The struggle for the spear
We have been let down, betrayed, President, Numsa national spokesman Castro Ngobese writes in an open letter
MY APOLOGIES for disturbing you from your resting deck, you might be having crucial meetings or be involved in polemical debates above our skies, in the land of the departed, with the revered leaders of our movement, OR Tambo or Chris Hani.
The situation right now from the land of the living compels us to write this hearty open letter to you and other leaders of our founding federation – Cosatu.
Today, working in the comfort of freedom and enjoying the privilege of leading workers from the fancy offices in stinking downtown Joburg, we thank you and your generation for painstakingly creating the Cosatu we inherited many years ago, steeped and immersed in a rich and glittering history of revolutionary struggle. Today, it lies in ruins.
We now dare to wonder whether we deserve this rare privilege, to be in Cosatu.
The Cosatu that you and others played an immeasurable role in building 29 years ago, to unite workers in South Africa during dangerous apartheid conditions, finds itself in tatters.
A federation that was established through the sweat, blood and tears of workers, mainly from black and African hostels, townships, rural slums and villages, is on the brink of its demise. Its revolutionary legacy is about to be thrown into the dustbin of struggle.
Your maiden speech as Cosatu’s president, delivered at Curries Fountain, Durban, has been the glue that has kept our federation intact.
Your oratory brilliance, accompanied by your sharp tongue and agile mind, remains. Your powerful ultimatum to the then-apartheid president, PW Botha, to scrap the pass laws, reverberates in the many battles we confront.
The federation today finds itself consumed in boardroom divisions and factional fights.
In the boardrooms on one hand are the forces of reaction defending the neo-liberal capitalist trajectory the ANC has adopted, and on the other hand are the militant revolutionary leaders fighting for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter and the abolition of the South African capitalist system.
Already, our country is ranked as most unequal; the workers we represent are rated the world’s most angry by the World Economic Forum; HIV infections continue to increase; racialised poverty continues to be the order of the day, and the unemployment rate is escalating, mostly affecting black and African working-class youth.
Disappointingly, we could soon scoop an Olympic “gold” medal for having the highest number of service delivery protests, compared to Spain, Greece, Brazil and China.
All these ugly and scandalous realities are being blindly denied by the ANC-SACP leadership and those in power under the ideological fog of “a good story to tell”, while our 20 years of negotiated settlement continue to benefit the propertied and owning class.
For almost two years, since the Cosatu 11th National Congress in 2012, held during the centenary year of the ANC, we have spectacularly failed to advance or implement our agreed resolutions and campaigns as mandated by over 2.2 million workers.
Divisions and factional fights have undeniably led to a situation where Cosatu, supposedly a shield and spear of workers, is gradually losing its relevance on the shopfloor, including among the many who had consistently seen it as a voice of conscience.
But because we are entangled in destructive internal fights, we are unable to rally workers behind a radical programme and rolling mass action on the streets to secure revolutionary gains on their behalf and on the behalf of the poor. We are unable to turn the tide around and engineer a radical programme or a Freedom Charter moment, so that ultimately a better life for the workers and the poor is attained.
Some among us in the federation have wrongly characterised these divisions as a rupture, while others correctly believe the federation has been captured by forces of neoliberalism.
It appears that even some in Cosatu’s leadership are in the pockets of politicians and a powerful ANC-SACP faction.
As a result, some of our own comrades are dependent on these leaders for survival through political patronage to secure and guarantee their fancy positions.
This is happening at the expense of workers who continue to suffer as a result of the failed and disastrous policies being steam-rollered by ruling elites.
Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee’s (CEC) meetings now are no different from JSE-listed companies’ shareholder meetings, where voting wins the order of the day on every decision the federation needs to resolve.
There are no longer democratic debates or mandated positions from affiliates. Worker-control has now been substituted with Stalinism or political arrogance by a majority ANC-SACP bloc in CEC meetings.
Others have the guts to preside over CEC meetings with questionable credentials through renting shopsteward or democratically elected worker representative positions.
The constitution is being flouted in order to achieve a particular agenda in the meetings. Those who claim to be custodians of the federation’s constitution are selective in its interpretation to appease their political handlers.
Interestingly, some of the leaders during meetings are trade unionists, but elsewhere, outside the meetings, assume their true class positions, which may be among businessmen or labour brokers.
