The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the largest public sector union in the country, with a membership of about 235 000; the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), the largest trade union for teachers in the country; and other affiliate unions have turned up the heat in calling for Cosatu’s leadership to not sit idle while allegations of corruption go unpunished under the ANC-led government.
The affiliates are growing increasingly impatient over festering corruption, particularly the graft reported during the national state of disaster, and continued inaction from President Cyril Ramaphosa, who gained the trade union federation’s support on a ticket that corruption would be eradicated under his leadership.
City Press understands that Nehawu made an impassioned plea to both Cosatu and SA Communist Party office bearers in a meeting on July 31, where it took the alliance partners through a fact-finding mission report compiled by the union, which painted a picture of its members’ struggles as a direct result of the corruption happening on the ANC’s watch.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla confirmed that Nehawu had indeed painted a grim picture of the reality on the ground, adding that unions were haemorrhaging members.
“Unions are losing members not only as a result of their leaving the union, but also because some are passing away from lack of personal protective equipment [PPE], yet they bear witness to funds meant for PPE procurement being plundered by government officials and senior ANC members,” said Pamla.
Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba directing City Press to a press statement that had already been circulated by the union stating that “we discussed extensively the struggles currently facing workers in the country ...” and “we are elated to announce that both meetings were characterised by robust and fruitful engagements aimed at fixing the dangers that confront both workers and society at large”.
A source who spoke to City Press said that “it is clear that Nehawu is gatvol of being caught in between its members and a trade union federation deemed by its members as ineffective, while nursing an alliance that is skewed in favour of the ANC”.
“It has warned Cosatu that, although [it has not yet received] a mandate from its members, it is only a matter of time before they grow tired of this.
“Sadtu leaders have already expressed concerns that, should Cosatu continue to be seen to be sitting on the sidelines and not taking a strong stance against the ANC, they will take a resolution to distance themselves from the alliance,” said a Cosatu insider.
Sadtu secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke, however, told City Press that no such resolution had been made.
“We have not received such mandate from our national executive committee, which will only be meeting at the end of August,” Maluleke said.
The source told City Press that, as a result of the pressure from its affiliates, Cosatu eschewed talks with its alliance partner and went straight to the president to remind him that it did not support him “on a blank cheque” and that its support came on condition that he would do away with the rampant corruption that has become synonymous with the ANC.
Contrary to media reports this week, Pamla said that Cosatu had not given the ANC an ultimatum, only Ramaphosa.
“We are not talking to the ANC. Talks have in the past not yielded anything, so we went straight to the president and head of government, and reminded him that administrations are not successful based on their intentions, but on their actions.
“He has been in office for two years now and we have not seen any leader being prosecuted. We are not only up in arms over the Covid-19 coronavirus relief funds, we are also incensed by pharmaceutical companies increasing prices in the midst of a pandemic and not being charged.
“Big retailers are also increasing the prices of basic goods during a time when most citizens have lost their jobs and have no means to afford such prices.
“We are done meeting the president at National Economic Development and Labour Council meetings and other forums and getting the same verbal assurances. This time, we told him that we will be taking it to the streets because the only language they understand is protest action,” said Pamla.
In a strongly worded statement, Cosatu parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks this week suggested expeditious criminal prosecution of the culprits.
“Establish rapid response courts to tackle corruption [as was done during the 2010 World Cup], finalise and fast-track the passage of the Public Procurement Bill, and compel National Treasury and relevant departments to report fortnightly on these interventions to Parliament and the public,” Parks said.