Forging a new movement: NUMSA and the shift in South Africa's politics

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

By Leonard Gentle

January 28, 2014 -- SACSIS -- The decision of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to cut ties with the African National Congress (ANC) has received poor analysis. Comment has tended to focus on the possibility of a new political party in 2019 or whether all this means that suspended general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Zwelinzima Vavi will get his job back.

The greater significance of the biggest trade union in the country throwing in its lot with a growing movement in opposition to the neoliberal order, and thus to the left of the ANC, rather than the line up to the right is being missed.

This very week NUMSA is holding a national political school, which culminates in an “expo” of forces of resistance, to which activists and communities that have been active in service delivery struggles, have been invited. This is part of NUMSA’s declared commitment to what it calls a “united front” from below.

In discussing the events unleashed by the Marikana massacre, some of us have been declaring that the seeds of a new movement have been sown. But equipped only with the notions of political parties, trade unions and other such organisational forms, commentators have been ill equipped to grapple with the meaning of this notion of a movement.

Movements in motion

We have lived for the past 20 odd-years with the marginalisation of ordinary people from any power over their own lives. For at least half those years millions of people were not active in campaigns and in contesting the quality of their lives, as they gave the ANC (the party that had stood at the head of the liberation movement) a chance to express in legislation and in practice what people had envisioned from that movement. In practice, the anti-apartheid movement was laid to rest. Politics therefore became the exclusive terrain of political parties, particularly those represented in parliament. And parliament replaced the streets, factories and communities where political parties were expected to earn their credibility.

The people, as political agents in a broad mass movement, were replaced by the individual voter participating in secret at the ballot box once every five years. Occasional flare-ups or disputes were settled through the courts. The press conference replaced the mass rally as the means whereby politicians talked to the people. Journalistic comment and media reports therefore only knew about political parties and their press conferences.

This is not a uniquely South African phenomenon. Globally this passive citizenry has, until now, been the stuff of the political terrain in all countries for nearly 30 years. The last three decades were also the years of the triumph of neoliberal capitalism and the biggest attacks on the living standards of ordinary people since World War I.

Neoliberalism relies on the passivity of ordinary people and the complicity of all political parties that have confined politics to the world of the ballot box and the press conference. But South Africa had an active mass movement until the 1980s, so our neoliberalism would have to await the triumph of an ANC de-linked from that mass movement -- transformed in its own language from a ”liberation movement to a political party”.

Our trade unions also evolved from a labour movement seeking broader social transformation to a set of trade unions indulging in collective bargaining within the range prescribed by labour relations law. They too would have their parliamentary officers tracking new labour laws and the press conference replacing the factory general meetings and the mass rallies of their constituencies.

So the movement was replaced by a party and the party by its leadership and the leadership by a few individuals. And political comment has become obsessed with the cult of individuals. We have even lost the language to distinguish between a movement, parties, organisations and individuals.

For the past 10 years we have had community protests in every township across the country. But because these did not fit the mould of political parties and press conferences, they did not make the media. And where commentators reflected on these it was only, until recently, as instances of “unrest” and criminality.

A movement is not the same as a party, although parties may seek hegemony within a movement. A movement is also not the same as an organisation, although myriads of organisations, large and small, may make up a movement. Sometimes commentators failing to understand this notion of a movement call acts of popular resistance, which make up a movement, “spontaneous” because they cannot identify well-known leaders. Thereby denying the agency of ordinary people and their capacity for tactical and strategic acumen.

The movement that grew to a peak in the 1980s was one that had a number of features. First, there was a common enemy that unified the movement. That enemy was apartheid and all the associated 1970s reforms that the government tried, which were seen as mere attempts at prolonging apartheid. Second, all localised struggles against this or that instance of injustice were seen as code for resisting apartheid. So local struggles fed into the national movement. All reforms were rejected and institutions boycotted. This was not because this or that organisation issued such an instruction, but because the movement had established this as its prerogative. This sometimes meant that even a small organisation could call for a march or a boycott way beyond its actual organisational capacity because such a call corresponded with the mood of the movement.

The ANC had sunk deep roots in the 1950s movement and its status was cemented after going into exile. But the ANC did not “organise” the movement, let alone prescribe what people should do. When the ANC contemplated some tactical turn, which went against the tenets of the movement, it had to tread warily and try very hard to persuade the movement, and the outcome wasn’t guaranteed.

By definition a movement is heterogeneous, comprising such a range of experiences and organisational forms that no party or single organisation can encompass that range. The mass movement of the 1980s recognised the ANC as having the leading role, but the ANC was by no means the only political force, and when people joined the ANC they brought all these different tendencies and experiences to the ANC and made it what ANC-apologists love to call today, a “broad church”.

Which is why the Marikana massacre was such a historic moment. It signalled that the ANC is no longer a “broad church” but a party of the very rich – those whose interests must be defended, violently, if necessary. In so doing, it freed activists from any further illusions of transforming the ANC into the movement it was in the 1980s. It meant that all the local struggles in communities of the past 15 years and all the workplace struggles that broke out after Marikana no longer look to the ANC and its allies for strength. They look to themselves.