They are not even afraid to take workers out at refineries and gamble with genuine grievances while, later in the evening, they sign lucrative tender deals for themselves and their spouses.
They are not even scared to call constitutional meetings with their respective affiliates to account to workers, but surprisingly, always have mandates on every issue discussed at the CEC.
Disturbingly, there is one general secretary of an affiliate, who is a trade unionist during meetings, but a businessman and labour broker outside, who happens to run a union from a fancy restaurant. One wonders when he services workers or visits workplaces.
Not long ago, one general secretary of another affiliate was handcuffed with heavy metal chains by the Hawks, for allegedly misappropriating millions belonging to workers.
These are just a few examples of the disgraceful challenges we face in the Cosatu of today.
President Barayi, you might have heard reports from the new arrivals or entrants in the land of the departed, pertaining to the events in Marikana, where workers were slaughtered with live ammunition by government police.
This we have correctly called the first massacre post-1994 committed by the ANC government. Cosatu was not even there to defend these mineworkers.
In De Doorns, farmworkers went on strike for a living wage on their own. The paralysis has rendered Cosatu, typically, a dog that can bark, but can’t bite.
The less said about the vanguard – the SACP – the better. It is at the centre of the deep divisions we find ourselves in today.
Instead of it being our vanguard, its leadership is fomenting disunity within Cosatu.
What is even worse and intriguing about the SACP, is that it has become a loudhailer, cheerleader and defender of neo-liberalism and white monopoly capital interests in the broader liberation alliance today.
We are not confused by this ideological vacillation, given the fact that the SACP’s leadership is serving in the bourgeois state since the ascendancy of President Jacob Zuma to the South African presidential throne.
The SACP leadership simply acts to safeguard its cabinet posts, perks and parasitic middle-class lifestyles by weakening and fragmenting working-class formations like Cosatu, seen as standing in the way of their struggle for upward mobility.
To be sure, the SACP has really not been a revolutionary force, post-1994 in South Africa. When leader Blade Nzimande secured a ministerial position in Zuma’s government, he not only altered the SACP constitution to suit his new role, but swiftly moved to convert the SACP into an unpaid PR outfit for the right-wing leadership of the ANC and its government policies.
It is worth mentioning that the “liberator” – the ANC – is responsible for maintaining the status quo, and has betrayed the struggle. And parts of the major divisions that have emerged in the federation are a result of the policies that are being championed by the ANC.
In short, President Barayi, the National Democratic Revolution has long been off the rails; and the ANC has long abandoned the Freedom Charter.
President Barayi, we should also report to you that one of Cosatu’s committed affiliates, Numsa, has been “surgically” removed from the federation.
It was expelled not because of its much talked about Special National Congress resolutions, but for taking resolutions that are correct as resolved by workers.
Interestingly, the expulsion of Numsa is being celebrated by the SACP leadership of Nzimande.
They even went as far as calling the 350 000 members belonging to Numsa a “stinking dead corpse that need to be kicked out of Cosatu (house)”. This was said by Nzimande during a provincial shopsteward council in KwaZulu-Natal.
We were all shocked to hear such a venomous and repugnant statement directed at workers by the SACP leader, without any form of sanction or repudiation coming from the politburo or central committee.
President Barayi, you may wish to know that under the leadership of Gwede Mantashe as secretary-general of the ANC and Nzimande at the SACP, the ANC Youth League, a critical voice of the workingclass youth, has been killed.
The SACP has been reduced to a veritable choir for neo-liberalism. And now, under the leadership of these two and others, Cosatu is being murdered too.
In the not-so-distant future, we shall join you and have ample time to reminisce about the state of the progressive trade union movement, especially Cosatu.
We shall talk about the mistakes we committed along the way, and the many victories we scored for the working class and the poor. And when we come to update you, President, we shall not protest when you ask difficult questions.
For now, dear President Barayi, please know that our struggle continues – to reclaim Cosatu, to be an independent, militant, fighting and campaigning federation.
We shall not dare fail the workers of South Africa and future generations.
We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts and views on matters reflected above, because your wisdom and guidance shall help us to move forward.
IT’S NOT OVER YET: Cosatu has fought some fierce battles for the working class and South Africa’s poor in the past. The fight is no easier today, says the writer, with its boardroom divisions and factional fighting.
A TRUE LEADER: Elijah Barayi