New union will not chase after Number 1

2017-04-30 06:01
Zwelinzima Vavi

Zwelinzima Vavi

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The newly formed trade union federation will not be joining any “Zuma must go” marches, saying South Africa’s problems are bigger than President Jacob Zuma.

Mac Chabalala, president of the fledgling SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), told City Press this week that marches against Zuma were pointless.

“Our decision not to march against the president has nothing to do with liking him. We do not like him, but we understand that his removal will mean nothing,” he said.

“It will be up to South Africans to do the right thing in 2019.”

Chabalala – who was regional chairperson of Saftu’s largest affiliate, metalworkers’ union Numsa – is one of six office bearers who was elected at last week’s inaugural congress.

The other five leaders are: first deputy president Nomvume Ralarala, second deputy president Thabo Matsotse, general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, deputy general secretary Moleko Phakedi and national treasurer Motshwari Lecogo.

“[ANC Deputy President Cyril] Ramaphosa and [presidential hopeful Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma are not solutions to the problem. The ANC has simply adopted the status quo post-1994. The problem is not just the leader,” said Chabalala.

At last week’s congress, it was resolved to learn a lesson from rival labour federation Cosatu and that Saftu should not align itself with any political party.

“Cosatu is now trapped in factional battles of the ANC, while neglecting the workers,” said Chabalala.

“It is important that workers have a political home which is informed by the character of the organisation. The organisation is Pan-Africanist, Leninist and Marxist inclined. It is anti-capitalism and anti-imperialist.

“There is no one in the political landscape currently which carries those attributes.

“Even [in the case of] the Economic Freedom Fighters: we do not have a real sense of who they actually are. We hear the socialist rhetoric, but that is all.”

Cosatu currently has 21 affiliates in good standing, with a membership of about 1.8 million workers.

According to Chabalala, Saftu has 24 affiliates with a membership of 700 000.

He did, however, add that the figure was constantly going up as more unions joined, including those crossing over from Cosatu.

New federation

While the official position at this stage is not to enter into any alliance with political parties, the conference acknowledged that workers did need a political home, given that they were affected by the politics of the day.

“There was a conversation about the formation of a workers’ party which was raised by some unions at congress.

"We just touched on it briefly, but there was the possibility of [such] a party [being formed] by some of the unions and that would run independently from the federation.”

Saftu will host its May Day celebrations in Durban tomorrow. The event will double up as a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Numsa.

Numsa spearheaded the formation of a new federation after being expelled from Cosatu in 2014. Four months later, Vavi, who was general secretary of Cosatu, was also axed.

At last week’s congress, smaller unions raised concerns about the dominance of Numsa in the new federation. Some felt that their views as smaller unions were not being given a hearing.

Chabalala said these concerns were aired and addressed. He denied that his election as president would add fuel to the fire.

“Congress was clear that in the federation there is no small or big union.

"During debates you have a situation where unions that do not win debates may be disgruntled and say they were sidelined because of size. But that is not the case.”

All six national office bearers were elected uncontested. Vavi told journalists last week that the steering committee – of which he was the national convenor – had preferred that there be no contestation.

Union leaders had agreed on a slate ahead of the congress.

Chabalala denied that this would set a bad precedent for future conferences.

“That the congress was not contested was as a result of all affiliates engaging with and convincing each other on the question of leadership.”

Read more on:    saftu  |  numsa  |  jacob zuma  |  zwelinzima vavi

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