It now means that any development in the political or labour sphere will be measured against the rising tide of a movement, which no longer looks to the ANC or any of the parties in parliament, or any labour desk in the tripartite National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) for any hope of a better future.

Even Julius Malema has recognised this - giving up his career as a chicken farmer to start a new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which speaks, opportunistically, the language of this new movement. This is what the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) is discovering now. Workers swamped its ranks because it wasn’t the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Now workers want AMCU to be part of a new movement and to be a broad church. And AMCU is simply not equipped to be so.

The aftermath of Marikana also revealed that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) stood outside and in opposition to this new movement. Such a position for a federation that once had deep roots in the working class was surely going to precipitate tensions within its ranks.

The anti-Mbeki forces unravel

So, to the NUMSA Special National Congress of December 2013 and its decisions.

Most comment has without fail reduced this to the decision not to back the ANC in the 2014 elections and largely to ascribe this to the suspension of Vavi. This makes for facile comment and for easy but false resolution. All COSATU needs to do is reinstate Vavi and the war will be over.

This may well be the position of those COSATU affiliates who have championed a special congress to review Vavi’s suspension. But, like Malema’s EFF, the background events to the NUMSA fight in COSATU can be traced to the make-up of disgruntled forces that overthrew Thabo Mbeki as ANC president. The South African Communist Party (SACP), COSATU and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) were a coterie of conspirators who made a pact with Jacob Zuma that in return for seats at the table of the state, they would champion a deeply flawed individual into the highest office.

Mbeki had had no truck with those for whom the state was merely a vehicle for private wealth projects and lost little time dealing with Zuma, his own deputy president, who was caught doing precisely this. But this opened the door for a layer of disgruntled elements -- some with their own agendas of seeking a state for rentier capitalism and others with political axes to grind. These forces rallied together behind the SACP, COSATU and the ANCYL to drive Mbeki out after making a Faustian pact with Zuma.

And what did the Zuma project deliver? Cabinet positions for individual COSATU, SACP and ANCYL leaders and a veritable culture of cronyism and looting of the state. Then the ladder of advancement was whisked away and when Malema over-reached himself, he was expelled … and so the erstwhile-unified forces of disgruntlement unravelled.

Meanwhile throughout the Mbeki years the victims of his neoliberalism -- the new working class of urban and rural poor, the youth and the unemployed -- have been in increasing revolt, a revolt of service delivery protests carried out beneath the radar of middle-class public opinion. The system of labour relations and compliant trade unions kept a lid on the rising dissatisfaction in the industrial sphere until the revolts spilled over into the communities surrounding the platinum mines in the North West and found a disgraced NUM incapable of having any moral authority to police the dissent. And then came Marikana …

Of all the conspirators, the SACP is most distant from struggles and cannot fathom an independent existence outside the state. The SACP has nowhere else to go except to act as the Rottweiler of the Zuma regime, turning first on Malema and then on COSATU. Vavi’s sexual power games may have provided the ammunition but it was the SACP that turned on its ex-ally. But instead of kowtowing to the SACP line, Marikana has also emboldened a NUMSA leadership to contemplate mutiny.


NUMSA has always been the left critic within COSATU. Its roots can be found in the traditions of the independent socialism of the Federation of South African Trade unions (FOSATU) and the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU), which precede the formation of COSATU -- a tradition to the left of the SACP and long castigated as “workerism” by the SACP and the ANC since the 1980s.

Not that NUMSA was ever politically monolithic. Its leadership cadre make up was always an entente between a political group located within the Eastern Cape SACP, an old independent socialist layer coming from the Witwatersrand region and a layer of syndicalist policy technocrats. This entente made NUMSA unique within COSATU and saw it campaign for a Workers’ Charter in 1987 and for COSATU to break with the tripartite alliance in 1993. Already in the run-up to the ANC’s 2009 Polokwane conference there were moves within COSATU to discipline NUMSA for not being enthusiastic enough backers of the Zuma project.

And unlike the public sector unions that dominate COSATU (from whence its Zuma-loyal president, Sdumo Dlamini, comes) and where the membership is a new middle class of white-collar workers, NUMSA still has the blue-collar workers of its militant days in the steel and engineering companies of the Witwatersrand, KwaZulu-Natal and the Vaal.

With the break-up of the old Zuma alliance, it is therefore not surprising that it is NUMSA that has responded in the way that it has. It is also significant that NUMSA members took their decisions at a special congress preceded by a process of political discussion and democratic debate from their locals and regions.

Obsessed by the forthcoming 2014 general elections and with only a short-term understanding of politics, the media have struggled to understand the NUMSA developments. So it’s either about making up an alliance with EFF (you see they’re all left wing, so they must be together) or it’s all about personalities like Vavi (where NUMSA’s initiative is viewed as little more than a ploy to save Vavi’s career).

If we’re only looking at the 2014 general elections or if we examine this situation only through the lens of trade unionism, then we miss the significance of the NUMSA split entirely.

All great parties in the world, conservative or progressive, came about as outcomes of long-gestating social movements. The US Democrats can trace their roots to small farmers of the South resisting the freeing of slaves and the struggles of the Civil War, while the Republicans were the party of the northern industrialists. The British Labour Party has a social movement lineage going back to the Chartist movement of the 19th century and emerged out of struggles by trade unions to find an electoral voice. The ANC outgrew its elite roots amongst chiefs and “educate natives” to head up a mass anti-apartheid movement since the 1950s.

