SA’s blind loyalty is dangerous
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.