The ‘Lekota effect’
Full force of divorce set to hit million-strong labour federation
African National Congress and its yet-to-be-named splinter party vie for the allegiance of the ruling party’s crucial labour constituency, the stage is set for the spontaneous combustion of the ANC’s alliance partner, the million-strong labour federation Cosatu.
The latest union casualty is ousted National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) general secretary Silumko Nondwangu. He also faces charges of serious misconduct for appearing on the (Thabo Mbeki) list of nominees for the ANC’s National Executive Committee at Polokwane in December 2007, when Cosatu expressly supported Jacob Zuma.
Nondwangu doesn’t mince his words. In his final report to the Numsa congress last week he stated quite plainly that any trade unionist associated with the “1996 Class Project” (a term used to refer to those associated with Mbeki’s political and economic role over the past 12 years) is automatically sidelined. The message from Cosatu, he argues, is clear: “You’re either with us or with them.”
Aside from the fact that can only divide the labour movement, Nondwangu’s report added: “The fundamental question that arises – which our eighth national congress must answer – is what dangers are there that the trade union movement is turned into a conveyor belt for an ‘elitist interest’ and, unknowingly, is reduced over time into a ladder to amass wealth, stature and access to positions of power and privilege in the State, the private sector and the trade union movement itself?”
Those sentiments are endorsed by the group of recently ousted premiers and labour leaders, such as former Cosatu president Willy Madisha and Cosatu’s chemical affiliate’s former general secretary Welile Nolingo, who also backed the wrong Polokwane horse.
Predictably, Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven says there’ll be no witch hunt – provided people “abide by rules that were arrived at democratically”. But then there’s the catch: Cosatu will, however, conduct a “very rigorous” political campaign for people to stay in the ANC. The inference is more purges of dissidents and the resultant fracturing of Cosatu.
According to Chemical, Print, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union spokesman Cedric Maluleke, union members are going to be “monitored” to ensure they don’t participate in ANC breakaway meetings. The battle has already begun. Mbulelo Ncedana, ANC leader in the Western Cape’s biggest Dullah Omar region, whose executive was recently dissolved after boycotting the official provincial congress and then attending a “breakaway group” rally, says: “There’s no freedom of association. At a union level too, anyone who disagrees with Vavi and (Blade) Nzimande (general secretary of the SA Communist Party) are simply purged. It’s a case of leading by fear.”
Aside from his contention that it’s now become a crime to have ever supported Mbeki, Ncedana suggests the purge has gone beyond who is actually in what camp. People like him who supported Jacob Zuma at Polokwane are being ousted for raising legitimate constitutional issues. “What we’re seeing now is a campaign to clean out anyone with different views,” says Ncedana.
Two officials who work in the office of the Western Cape premier have been given their marching orders for attending a rally addressed by the former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and now one of the leaders of the socalled ANC splinter group.
While the ANC’s factional woes and concurrent purges are likely to end with the 2009 elections, Cosatu may find theirs is only just beginning. How so? For a start, Cosatu’s backing of Zuma was more a platform of patronage than a policy convergence. But the reality is that Zuma could possibly take power at a time when economic options for the world’s politicians have been reduced dramatically. He’s unlikely to deliver what Vavi promised as justification for the federation’s dogged support. In other words, tagging workers’ hopes on Zuma is set to backfire.
Oupa Lehulere – an academic and political commentator close to the internal politics of Cosatu – says the likelihood of Zuma’s regime making little, if any, policy changes means Cosatu’s promise of major policy shifts (especially when it comes to macro-economic policy and labour market issues) under Zuma will not be realised.
Zuma may have backtracked from several comments deemed to be unacceptable to Cosatu in recent months but, once in power, Lehulere says that’s unlikely. “Fractures within unions affiliated to Cosatu will unfold much more strongly when Zuma and the new ANC leadership are in power. That will be the true test of how factionalism will affect unions,” says Lehulere, adding the ruptures are likely to be severe enough to lead to members forming alternative federations or switching across to non-Cosatu affiliated unions.
In other words, the full force of what’s now being dubbed the “Lekota effect” (where large, disgruntled groups start serving divorce papers on the organisation) has probably not yet really hit the labour federation. The true price for it getting immersed in ANC domestics may well be higher than anyone imagined.
No witchhunt. Patrick Craven Backed the wrong horse. Willy Madisha