For years many have bemoaned the fact that the quality of South Africa’s democracy is hampered by the absence of a political alternative to the left of the ANC. All the political parties in parliament support the quest of South African corporations to be internationally competitive while endorsing the neoliberal GEAR economic program and the privatisation of public services. All base themselves on the flawed compromises that established the constitutional order at Kempton Park.

For long now that absence has been seen as rectifiable simply by conjuring up a left party to fill the gap.

After the Marikana massacre and its subsequent strike wave, there was much talk about the seeds of a new movement being sown. The significance of the NUMSA initiative is precisely that it takes forward this narrative. Why? Because it states unequivocally that the future of South Africa lies in a movement to the left of the ANC and, by seeking to find common cause with township activists and militant workers on the platinum belt who have been struggling for the past decade, it is an implicit acknowledgement that a new movement is already underway.

This does not mean that there will not be difficulties, as NUMSA seeks to find space within this new movement. For one, NUMSA has not yet begun to reflect politically on the sources of the ANC’s shift to becoming a neoliberal party and even mistakenly takes the National Development Plan as that Rubicon-crossing moment, rather than the compromises at Kempton Park or GEAR. For another, it hasn’t yet done an assessment of the appropriateness of the trade union form in the context of the changing working class under neoliberalism. Rather, it seeks to keep the union form, but merely organise workers within the “pipeline” of manufacture.

Nevertheless, NUMSA’s commitment to a movement for socialism is appropriate as is the idea of a “united front” from below, understood as a program of joint campaigns with other movements and community groups rather than a political party. It seeks to start the process by convening a political school, which creates spaces for social movements to participate. This may overcome a long-standing weakness whereby working-class communities have been struggling, while unionised workers have been dormant. In doing so, it offers the possibility that the nearly 10-year revolt of the poor may be complemented by an industrial partner and so help to forge such a national movement worthy of that cause.

[Leonard Gentle is the director of the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG), an NGO that produces educational materials for activists in social movements and trade unions.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 14:37


1.2.2014 06.00 am

Numsa warns of evil, dark forces

FILE PIC. General Secretary of Numsa Irvin Jim and Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete. Picture: Ayi Leshabane
The deputy secretary general of Cosatu’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), has warned that there are evil and dark forces trying to destroy the union and ensure its resolutions are not implemented.

The union resolved at its special national congress in December to persuade Cosatu to break from the ANC and the SA Communist Party (SACP) alliance, which it says has been co-opted by right-wing forces.

It also said it will neither endorse nor support the ANC financially in the general elections.

Addressing the metalworkers’ union political school in Kempton Park yesterday, Karl Cloete said some of the evil and dark forces that want to destroy Numsa sit on the third floor of Cosatu headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

He told the delegates to ignore those who have sold out the working class struggle and those waiting to join the gravy train of the capitalist state.

“The only people who can defend our resolution and turn them from what is mere writing on a piece of paper is our members,” Cloete said.

“The state of the South African working class since 1994 demands that we engage in working class struggle for working class power.”

He said the special national congress said the union must build a “United Front” side-by-side with an exploration on the movement for socialism.

“In this regard we must declare that the launch of the United Front shall be seen on February 26 2014 when we take to the streets to struggle for decent jobs,” Cloete said.

“We shall march and strike with fellow working class formations and communities under the banner striking for youth jobs against false solutions.”

The union, which claims to have more than 330 000 members, plans to establish a new “United Front” that will co-ordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities in a similar way to the United Democratic Front in the 1980s.


Numsa is ‘independent and not an ANC union’

31 January 2014 13:22

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is not an ANC trade union like some other unions in the country, says its deputy general secretary Karl Cloete.

“We are an independent trade union,” he told metal workers at a political school in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg. “We regard ourselves as red, not yellow.”

Cloete said membership of the union was not dependent on the political party someone supported.

He said Numsa members belonged to every political party “under the sun” in the country.

The union believed in tolerance of debate and there were no holy cows. This was why there had not been a split in Numsa in the past 26 years.

“If we do not understand and appreciate that principle you are likely to trip and fall … [if] you don’t understand that metal workers in this country come from different political schools.”

At its national special congress in December last year, Numsa resolved not to support the ANC in this year’s general election.

Cloete described the congress as ground-breaking and said some people felt that the union had made a “courageous decision”.

“The new liberal trajectory in the ANC runs very deep … essentially it is anti-working class,” he said.


Numsa must take Cosatu back from "tsotsi" president: Cloete

Sapa | 31 January, 2014 14:51

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has to claim Cosatu back, its deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said on Friday.

"If we fail... we may have no option than to start the formation of a new labour federation in this country," he told metalworkers at a political school in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg.

He said if the Congress of SA Trade Unions wanted to expel Numsa the union would fight back.

"We are not staging a walk-out. But if we fail [to claim Cosatu back]... we have no option."

Cloete said Numsa was working towards a movement of socialism and the trade union was working towards a form and programme which would be launched in March next year.

