral­lied be­hind the ANC as the ma­jor anti-apartheid po­lit­i­cal group­ing, their com­mon cause be­ing to end apartheid as a sys­tem.

So it was that Cosatu be­came an ally of the ANC and the SA Com­mu­nist Party de­spite the ini­tial re­luc­tance of the two po­lit­i­cal groups to ac­cept the for­ma­tion – and ex­is­tence – of Cosatu.

But most of the emer­gent unions in those early days felt they should be in­clu­sive or­gan­i­sa­tions and should not, there­fore, be for­mally aligned with po­lit­i­cal par­ties or other ex­clu­sive group­ings.

Unions, they felt, should re­main in­de­pen­dent and so be able to sup­port or op­pose poli­cies, par­ties or groups on the ba­sis of what was in the best in­ter­ests of the work­ing class. Op­po­si­tion to apartheid clearly qual­i­fied. Saftu has now for­mally adopted this po­si­tion. But the new fed­er­a­tion still re­tains – and uses – un­de­fined ex­clu­sivist rhetoric, such as defin­ing it­self as “Marx­ist-Lenin­ist”.

How­ever, this in­clu­sive po­si­tion re­peats the mo­tion tabled by the Na­tional Union of Met­al­work­ers of SA (Numsa) at the Cosatu con­gress in 1993 that has un­der­lain much of the ten­sion within the fed­er­a­tion over the past 20 years.

Numsa ar­gued at the time that, when the ANC be­came the gov­ern­ment, it would be­come the largest em­ployer in the land and that unions should not “be in bed” with the bosses.

If Saftu is not to make a sim­i­lar mis­take to that made by Cosatu, it will ig­nore the calls to be af­fil­i­ated to a yet-to-be-born “work­ers’ party”.

Such a party would be a wel­come ad­di­tion to elec­toral choice, but should not au­to­mat­i­cally qual­ify for Saftu sup­port; such sup­port should only be given – and with­held – on the ba­sis of prin­ci­ple.

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