Dear Saftu, please grow up

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

When the SA Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (Saftu) was launched a year ago, it was a breath of fresh air. It was to be an ex­cit­ing and re­fresh­ing al­ter­na­tive to the mori­bund Cosatu, which, un­der pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini, had lost cred­i­bil­ity as the voice of the work­ing class. The coun­try’s main trade union fed­er­a­tion had re­duced it­self to be­ing a de­fender of the greedy Ja­cob Zuma co­terie.

Cosatu’s per­son­al­ity-driven ax­ing of its gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi and the ill-ad­vised ex­pul­sion of the Na­tional Union of Met­al­work­ers of SA pro­vided the seeds for a fresh move­ment to be sown.

In its found­ing res­o­lu­tions, Saftu was un­apolo­getic about its Marx­ist-Lenin­ist ori­en­ta­tion and its mis­sion. It would op­pose all forms of state cap­ture, in­clud­ing “neo­colo­nial­ist state cap­ture by the cor­po­rate class” that – in its view – was wait­ing to fill the vac­uum that would be left by the Gup­tas when Zuma was re­moved.

The new fed­er­a­tion, South Africa’s sec­ond-largest trade union, would also build a united front with other so­ci­etal forces that “would leave no stone un­turned in de­feat­ing ne­olib­er­al­ism and aus­ter­ity mea­sures”.

To its credit, Saftu has done very well in its young life. Saftu and the Fed­er­a­tion of Unions of SA have over­shad­owed a con­fused Cosatu on per­ti­nent na­tional mat­ters. So when Cosatu be­lat­edly woke up to the fact that Zuma was a wreck­ing ball, lead­ers of these fed­er­a­tions and their af­fil­i­ates had been lead­ing voices in the fight against state cap­ture.

Even on non­polit­cal is­sues af­fect­ing South Africans – such as the VAT in­crease, the soar­ing fuel price and elec­tric­ity hikes – the voice of these two fed­er­a­tions was larger than the his­tor­i­cal voice of the work­ing class. And this could not be blamed on its al­liance with the ANC. Pre­vi­ously, Cosatu had not shied away from tack­ling the ANC gov­ern­ment. It spoke rather to Cosatu’s willing­ness to fall un­der Zuma’s spell and the de­lib­er­ate ef­forts by the ANC’s na­tional of­fice to mute Cosatu’s in­de­pen­dent voice.

Although Cosatu be­came more as­sertive in the dy­ing days of the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion, it is still try­ing to find it­self in the Cyril Ramaphosa era. It knows it can­not be a sweet­heart to his ad­min­is­tra­tion, but, at the same time, it can­not play into the hands of the Zuma-cen­tred forces who want to desta­bilise Ramaphosa’s clean-up. But, so far, Cosatu has had a ma­ture ap­proach to the post-Zuma re­build­ing project.

Saftu, on the other hand, has be­haved like a brat pack of ide­o­logues whose knee-jerk re­ac­tion to ev­ery­thing is to re­ject. Us­ing ide­o­log­i­cally laced lan­guage and ide­o­log­i­cally loaded logic, it says “no” to all ini­tia­tives aimed at fix­ing the coun­try.

And it gets quite petty, too. Saftu felt moved to re­spond to Ramaphosa’s state­ment that it was time for South Africa to do away with vil­i­fy­ing busi­ness­peo­ple, that the la­bel “white monopoly cap­i­tal” should be dis­carded once and for all, and that job-cre­at­ing en­trepreneurs should be treated as he­roes.

Saftu saw this as ev­i­dence that gov­ern­ment “is firmly en­sconced in the rul­ing cap­i­tal­ist class and would con­tinue to fol­low poli­cies in the in­ter­ests of his fel­low class­mates and ‘he­roes’.”

La­belling busi­ness the “class en­emy” of the un­em­ployed, the poor and the hun­gry in the coun­try, Saftu said it would “defy his in­struc­tion” and “cam­paign even more ag­gres­sively to con­demn the ex­ploiters and prof­i­teers who have led South Africa into an eco­nomic catas­tro­phe and in­flicted mis­ery on to the poor ma­jor­ity”.

It was a silly ri­poste that just seemed to be done for the sake of mak­ing a noise.

When the un­em­ploy­ment statis­tics came out, Saftu saw an­other op­por­tu­nity to reach into the Marx­ist th­e­saurus. In­stead of en­gag­ing with the sub­ject in a co­gent man­ner, the Saftu vol­cano spewed some ash, with Ramaphosa be­ing the prime tar­get.

“The fight must now be stepped up to a new level, to fight to save every job and against the ANC pres­i­dent’s cap­i­tal­ist eco­nomic poli­cies to prop up the sys­tem of monopoly cap­i­tal­ism that has pau­perised the work­ing class, cre­ated the widest in­equal­ity in the world and is now mak­ing the rich even richer and the poor even poorer,” the fed­er­a­tion said.

It said the fig­ures showed that “this cri­sis-rid­den cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem has to be re­placed by a new growth path based on the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the mines, banks and in­dus­trial mo­nop­o­lies, and to build a new demo­cratic so­cial­ist or­der in which the wealth cre­ated by the labour of the work­ing class is owned, con­trolled and shared by the work­ing peo­ple and not a su­per­rich cap­i­tal­ist elite”. Read that again.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tito Mboweni pro­vided Saftu with an­other op­por­tu­nity to let rip with the re­jec­tion­ist rhetoric af­ter he spoke about the pos­si­bil­ity of SAA be­ing closed down. Saftu ac­cused this “ANC gov­ern­ment min­is­ter” of want­ing work­ers to pay the price of mis­man­age­ment of the as­set by ex­ec­u­tives and the board of di­rec­tors.

“He will rep­re­sent the monopoly cap­i­tal­ist class, of which he is now a mem­ber, and whose in­ter­ests will dic­tate his ap­proach,” it said.

Saftu is a young union, but its mem­bers are adults who are sea­soned union­ists. How­ever, in their be­hav­iour and ap­proach, they may as well be #FeesMustFall ac­tivists. It is time they grew up. There is a coun­try to be re­built, prob­lems to be solved, an econ­omy to be re­vived and a so­ci­ety to be re­paired.

There seemed to be far more of these shep­herds than sheep to herd

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