"There is no party being formed for 2014 contestation... We are rushing nothing."

He said Numsa had never said it was forming a party. This was a perception given by the media.

Numsa and Cosatu have been at loggerheads since the trade union federation's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was suspended for having an affair with a junior employee last year, among other allegations. The metalworkers union has also accused Cosatu of dragging its feet on holding a national special congress.

Cloete said Numsa could not allow Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini, who he called a "tsotsi", to destroy the trade union federation.

"Sidumo Dlamini really operates like a tsotsi," he said.

"Cosatu is in trouble."

Numsa held its own national special congress in December to discuss its position within Cosatu and whether it should support the African National Congress in this year's elections.

The union had resolved not to support the ruling party and called for President Jacob Zuma to resign following the controversy around the security upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.

Cloete described the congress as ground-breaking and said some people felt the union had made a "courageous decision".

"The new liberal trajectory in the ANC runs very deep... essentially it is anti-working class."

He said Numsa was not an ANC trade union like some other unions in the country.

"We are an independent trade union. We regard ourselves as red, not yellow."

Cloete said the membership of Numsa was not dependent on the political party that someone supported.

He said Numsa members belonged to every political party "under the sun" in the country.

The union believed in tolerance of debate and there were no holy cows. That is why there had not been a split in Numsa in the last 26 years.

"If we do not understand and appreciate that principle you are likely to trip and fall... (if) you don't understand that metalworkers in this country come from different political schools."

Cloete said other trade unions had stopped fighting in the interest of their members.

"The situation has become poisonous and dangerous."

He said many of these unions did not have a "democratic culture".

"If we do not ensure Numsa remains a democratically controlled union, [we] will follow those rotten unions."


Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 02/02/2014 - 14:44


NATIONAL Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) gatherings have become a meeting place of the disgruntled. Formations and individuals at odds with the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies are coalescing around the union, as it forges ahead with its decision to form a United Front, a precursor to a possible workers’ or socialist political party to contest future elections.

Suspended Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) boss Zwelinzima Vavi is the most prominent of the disgruntled, landing deeper in hot water over his public addresses at Numsa events.

Suspended South African Democratic Teachers Union president Thobile Ntola is also often greeted warmly by Numsa delegates. Former ANC provincial executive committee member and Limpopo finance MEC David Masondo, who was axed in a wide-spread shake up of the provincial government, introduced a discussion on "Marxist Theories on the Role of the State" at Numsa’s political school this week, and chaired a number of sessions thereafter.

Numsa is quickly providing a home for the disaffected.

This could be a microcosm of what its United Front would represent, when it gets off the ground. Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim says the United Front would "co-ordinate struggle" in all workplaces and communities for maximum impact — its main task is to fight for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and to "be an organisational weapon against the National Development Plan".

Where there are community protests over electricity or water, the United Front should be present. Where there are workers out on strike in demand of better wages or working conditions, the United Front should be in the front lines, Mr Jim says.

"Every action, even the most trivial everyday demand, can lead to revolutionary awareness and revolutionary education; it is the experience of struggle that will convince workers of the need for socialism," he says.

Numsa is planning a protest march on February 26 against the Employment Tax Incentive Act, which will coincide with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech. This will be the first of six-phases of protest against government policy.

Organisations such as the Democratic Left Front, and the Workers and Socialist Party, have indicated they were keen to enter discussions with Numsa over its United Front.

The union is also prepared to talk to them. It has also been repeatedly linked to axed ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and senior ANC leaders such as national executive committee member Tito Mboweni.

Mr Jim denies that the union and the EFF are in talks, but is adamant that nothing stops Numsa from talking to any formation in the country.

The National Transport Movement, a breakaway union from a sister Cosatu affiliate, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, has also indicated its willingness to get involved.

"The key thing therefore, in this United Front will be that it must be based on concrete struggles, and not on some historical sentiment or holding hands of leaders in front of media cameras," Mr Jim says.

Numsa’s disenchantment with the ANC-led alliance comes at a time when the party is attempting to highlight its achievements over the past two decades.

Numsa has dismissed its time in power as having a "track record" of broken election promises.

While no formal discussions have taken place with other dissenting unions about joining the United Front, insiders say it may head in that direction.

On the Cosatu front, Numsa and eight affiliates continue to push for a special national congress.

Should Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini fail to convene a special national congress, the nine unions have two options — either take the federation to court or to hold the gathering on their own.

The court option is a lengthy and expensive one and was not preferred by most leaders. Convening the gathering on their own would effectively mean a rupture in Cosatu. Such a rupture would open the way for these unions to join Numsa’s quest for independence from the alliance.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 02/06/2014 - 12:16


By China Ngubane

Chairing the ‘migrant and refugee’ sector of the Struggle Expo on February 1, Bafana Zitha of NUMSA began by briefing us about the pre-1994 UDF goals which were never achieved and later abandoned. Twenty years later that gave rise to NUMSA going for a special national congress with the realisation that we haven’t achieved even an inch of the intended goals.

The objective is not to become a front in an organisational form but a front that will be built in our trenches without a logo, a banner and head office etc. Movements that will join the united front will still maintain their independence. NUMSA is resolute towards a maximum programme of overthrowing our prime enemy which is capitalism. The front’s main objective is to give birth to a socialist movement that will eventually overthrow the capitalist system.

