The ‘Lekota ef­fect’

Full force of di­vorce set to hit mil­lion-strong labour fed­er­a­tion

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - TROYE LUND troyel@fin­

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

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