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

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