The ideology is premised in the Marxist Leninist approach where NUMSA seeks to solicit ways in which it can build a united front with migrant communities and other different fronts. This can be done through exchanging and understanding what migrant challenges and struggles are. Recommendations would be conveyed to the union on whether migrant struggles are a formidable or a questionable front to work with in the building of a solid united front. 

I was part of the group of migrants and refugees in the Struggle Expo, and we were represented by the KwaZulu Natal Refugee Council (KZNRC), Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), Centre for Civil Society (CCS) UKZN and people of DRC, Zim, Somalia and SA origin. Migrant groups highlighted common challenges including structural exclusion such as access to proper documentation, health, education, security etc. Given NUMSA’s intent to overthrow the capitalist system, some views were that the crisis of migration continues with the promotion of the capitalist system modified only by what we term reformist reforms. Capitalism as the root cause should be traced from the colonial era whose legacy led to the current problems.

South Africa as a leading economy in Africa can also be seen to lead certain African struggles. Notions such as refugee, asylum seeker, and kwerekwere were brought by the same system (capitalism) which divided Africa into 53 countries in 1885 in Berlin, and which introduced discriminatory classifications of human beings. "Once Rhodesian now Zimbabwean" merely depicts the evolution of capitalism in our region, where at most Africans become commodities in these imperial territories, and are still commodities in today's neo-colonies.

The point of departure for us to overcome the system will be, first, addressing the issue of documentation to migrants, the issue of boundaries, tribalism and ethnicism and promote equality among people regardless of origin. Local mayors and councillors also propagate division among local communities by blaming e.g. people from Eastern Cape as a reason for the delay in the provision of basic services such as housing. In 2008 migrant groups received assistants from many sectors of the society.

Although these networks seem to hibernate, they are readily available to fight for migrant rights. Churches, civil organisations, human rights groups, lawyers for human rights and individuals played a role in serving lives of migrants through community dialogues promoting integration, where in some cases police also helped. Institutions like universities also facilitated workshops, capacity building and research, not only to understand what happened but also to find how different we can deal with the problem.

Media played both a positive and negative role around xenophobia. NUSMA has very compressive resolutions on xenophobia and has not turned a blind eye to such atrocities. During the 2008 xenophobic wave NUMSA assisted migrants at the Central Methodist church in Johannesburg with blankets etc. The union will try and strengthen its relationship with migrants however it’s not always about NUMSA doing things for them, but we will work together.


Migrant groups argued that efforts to engage with authorities are usually fruitless; thus we may address things at local level but without influence from government nothing will sustain. Marches, pickets, publicity, press, petitions etc. are forms of resistance used to stand for migrant rights and it seems there is no success. This initiative (united front) gives hope and opportunity for migrant voices to be heard.  For example Somalis, like many other immigrants, leave home countries due to war and other life threatening conditions, and one day they wish to go back home. The challenge is that the political stalemate in home countries looks far from being resolved, as leaders want to stay in power forever; twenty years or more.

Our problems mount in the meantime. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) are closing refugee reception centres (e.g. Cape Town) and relocating these to the border areas, which will put much pressure on refugees and asylum seekers while further excluding those without documentation. There are also challenges of selective attacks on migrant individuals and businesses; other people call it xenophobia or Afrophobia but the reality remains that it’s only a certain group of people that are victimised. Migrant children have no easy access to schools, where they succeed e.g. metric they are not able to further their education.  There are difficulties with converting educational qualifications of migrant nationals, it’s a long process and it never materialises.

Migrant communities also face problems in accessing health and they are harassed in hospitals and clinics. Recently the department of health in Gauteng developed a foreign patient policy which CoRMSA is planning to campaign against. They are planning to have a policy which will deal with foreigners only in all hospitals and clinics. If you are non-South African health officials will not follow what the National Health Act says but what they have developed.

One of the problems with this is that you have to pay the whole amount before you get treated regardless of whether it’s an emergency or you’re dying, if you don’t have money you are not going to be treated. The challenges is the same in all provinces, however even if we try to consult government officials they are always in denial.


Given that they are not here forever and that most of them would like go back home, immigrants would appreciate to be empowered to be able to correct the ills which initiated their departure from home. Employers exploit migrant labour as migrants accepts anything that comes on offer due to lack of permits which brings tension and conflict with the local people. This also puts migrants into vulnerable situations; the provision of proper documentation to migrants would solve many challenges facing migrants and tension with local communities.

And migrants will be able to look for proper job, negotiate for better salaries, join unions and fight the struggle together with local workers. The Department of Labour is not playing its role adequately; this is because we have a lot of cases where migrants have taken formal jobs, they contribute towards the UIF and many other schemes but the challenge is when they lose those jobs they cannot access benefits.


Again the Zimbabwe Dispensation programme gave an opportunity to Zimbabwe get work, study or business permits but all these permits are due to expire by end of the 2014. The problem is that they did not make a clause for permit renewal, and so later this year we are obviously going to face huge documentation backlogs on Zimbabweans. This also means loss of jobs and the right to be in SA for Zimbabweans and they will be further exploited by the employers. When they go to CCMA they are made to pay for services which should be provided free of charge and this is because they are not able to negotiate and there is nobody to speak on their behalf.

