Bumpy road ahead! Le­siba Seshoka ex­plains why South Africa’s out­look might be bleaker than we think, and how pol­i­tics is play­ing out in all spheres of the econ­omy.

Finweek English Edition - - OPINION - Editorial@fin­week.co.za served as spokesper­son of the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers for seven years. He cur­rently works as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor: cor­po­rate re­la­tions at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal. He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

be it in pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics or in ed­u­ca­tion, South Africa’s fu­ture looks bleaker than many pun­dits ac­tu­ally an­tic­i­pate. As the adage goes: “Study the past if you will di­vine the fu­ture.”

From the pol­i­tics of labour unions…

On the labour front, the first 20 years of our young democ­racy have been char­ac­terised by an­i­mos­ity be­tween em­ploy­ers on the one hand and trade unions on the other. The an­i­mos­ity that reached its cli­max at Marikana in 2012 – where over 60 peo­ple lost their lives over a num­ber of weeks – ap­pears to have been a har­bin­ger of worse to come. Not only did peo­ple die in Marikana; a jobs blood­bath fol­lowed, and for­mer min­ing gi­ants, An­glo Amer­i­can Plat­inum, Im­pala and Lon­min have be­come shells of their for­mer selves.

At the heart of the con­flict were two trade unions: the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM) and the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu). While many em­ploy­ers had hoped that Amcu’s con­sol­i­da­tion of mem­ber­ship over NUM, a mem­ber of Cosatu, would bring some re­lief to the in­dus­try as it would dis­en­tan­gle eco­nom­ics from pol­i­tics, em­ploy­ers are worse off than they were be­fore and have been fac­ing ridicu­lous wage de­mands and lengthy, de­struc­tive strike ac­tion, such as the record­long strike of nearly five months in the plat­inum sec­tor in 2014.

Due to Cosatu’s al­liance with the ANC, many pun­dits ar­gued that this re­la­tion­ship in­flu­ences the rul­ing party to im­ple­ment in­flex­i­ble labour leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect work­ers. But this re­la­tion­ship also ben­e­fit­ted the pri­vate sec­tor in that the rul­ing party it­self could in­ter­vene when there was de­struc­tive strike ac­tion and dis­suade its com­rades in the trade unions from con­tin­u­ing with such ac­tion – some­thing the ANC and its gov­ern­ment min­is­ters couldn’t do in the 2014 Amcu-led strike, for ex­am­ple.

So while the al­liance be­tween Cosatu and the ANC was seen as mainly an “er­ror” in the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy, it also brought with it some sta­bil­ity. With Cosatu un­der threat, so is this “sta­bil­ity”.

Two ex­am­ples of what is to come as Cosatu unions fight for sur­vival are the re­cent strike by the Pik­itup work­ers, led by the South African Mu­nic­i­pal Work­ers Union (Samwu) in Jo­han­nes­burg, and the dev­as­tat­ing strike by the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers Union (CWU) at the Post Of­fice last year.

Al­most ev­ery Cosatu union is fight­ing for sur­vival and all of them are faced with splin­ter groups. To at­tract mem­bers, each would want to po­si­tion it­self as a “fight­ing” union to re­tain mem­ber­ship and re­cruit new mem­bers. With so many trade unions emerg­ing in this high-un­em­ploy­ment en­vi­ron­ment, the com­pe­ti­tion for mem­bers gets even more in­tense.

The emer­gence of new trade unions is not a panacea of the prob­lems work­ers face, nor would it help em­ploy­ers as work­ers would gen­er­ally be di­vided. Amcu’s for­ma­tion did not bring with it a so­lu­tion to the prob­lems faced by minework­ers or a so­lu­tion for the em­ploy­ers, but an end to the life of pow­er­ful min­ing gi­ants. Due to the dev­as­tat­ing strike last year at the Post Of­fice, the state-owned en­tity needs a mas­sive gov­ern­ment bailout in or­der to sur­vive.

…to the call for ref­or­ma­tion at ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions

Pol­i­tics and ed­u­ca­tion are fac­ing the same chal­lenges, with the toxic ef­fects of the al­liance be­tween main­stream pol­i­tics and youth for­ma­tions in ed­u­ca­tion il­lus­trated by the #FeesMustFall and #omf (Out­sourc­ing must fall) move­ments, bring­ing us the to the end of the univer­sity as we know it.

First, the #FeesMustFall cam­paign de­manded free ed­u­ca­tion, fi­nally re­sult­ing in a gov­ern­ment or­der late last year that uni­ver­si­ties are not al­lowed to in­crease their fees in 2016. Stu­dents then pro­ceeded to fight for the end of out­sourc­ing of work­ers on cam­puses. The re­sult of both cam­paigns has been se­vere bud­getary con­straints for uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try, lead­ing to staff re­trench­ments and cut­backs in fi­nan­cial sup­port to stu­dents.

But this is just the be­gin­ning, and the bat­tle is not dif­fer­ent from the one fought by trade unions – it is also po­lit­i­cal. The ANC-aligned South African Stu­dent Congress (Sasco) is fac­ing off with the Demo­cratic Al­liance Stu­dent Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Daso) and the EFF Stu­dent Com­mand (EFFSC). Where ele­phants fight, the grass shall not grow.

The first 20 years of our young democ­racy have been char­ac­terised by an­i­mos­ity be­tween em­ploy­ers on the one hand and trade unions on the other.

Now is the time to buckle up

On the po­lit­i­cal front, it is not only the rul­ing party, with its er­rant be­hav­iour and the prob­lems of the cap­tured state. It is also the emerg­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties such as the EFF whose land-grab and war-talk rhetoric are dis­con­cert­ing.

As the new trade unions (and stu­dent move­ments and po­lit­i­cal par­ties) fight the old ones for space, the econ­omy shall suf­fer. At the end of it all, there shall be no mines, no uni­ver­si­ties and no coun­try. You have been warned: fas­ten your seat­belts; we are in for a bumpy ride!

A Wits Univer­sity stu­dent car­ries a poster writ­ten “Free Our Ed­u­ca­tion” dur­ing a protest against aca­demic ex­clu­sion on 4 April in Jo­han­nes­burg.

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