Max du Preez

Baleni’s defeat a political earthquake for ANC

2015-06-09 08:50

Max du Preez

Frans Baleni’s defeat on the weekend in the election for the top leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is a political earthquake in the ANC, and this isn’t hyperbole. The aftershocks could be felt in our politics for a long time.

President Jacob Zuma and his political bodyguards, the SACP, are significantly weaker after the surprise election of the little known David Sipunzi as the new general secretary.

Suddenly Zuma doesn’t appear as untouchable as he has been recently. His chances of being replaced as ANC leader at the ANC’s elective conference in 2017 are now much higher.

The findings of judge Ian Farlam’s report on the Marikana Massacre that is due for release in the next three weeks can only weaken Zuma and his inner circle further.

Conversely, the political future of the expelled general secretary of Cosatu, Zwelenzima Vavi, looks much more rosy today.

Baleni, a NUM veteran who has played a leading role in NUM as far back as 1987 with the massive gold and coal strikes and who has been NUM’s general secretary since 2006, is a close comrade of Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini. Both are members of the SACP’s central committee and Zuma loyalists.

Dlamini and Baleni (and the SACP) were foremost among those who engineered the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) and Vavi from Cosatu. To say there is no love lost between them would be a euphemism.

NUM has been the central pillar of Cosatu and the ANC’s presence among workers for decades. Cyril Ramaphosa, Kgalema Motlanthe, Gwede Mantashe and Vavi are all former NUM leaders.

But it was under Baleni’s leadership that many mineworkers started seeing NUM as a partner of the mining bosses and as too close to the government of the day. The Marikana Massacre was a body blow to NUM and the union lost some 100 000 members the last three years. Most of them joined the unions harshly critical of the Zuma-ANC, Amcu and Numsa.

Sipunzi’s first utterance after his election was that there was an urgent need for an engagement with Numsa and Vavi. “You can’t talk unity within Cosatu without Numsa and Vavi. Vavi is a prominent leader in South Africa.”

Vavi’s first reaction as that the election was an extremely significant development that may change the course of history.

It is likely that members of other unions whose leaders supported the ousting of Numsa and Vavi from Cosatu will also stand up to their leadership.

The battle for the heart and soul of Cosatu is now on. Cosatu is holding a special congress next month. As things stand now, the Dlamini faction could be given a bloody nose at the congress with Vavi becoming dominant again. It can even lead to the lifting of Numsa’s expulsion, and that would be a major turning point.

The leader of Numsa, Irvin Jim is one of the Zuma-ANC’s harshest critics. His verbal battles with the leadership of the SACP are legendary.

Numsa has announced its intention to launch a worker’s party, the Democratic Front, to take the ANC on at the polling booth. If or when that party becomes a reality, Vavi was bound to be one of its key leaders.

But if Vavi and Cosatu were to return to the Cosatu fold after the July congress, the plans for a new party could be put on the back burner. The “takeover” of the ANC itself would then become the agenda.

This is all speculation with a lot of ifs and buts. Sipunzi only received nine votes more than Baleni out of the more than seven hundred votes cast. Than suggests NUM is divided on these issues.

We also know that Zuma is a superb tactician and that he has out-maneuvered most of his enemies thus far. His survival think-tank must be working in overdrive right now.

But there is no doubt whatsoever that the ground has shifted at the NUM election, and shifted significantly.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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Read more on:    sacp  |  num  |  jacob zuma  |  frans baleni  |  david sipunzi

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