COSATU and NUMSA Split: A Real Change in South African Politics

By Oliver Ngwenya    09-Nov-2014 10:25 UTC+02:00
Bheki Ntshalintshali, left and Irvin Jim representing the two organisations going opposite directions. Image: DispatchLive.

COSATU and NUMSA are headed for a permanent split, which could change the face of South African politics. Pictured here are Bheki Ntshalintshali (left) and Irvin Jim, respectively representing the two organisations going opposite directions.
Image: DispatchLive.

In what has been described as a tragic event by the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), on Friday voted to oust the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) from the powerful and longstanding labour organisation by a vote of 24 against expulsion and 33 for it. This was done despite a presentation made by NUMSA, which boasts of representing more that 350 000 workers, of a paper expounding on the reasons why they should not be expelled from their mother board. Prior to Friday’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting, NUMSA had applied for a court order stopping their expulsion. The court hearing was postponed and the CEC meeting went ahead, resulting in the split.

Commenting on his organisation’s expulsion, the NUMSA Secretary General Irvin Jim said that the expulsion was unfair and there was no logic to it except for political interference. Coming out of the CEC meeting after a debate that he described as a restless debate, Jim said his organisation, which represents close to 16% of the the worker federation would fight their expulsion and would go to court to do so. He said that the CEC did not listen to anything that the NUMSA representatives had to say, adding that this showed that their expulsion from the workers federation was predetermined. He said that it was likely that embattled Secretary General of the COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi would align himself with his organisation if the split went ahead despite the efforts to fight it.

Responding to the news of the split, the African National Congress, through its spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa described the expulsion of NUMSA from COSATU as a tragic development adding that the ANC felt that it had done all it could in order to avert the split. According to political analysts, the ANC will suffer greatly if the split goes ahead. This is because COSATU forms a huge part of the tripartite alliance, which also includes the South African Communist Party. It means therefore a weakness in one member of the alliance will mean weakness of the whole structure. Kodwa, however said his party would comment fully after they had read the report of the CEC meeting.

Commenting on the expulsion of NUMSA from the COSATU, a political analyst, Richard Pithouse said that this signified a real change in South African politics. He added that this was part of the slow degeneration of the power of the ANC. Pithouse added that the party’s power was being eroded in parliament, the communities and at political party level. He added that this was evident in the service protest that were abound in the communities and also in the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Commenting on the survival of NUMSA outside the mother federation, Pithouse said that this was highly possible since it was a big organisation with a lot of resources and members. He cited the example of Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which had broken away from COSATU’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and managed to not only survive but to lead one of South Africa’s longest strikes. Turning to personalities in the conflict, Pithouse said it was very likely that the Secretary General of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi, was most likely to leave the federation with NUMSA. He said that it was logical for him to move with NUMSA since he did not seem to see eye to eye with Sdumo Dlamini, the president of COSATU. NUMSA Secretary General, Irvin Jim had also hinted at that development when he said that it was possible that Vavi would follow the same route that his organisation had taken. In a tweet after the CEC meeting, Vavi said “Guillotine of +350 000 workers is a game changer & will have profound political and organisational implications – what is to be done?” According to Pithouse, he is aligning himself with the axed organisation in this tweet.

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