Corruption remains the biggest challenge in the DHA; it takes over ten years to get a permit, even if you receive a confirmation to collect your permit the time you arrive at the offices you will find that your permit goes missing. This is because DHA officials sell it to other people who usually commit crime with your ID.  There is lack of interpretation capacity of migrant policies in government employees.

Without documentation people are going underground which means they are subject to exploitation which comes with undermining wage negotiations, undercutting wage etc. Access to banking also remains a challenge, migrants earn their pay by envelops and usually resort to pillow-banking because banks no longer allow asylum seekers to open accounts with them. There are notions that migrants don’t pay tax; how can they pay tax without bank accounts? 

Currently there is a new licencing bill which if passed would exclude migrants from opening businesses in South Africa. One should have one million rand to get a business licence. It was hoped that these challenges could be better fought together with NUMSA, because like so many things, this kind of tendency represents a neo-liberal return to apartheid's principles, but now on class lines not race lines.


Urgent priorities included the call for NUMSA’s intervention on issues around documentation, the relocation of refugee reception centres, access to schools and health, and backlogs as this will empower migrants to negotiate wages and organise themselves. Migrants working in the security sector are working long hours, in many cases they are fired without notice or pay. The relocation of refugee reception centres to borders, corruption and bribes remains central; NUMSA could consider opening membership to migrants working in the farms, domestic work, security and mostly fuel stations etc. Migrant groups to work with NUMSA regional offices to advance migrant concerns e.g. legal assistance, opening of bank accounts, representation on labour issues etc.  NUMSA to engage on educational processes and work with academic institutions for research, teach political history etc. NUMSA to get involved in social cohesion initiatives which will bring South Africans and migrant groups together. NUMSA will work in partnership with organised communities and movements including migrants. It was recommended that NUMSA must educate communities on policies that affect them e.g. land. NUMSA will fight all forms of discrimination and intensify solidarity with all sectors.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 02/12/2014 - 15:32


Full Marx at Numsa's political school

Verashni Pillay

Numsa's political school is preparing the way for a distinct labour movement.

"Comrades, comrades, thank you. We will now hear a presentation about protests called … 'South Africa's rebellion of the poor'." The woman at the mic looks up with a toss of her curls and peers over her glasses at the assembled shop stewards: 171 invited, but a few less in the room at the moment.

It is day five of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) weeklong political school at a humble hotel near the OR Tambo International Airport.

As University of Johannesburg academic Dr Carin Runciman takes the mic there are more than a few yawns. It's the deathly pre-lunchtime session on a day that is already running late.

But the man sitting next to me, his baseball cap pulled low and his red Numsa shirt hanging loose on his slender frame, underlines a few lines in a massive ring-bound folder in front of him. Then he finishes writing down a note from a previous session: "The world we are living in is divided into two."

That would have been from "Marxism as the dominant working-class ideology and programme in the 20th century".

Module Two of Numsa's yearlong political school is in full swing and my neighbour isn't the only one concentrating.

His classmates reach into their hefty binders and extract a sheaf of notes from Runciman's presentation so they can follow her talk more closely. A good plan, given her heavy Scottish accent.

"Protest issues differ from province to province," Runciman says as she clicks through 10 years of data analysing protests in the country. We look at how protests reached a turning point in 2010/2011 and how KwaZulu-Natal took over from the Western Cape as the province with the most protests in 2013.

The next slide shows a bar graph of protests in Madibeng, a municipality covering the tortured village of Mothutlung in North West. The place had shot to notoriety in the preceding weeks when four community members were killed in clashes with police. Their issue? Demanding water, after facing crippling shortages that lasted some seven months.

"There is this idea that the recent protests in Madibeng have been 'popcorn protests' with no informed organisation or outcome, but that isn't true," says Runciman.

She shows us a graph illustrating 24 protests recorded in the municipality since 2007. "Eleven of these cited water as a grievance," Runciman says. "In 2013, all the protests in the area were related to water and sanitation."

In other words, the ANC-led government should have seen this coming. Which is why Numsa is here, really. And, seen through the prism of dialectical materialism, recent political and historical events certainly make sense for the left-wing union: there were the fights over their beloved Zwelinzima Vavi's suspension as trade union federation Cosatu's general secretary, they came close to storming out of their decades-long alliance within Cosatu, and by extension the ANC and government.

Basic truth
The unseemly battle that has been tearing the alliance apart in recent months has brought home a basic truth to the country's best organised and strongest union: it's time to break free.

This has always been Numsa's natural instinct. It joined the ANC and its predecessor the United Democratic Front reluctantly at the behest of its members at the height of the struggle.

"As Numsa, we must lead in the establishment of a new United Front that will co-ordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities," read one of their key resolutions from their special national congress in December last year, drawing a line under months of internal turmoil and charting a way forward.

This political school is their way of fleshing out this resolution.

This isn't the first time Numsa has run such training. But with five modules of about a week each scattered across the year, a further Wits University course offered to a select few, and the creation of a new position of ideological officer to oversee training, things have definitely been kicked up a notch since the special national congress.

