2015-04-12 15:00

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Mac Maharaj claims City Press columnist Terry Bell recently falsified facts about three key moments in Cosatu’s past

Terry Bell’s online blog update on Fin24, “Labour Wrap: A 30-year labour war” (April 2 2015) is grounded on three “facts”, all of which are untrue.

First falsification: Bell says that when labour federation Cosatu was formed, it faced “initial opposition from both the ANC and SA Communist Party [SACP]”.

Cosatu was launched on December 1 1985 in Durban. A month later, Oliver Tambo, in the January 8 1986 statement of the national executive committee of the ANC, welcomed “most warmly the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

We extend to its leaders, its affiliated unions and to the membership of those unions the revolutionary greetings of the ANC leadership, inside and outside prison and inside and outside our country, as well as those of our entire membership.

“The struggle to form one democratic trade union centre has been hard and protracted. Many comrades have spent countless hours working to achieve the result that was consummated with the formation of Cosatu. We all acted in this manner, convinced of the need for the unity of the working class of our country, of the imperative to defend and advance the interests of this class and of the necessity for the organised, united and conscious workers to remain in the front ranks and as an integral part of the mass army of revolution that is today shaking the apartheid system to its very foundations.

“The formation of Cosatu has therefore added enormously to the strength of the democratic movement as a whole and is a victory which this movement must defend at all costs.”

Next falsification: Bell claims that opposition to Cosatu underwent a mutation in 1987 when the SA Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) was dissolved. The mutation he claims was a shift from opposition to argument as to whether Cosatu should remain allied to the ANC and the SACP.

How has Bell come to concoct this story?

In the first place, Sactu was not dissolved in 1987. Terry Bell, please google the joint communique issued by Cosatu and Sactu on March 19 1990 when they met at Kafue in Zambia. The Sactu delegation consisted of John Nkadimeng and Kay Moonsamy and Cosatu was represented by Jay Naidoo, Chris Dlamini and John Gomomo.

The communique states that Sactu and Cosatu met “to plan their tactics and strategies for the final assault on the apartheid regime by the people of our country, led by the ANC, and the establishment of a unitary state in a nonracial democratic SA”.

They agreed to a “phasing out of Sactu” and that this “will provide an important opportunity to broaden trade union unity under Cosatu”. This was on March 19 1990. Where does Bell get his information that Sactu was dissolved in 1987?

What about Bell’s claim that in 1987 the faultline around the existence of Cosatu had transmogrified into an argument about whether Cosatu should remain allied with the ANC and SACP?

Again, let the documents speak for themselves. I refer to the communique of the meeting between Cosatu, Sactu and the ANC held on March 5-6 1986. The ANC delegation was led by Oliver Tambo and included Nkadimeng (Sactu), Chris Hani, Stephen Dlamini (Sactu), Joe Slovo, Thabo Mbeki and myself. The Cosatu delegation led by Naidoo included Sydney Mufamadi, Makhulu Ledwaba, Daniel Dube, Lizzie Phike, James Motlatsi and Cyril Ramaphosa.

The communique is explicit: there was common understanding between the three parties 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”.

Thus all three historical “facts” on which Bell constructs his column are fiction. Bell cannot plead ignorance. The documents referred to are available at the touch of a Google search button. Nor is it due to sloppy journalism.

Bell has chosen to bend history. Perhaps his claim that there are neither heroes nor villains is designed to lead us to believe that the good and the beautiful are those attuned to his thinking then and now. Be that as it may, is it too much to expect that his next column would be titled “I stand corrected”?

Maharaj is the official spokesperson for President Jacob Zuma

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