Union decay, ‘morality’ and personal gain

2014-06-29 15:00

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Dear Comrade Senzeni Zokwana,

Firstly, let me congratulate you on your recent appointment as minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Your new role – they call it deployment but in reality, as Marx Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto, it means serving the “committee that manages the common affairs of the bourgeoisie” – was unexpected. But your experience in the field leaves many to think you can adequately serve to reproduce conditions of near slave labour.

All socialists, feminists, antiracists and oppressed rural people can pray that you will fight the interests of the agricorporate ruling oligarchy.

We hope you will consider how to forcefully introduce socialist and agrarian reforms in the interests of the dispossessed black African majority, especially the rural women left impoverished by the apartheid-capitalist migrant labour system at the hands of which you as a mine worker also suffered.

But many will also predict that, because of the way you were appointed, just as the Marikana Commission of Inquiry prepares to pass judgment on your role in the massacre, you are not at your strongest.

The cynics predict a drift towards right-wing neoliberal policy which will leave intact one of apartheid’s most durable legacies: land theft. Your critics suspect that because the balance of forces is not in our favour, your communist convictions and credentials could be rendered useless.

This open letter seeks to confirm your revolutionary morality and convictions, just as the country questions your field experience with farm labour.

You apparently paid your cattle herder, Vuyolwethu Ndabambi, R26 a day (R800 per month) even though he worked every day of the week. In your defence, you said: “I am paying that boy who works there, who is also a neighbour, R800 for looking after my cattle. He was previously unemployed and at least now he can put food on the table.”

SA Communist Party (SACP) general secretary and fellow Minister Blade Nzimande justified this travesty by saying: “Comrade Zokwana is a mine worker who is not paid an executive salary. It’s only now that he has become a minister.” Another SACP leader, Thulas Nxesi, further claimed: “It’s a way of demonising Comrade Zokwana because he was only [just] appointed a minister.”

When such hypocrisy comes from the highest leadership of the SACP to justify exploitation of a young worker, one must begin asking serious questions, like exactly what kind of communist morality are we subject to?

As you know too well, these statements from the leaders of the SACP came during the traumatic five-month-long strike in the platinum belt where workers were demanding a living wage from the ruling mining oligarchy.

As you must know from having worked in South African mines, to justify a R26-a-day wage undermines the massive sacrifices and struggles of workers to uproot the colonial apartheid system and reverse the colonial character of our economy, which breeds mass poverty, and deepens unemployment and inequality that mainly ravages the black African working class.

But if justifying superexploitation is the strategy, SACP leaders are evidently bankrupt in ideological terms. More seriously, this incident and your justification of slave wages raises sharp questions about your suitability to preside over this strategic portfolio – agriculture – where workers are still subject to apartheid conditions on farms.

Your actions and the utterances of your party allies are not sending a positive message to farm workers in sites of struggle such as De Doorns and many other repressive farming areas in our country. Last year, they won a raise from R59 a day to R105 a day, inspiring many on their way to the R150-a-day living wage they continue to demand.

Furthermore, this incident highlights President Jacob Zuma’s strange reasoning in appointing you to this strategic position. It is not difficult to draw the conclusion that if you and the SACP leadership agree to colonial apartheid-era wages, and if parliamentary perks are only good for elected elites, your core constituency will continue to drown in poverty.

Finally, the implication is that you, as a recent president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), are not opposed to the colonial apartheid wages being paid by mine bosses.

Many workers in this country wonder why the NUM’s traditional dominance has evaporated and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union is now the force leading the class struggle on the mines.

If, by contrast, you are now serving as a representative of the class struggle, all is clear. Your former union’s decay, your “communist” party’s morality and your own profits as a farmer based on a R26-a-day wage for your workers will give comfort to the wit baas. And you have served, in the process, to clarify why a genuine South African labour movement will continue to demand economic justice.

I look forward to your response.

Yours comradely,

Mbuso Ngubane

Ngubane is secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA in KwaZulu-Natal. Zokwana has responded by increasing the worker’s salary to R2?400

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