"It is understandably more intense because the path that we've entered into requires a clarity of purpose," Numsa national education co-ordinator Dinga Sekwebu tells me over pap and meat during the lunch break.

Sekwebu, a thoughtful man with a kind face, has put together a killer syllabus, complemented by reading circles, academic texts, panel discussions with respected academics and worksheets analysing the ideological underpinnings of government policies and implementations. Not to mention the highlight of this module: the resistance expo.

Engage with members
Numsa invited more than 100 small community organisations and grassroots protest movements to engage with their members.

"I was very impressed," said Ayanda Kota, organiser for the Unemployed People's Movement. "They asked good, open questions. It was very democratic – no views were being suppressed."

Nor did Numsa issue a series of brash press statements advertising their sympathies for the struggles of these movements.

"You see EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] going into these spaces and trying to swallow and assimilate other people’s struggle," says Kota.

Julius Malema's political formation has certainly featured, but not always in glowing terms.

Sekwebu says the constituencies of Numsa and the EFF, with the latter’s pull among "black working-class kids", are joined at the hip.

But he has his reservations about the new kids on the block talking big on nationalisation. The lack of a democratic culture in the new party, with its pseudo-military structure, is problematic, as is its leaders' poor track record on internal democracy in their previous roles in the ANC Youth League, not to mention the corruption charges against Malema. "It seems to fly against the union tradition of internal democracy," says Sekwebu.

Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese laughs off rumours of Numsa joining the EFF. "They try to give the impression they're talking to us. So does Wasp [Workers and Socialist Party]. They're not. It's lies."

He stops and looks me in the eye. "We're playing the long game. We're not in a rush like these guys."

Which doesn't mean an electoral alternative is off the table. Since the announcement of their quest for a united front, rumours have been flying about how Numsa could single-handedly realign South African politics at the polls if it wanted to, in a way that the Democratic Alliance and Agang could only dream of.

Opinion is divided among the shop stewards in attendance at the course.

"Politically, the delegates there were very uneven," Runciman tells me later. "Some of them still had a lot of sympathy with the ANC while others were clear that the break with the ANC was needed and wanted to form something different – and everything between."

My studious neighbour during classes, Prince Shabane, turns out to be a shop steward for South African Truck Bodies in Bloemfontein, where he repairs trailers. He tells me the point of the school is to bring capitalism down. "I'm hoping for Numsa to have its own labour party by 2018," he says confidently.

I come back on Saturday for the resistance expo and chat to a number of the social movements. Mining communities, freedom of information campaigners, Right2Know, farm workers' representatives: they all have a sense of hope about the potential offered by a newly invigorated Numsa, free from the constraints of a ruling alliance they believe to be increasingly out of touch with its people.

As the academic sketches the breadth and scope of what is fast becoming a crisis in our country on Thursday, she unexpectedly turns the spotlight on the union.

She pulls up a scathing press statement the union issued in 2011 about a community protest, when they were still ensconced within the ruling alliance and less sensitive to the concerns of the landless, the poor and the unemployed whose cause they should have been championing.

The delegates are quiet. Then a Numsa official, Woody Auron, stands up. "In 2003 Cosatu took a resolution that said, no relationships with social movements outside the alliance unless they had a proven organisational track record." He shrugged helplessly – this in effect ruled out the majority of grassroots protest movements.

"We were disciplined Cosatu members then … we listened," he says. "But now that Numsa has made a break with that conservative thinking on Cosatu we can make relationships with those organisations."

The audience responds with cheers, and he smiles: "We're no longer bound by those dusty resolutions."

Verashni Pillay is an associate editor at the Mail & Guardian.


Cosatu boss warns unions of Numsa’s ‘agenda’

by Natasha Marrian, 07 February 2014

THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) was planning to establish a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) as a precursor to a political party to counter the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) president Sdumo Dlamini said on Thursday.

He urged the ANC to help the federation with its problems.

While Mr Dlamini would not say who would lead the NGO, it is understood it might be the federation’s suspended general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

Cosatu is at its weakest in a key election year for its ally, the ANC, and Mr Dlamini said the federation needed to campaign harder.

Mr Dlamini said the nine member unions that were calling for a special congress were united by their desire to see Mr Vavi reinstated. They were being sucked into Numsa’s agenda to split Cosatu, he said.

In a candid interview with Business Day on Thursday, Mr Dlamini said it was clear that Numsa was trying to form an alternative to Cosatu, but the ultimate target was the ANC.

There was a "conglomeration of forces" from outside and inside Numsa, working to promote a "new agenda". Numsa was co-operating with the Workers and Socialist Party, and was being courted by the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Democratic Left Front and a host of other non-governmental organisations.

"So it’s a plethora of many interests and, unfortunately, Numsa seems to be warmed up to that. But I still believe Numsa’s leadership will realise that this is not going to build a united working class," he said.

Nine Cosatu unions held a briefing last week to compel Cosatu to convene a special national congress. "I don’t think they are aware that Numsa is pulling them into a particular platform or agenda to form a United Front or a new federation if they fail to win Cosatu, to form a movement for socialism," Mr Dlamini said.

