SOUTH African trade union federation COSATU has endorsed Cyril Ramaphosa to become the new leader of the ANC to replace Zuma.
Former leader of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi says that this is a big mistake because Ramaphosa is ‘implicated in the Marikana Massacre’. Zwelinzima Vavi was speaking at the 10th national congress of NUMSA in Cape Town on Monday.
Vavi was expelled from COSATU in March 2015, after speaking out against the expulsion of NUMSA from COSATU. NUMSA was expelled from COSATU for standing up for its principles, calling for COSATU to sever its ties with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and calling for President Jacob Zuma to quit.
Cyril Ramaphosa is not only the Deputy President of the ANC he is also a director of Lonmin, that runs big mines in South Africa. At the Lonmin mine, the South African police massacred 34 Marikana workers who were on strike demanding a living wage of R12,500.
Zwelinzima Vavi says that Ramaphosa is ‘directly implicated’. Zwelinzima Vavi said on Monday: ‘COSATU and the SACP are throwing what little weight they have behind the political ambitions of the ANC deputy president, who is preparing for a titanic factional battle.’
‘This is not a struggle for democracy, it is a struggle for competing interests. I beg you all, keep NUMSA an independent union,’ said Vavi. He criticised the proposed national minimum wage of R3,500 as an insult to workers. He said a family of four needed at least R5,544 a month just to survive.
Vavi said the proposed minimum wage ‘coming from a government that claims to be on the side of the poor’ was shockingly low. During a parliamentary question and answer session the previous week, Ramaphosa called the national minimum wage a ‘launching pad’ from which salaries for poor South Africans would start to increase.
Vavi said they would challenge ministers and MPs come February to try and live on R3,500 for one month, to see if it would make a difference to their lives. Vavi warned ‘all class collaborators’ to keep their hands off the unions. This is an attempt to undermine worker powers but we need to warn the class collaborators, hands off our unions.’
Vavi said COSATU was again repeating a mistake it made when it was part of that ‘unprincipled rubber-stamp alliance. ‘COSATU and the SACP yet again want to use workers, not only as voting fodder, but they also want to trample them underfoot as they clamber higher into positions of power in government, and in SOEs and other positions of authority, so that they too can call a swimming pool a fire pool when it is politically convenient to do so.’
Vavi said the once-proud labour federation was in cahoots with bosses and ruling elites to sell out the interest of workers. Vavi lambasted COSATU for negotiating at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) about measures to end long and violent strikes, and about strike ballots and voluntary arbitration.
COSATU had resisted proposals for a second strike ballot to determine if workers wanted to return to work during lengthy strikes. Vavi said COSATU had gone behind the backs of workers to negotiate for a more flexible labour market policy. They are negotiating a clause on something they have called longevity of a strike, so that in future the right of workers to strike will be diluted, and even criminalised if the bosses believe the strike has been on for too long,’ Vavi said.
Vavi detailed some of the plans they had for their union federation, which he said would involve all unions working together. They would hit the streets and drum up support for the federation next year. Vavi got to the crux of the matter: he revealed that more COSATU unions will defect to form a radical federation.
Vavi says some senior leaders of certain unions have formed a steering committee tasked with preparing for what could be a new federation. Vavi revealed that once more trade unions break away from COSATU they will form a new union federation, a rival to COSATU.
He said preparations were at an advanced stage to launch the federation, which will be more radical than COSATU. The COSATU leadership refused to denounce Zuma until recently when they named Cyril Ramaphosa as their preferred candidate to succeed Zuma instead of Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma. Vavi said some senior leaders of certain COSATU-affiliated unions were participating in the steering committee tasked with preparing for the formation of the new federation.
Besides the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), which has already left COSATU, some leaders in the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Unions (SACCAWU), the National Education Health and Allied Workers Unions (NEHAWU) and the South African State and Allied Workers Union (SASAWU), also a COSATU union, are working with Vavi as convenors of the federation.
NEHAWU has voiced its opposition to Zuma and demanded that he resign.
Vavi told NUMSA members to guard against complacency. ‘Don’t drop your guard,’ he said. He was referring to NUMSA’s decision to leave COSATU and ditch the ANC while pursuing a strong Marxist-Leninist approach to workers’ issues.
Vavi and NUMSA’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, and the union president, Andrew Chirwa, also condemned the R3,500 national minimum wage. Jim said Marikana workers were killed for demanding a minimum of R12,500, and Chirwa said NUMSA regarded the R3,500 as an insult to workers.
‘We are building provincial structures, and we are busy establishing locales of the new federation,’ Vavi said. But he stressed that despite these efforts, they still believed, COSATU could be saved from itself.’
Vavi said that the formation of the new federation was inspired by independent unions that had lost all hope of ever joining COSATU. They are also discussing with the National Council of Trade Unions with the idea for the federation to merge with the new organisation.
Vavi said among the programme of action envisaged for the federation would be to fight against the R3,500 national minimum wage and for the minister of finance to table a pro-poor people’s budget instead of the current ‘neoliberal one’.
Meanwhile, the current NUMSA leadership was elected unopposed on Monday afternoon. Chirwa was re-elected as president, Basil Cele as deputy, Jim as general secretary, Karl Cloete as deputy general secretary and Mphumzi Maqungo as treasurer. The post of second deputy president was the only one being contested, and the race is between Puleng Phaka and Ruth Ntlokose.
The re-elections of the leadership ends speculation that many union members were unhappy with the NUMSA decision to leave COSATU and to ditch the ANC-led alliance. Chirwa said the ANC, SACP, COSATU and the government had failed to destroy NUMSA.
‘Nobody will succeed to destroy this union,’ Chirwa said. He called on workers to help recruit more members into the union.
‘Unless we build and protect NUMSA, there shall be no revolution to take forward.
‘Unless NUMSA develops a different kind of a cadre, our enemies will eat us slowly from inside like cancer,’ Chirwa said. He said the 1994 political settlement had failed black people and, instead, its biggest beneficiary was white monopoly capital.
Chirwa said the NUMSA congress would have to take a resolution to declare the R3,500 national minimum wage as an insult against the working class. General secretary Irvin Jim said: ‘We’re very clear that Ramaphosa is the CEO of the mineral, energy and finance complex. We are in this trouble because the ANC has refused to undo the stranglehold of white monopoly capital.’
The president of NUMSA, Andrew Chirwa, believes Jacob Zuma ‘smells like corruption and should be jailed’. Chirwa also warned that the governing ANC will soon be in the dustbin of history. There is no time to waste in building a ‘genuine revolutionary socialist political party’, Chirwa said.
‘We have had enough of the COSATU circus.’ ‘The ANC, COSATU, SACP government has signed its death warrant. ‘The ANC, COSATU, SACP can blame all sorts of issues: factionalism, corruption, the electoral system and even voodoo, but the stark truth is they have lost their way and are no longer revolutionary formations. This confirms the working class needs a party committed both in theory and practice to socialism. Nothing less, nothing more.’
The ANC’s degeneration has created a political vacuum, Chirwa said, which made it more urgent than ever before to move more swiftly and more visibly. He added: ‘We need to build a genuine revolutionary socialist political party, rooted in the working class, committed to our Marxist programme and be a democratically controlled, mass-based workers party, with a programme based on Marxism-Leninism and abolition of capitalism.’
The congress was attended by guests from Venezuela, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Argentina, Somali, Zimbabwe, Germany and other foreign countries.