Inside Labour: When history doesn’t need to be bent

2015-04-26 19:00

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It must have been quite puzzling for readers to see Mac Maharaj attack me in City Press (“Bending History”, April 12 2015) for something that had never appeared on these pages.

He claims I falsified facts in my “online blog update on Fin24”, a weekly filmed promotion that lasts for three and a half minutes as part of my Inside Labour column, which appears both here and on the Fin24 platform.

I did not falsify facts.

But I certainly did not promote the myths now propagated by the likes of Maharaj. What I try to do in both my online Labour Wraps and column is encourage debate and discussion on the basis of facts so far established and debated.

Maharaj’s first charge was that it was false to claim the formation of Cosatu faced initial opposition from the ANC and SA Communist Party (SACP).

But there exists a wealth of documentary evidence about what Kally Forrest, author of Metal That Will Not Bend, refers to as the “old ANC/SA Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) antagonisms to independent union activism”. To claim otherwise is a falsification.

Resistance by the ANC and SACP to the emergence of modern trade unionism and a new federation in South Africa actually dates back more than 30 years.

It is also a fact that, in 1985, faced with the reality of a new Cosatu federation, the ANC and SACP quickly changed their tune. But this does not alter the history.

To claim otherwise is, I think, intellectually unhealthy. It is also fundamentally dangerous to the wellbeing of communities at large in that it aims to stifle critical thought and expression, ignoring the nuances in favour of a simplistic my leader/party/country is right or wrong.

In March 1986, a joint alliance/Cosatu communique noted that “lasting solutions can only emerge from the national liberation movement, headed by the ANC, and the entire democratic forces of our country, of which Cosatu is an important and integral part”.

This made the self-exiled, SACP-controlled Sactu irrelevant and, in the following year in Lusaka, it was formally proposed that Sactu be dissolved.

That it took another three years for this to be put into effect is an area for discussion.

It was also in 1987 that the Numsa congress agreed to support the ANC’s Freedom Charter, but only as “a set of minimum political demands” that could be subject to amendment. Here, again, was a good example of the divergence of views that existed in a union movement forged by various influences that included black consciousness, populism, “workerism” and syndicalism.

And while the modern trade union movement took shape on the ground, the Sactu leadership persisted with the fiction that it was – in the words of Sactu’s European representative, Zola Zembe (Archie Sibeko) – “the only true representative of the South African working class”.

Perhaps the best example of this was the 1982 Sactu pamphlet Direct Links Stink, which was aimed at halting recognition abroad of the emerging South African unions and their then putative federation.

Then there was the opposition to the campaign around the detention of Moses Mayekiso and the so-called Alex 5 initiated by the International Metalworkers’ Federation at the request of the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union/Numsa, supported by Cosatu and coordinated by me from London. I am quite happy to provide Maharaj with a lengthy reading list, including my own books Unfinished Business and Comrade Moss: A Political Journey.

No reason, therefore, for me to say: “I stand corrected.” Perhaps it is too much to hope that Maharaj would consider doing so.

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