The only union looking for an alternative was Numsa, and it was looking to the other unions to cushion it, should a large number of its members choose to remain in Cosatu. "I am warning the other unions … Numsa has widened its scope to recruit other union members to fill its ranks in case members do not leave with Numsa. It’s not going to be a smooth, homogenous flow of Numsa’s 320,000 members walking out. Numsa must be careful and so should the other unions."

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said yesterday the union was not yet sure about the structure and the leadership that its "United Front" would take. The front would be a "catalyst" for the establishment of a workers’ or socialist party, as it had resolved at its special national congress in December.

"Our starting point is to implement those resolutions. The country is on fire; there are service delivery protests everyday across the country. Police retaliate with brutality; the working class is facing a national crisis. We cannot sit on our hands and do nothing," he said.

Mr Dlamini said he did not see the crisis in Cosatu ending in a split. Four or five months ago, he was less confident, but he has since realised that one union could not split the 2-million-member strong federation.

He cited the split in the National Union of Mineworkers, which resulted in the formation of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, as an example.

He was not as confident about the effect on the ANC’s election campaign. "I would wish I could say that it won’t have an impact, but I’m a realistic person. It has an impact. It means Cosatu has to double its efforts, and if we do that we could have a positive impact on the ANC campaign," he said.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu could not immediately be reached for comment.


NUMSA developments: Moving towards an emancipatory project?

Raymond Suttner, Daily Maverick, 06 Feb 2014
NUMSA’s withdrawal of electoral support for the ANC will have a dramatic effect not only on NUMSA and COSATU, but also for the future of the ANC-led alliance. Insofar as the government is led by the ANC, it may also affect perceptions of government stability inasmuch as its support base becomes fragile. By RAYMOND SUTTNER.
That the biggest COSATU union makes such a decision is very significant. It is linked to other issues, including failure by COSATU’s president to operate constitutionally and call a special congress over suspension of COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.
This might not have a significant impact on ANC’s electoral performance. NUMSA is not advising members to vote for any party, though it will not contribute financially or campaign for the ANC. It may be that Numsa members will still vote for the ANC this year. Nevertheless, if they do not assist in the campaign, that could have a significant effect on the ANC’s fortunes. This is because COSATU members have tended to be important in electoral campaigning of ANC branches.
But Numsa advances more ambitious goals beyond elections, although it may include an electoral impact. In the short run it is consulting a range of organisations to develop a united front, similar to the United Democratic Front of the 1980s. While these organisations may be concerned with diverse issues, beyond that of trade unions, there is a very definite working class emphasis: the discourse is suffused with anti-capitalism and linked to Marxist-Leninism. Current developments have been preceded by bitter exchanges over Marxism with the SACP, which evokes anger in NUMSA through its perceived absorption into the Zuma project.
The road to a united front is seen as potentially leading to a workers’ party. This debate has repeatedly surfaced for decades within unions. It may be that such a party would contest elections. However, if such a party is formed, the aim would be to contest the 2019 elections.
Challenging ANC political dominance could be a positive development-enhancing debate, but when something crashes, as the alliance may well do, we need to be sure that what follows is emancipatory.
Immediately there is a problem in that the call for a broad united front is joined with a narrow emphasis on the working class and anti-capitalism. This is markedly different from the UDF, which recognised, as did the ANC, that those who suffered under Apartheid were not only workers, but also a range of people in various sectors in society. That was why national liberation was seen as a central goal. The need to address all who experience historical or contemporary oppression persists to this day, and that is why the Bill of Rights refers to a range of rights that relate to the wellbeing of people who have often been denied shelter, rights to dignity, gender equality, freedom from police violence, freedom of sexual orientation and a number of other rights. In practice, while freedom from racist insults may lead to energetic prosecution in most cases, women, children and other vulnerable people who are raped do not receive the level of protection from police and the courts enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Equally, freedom of sexual orientation is not a right that can be enjoyed with security. People who dare to deviate from ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ may find themselves attacked or subjected to ‘corrective rape’, without vigorous police response.
NUMSA is silent on gender and sexuality. This is all the more problematic in the light of their indifference to Vavi’s unequal sexual relationship in the workplace.
NUMSA conceives a united front narrowly, not only because it is gender blind and uninterested in sexuality rights, but also because the framing of its unity within Marxist-Leninist discourse immediately excludes many concerned citizens. In some respects it may be seen as an attempt to dismiss national liberation, made explicit by one of its backers, the Democratic Left Front.
A unity that is needed now is one that joins together a range of people who may not agree at this point on long-term socio-economic issues like socialism. It needs to join people who share a belief in constitutionalism, who believe in the need to resolve differences and settle issues through reasoning and non-violent action. It should be a unity that urgently addresses the constitutional right to have basic needs met so that people do not continue to live in dehumanised conditions. A unity is needed to halt diversion of public monies from services to the poorest of the poor. Many who rally behind such a banner may not be Marxists or see themselves as revolutionaries, but they are very unhappy about the present situation. A united front that draws a line in the sand between those who are workers and those who are not, narrows its constituency and limits the power that can be unleashed to reclaim the gains of 1994 and take these further.