Inside Labour: Aurora to feel the force of united labour

2015-03-09 12:00

Infighting, bickering and the pursuit of power and patronage have largely paralysed labour federation Cosatu in recent years. That, broadly, is the view of the federation’s embattled general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and of Jay Naidoo, who was Cosatu’s first general secretary.

This view was borne out this week when the latest chapter in the tragedy that is the Pamodzi gold mines and Aurora Empowerment Systems played itself out in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Significantly, Vavi was present among the protesters at the court, while the majority of the Cosatu executive continued with their meeting in Johannesburg to discuss, among other matters, the possible suspension or dismissal of their general secretary.

The Pretoria case was an urgent application brought by Khulubuse Zuma to have claims of more than R1.5?billion against Aurora set aside. It was dismissed, with costs.

The application was a last-ditch attempt by Zuma to halt a case brought by the company’s liquidators against him and his co-directors. They allegedly stripped the assets of mines in Springs on the East Rand and Orkney in North West.

Nearly five years ago, Aurora took over the Pamodzi mines. Aurora’s directors include Zuma – President Jacob Zuma’s nephew – the president’s legal adviser Michael Hulley and Nelson Mandela’s grandson Zondwa Mandela. They promised a bright future for the more than 5?000 workers. A year later, as one trade unionist put it: “There has been lots of talk and no action.”

There was also no payment of wages, although an order was made through the labour court for this to be rectified.

“If we had been united and prepared to act, this matter could have been sorted out by 2010,” said Solly Phetoe, Cosatu regional secretary for North West.

The matter was not “sorted out”. Instead, miners starved and hundreds drifted away; at least one, Marius Ferreira – a member of the Solidarity union who was owed R170?000 in unpaid wages – lost his home and committed suicide.

Ferreira died shortly after it was announced in early 2011 that Khulubuse had made a public donation of R1?million to the ANC. This was condemned by the unions.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also expressed anger that while the 700 miners remaining in hostels spent Christmas that year without wages, running water or electricity, Khulubuse presented his fiancée with the gift of a R1.2?million Maserati.

It was a case that cried out for action.

“But there was political interference and so there was much talk and little action,” said a senior Cosatu official.

Contact has also been lost with some of the miners who were recruited from rural areas and Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. A number are known to have died.

Now, belatedly, solidarity action appears to be developing at a rank and file level. A Cosatu meeting at the number 5 shaft at the Orkney mine on Thursday was the first step in what promises to be mass mobilisation in support of the Aurora miners when the case against the directors goes ahead on March 23.

This may bring to a head the divisions and power plays within Cosatu since the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), expelled by the federation’s executive majority, is likely to turn out in large numbers. A show of great unity could force the issue of a Cosatu national congress, which is constitutionally necessary for the Numsa expulsion to be ratified or overturned.

However, the Aurora miners were members of the NUM, the union that is perhaps the most vociferous of the Cosatu affiliates opposed to Numsa.

“But on the basis of solidarity, nobody can oppose Numsa or Amcu [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union] members coming to give support,” said the Cosatu official.

Numsa and Amcu have been the main beneficiaries of the mass of defections from the NUM in the wake of the Marikana massacre. Amcu has already indicated support for the March 23 protest – a week before Vavi may be called to a Cosatu disciplinary hearing.

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