When the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) was launched a year ago, it was a breath of fresh air.
It was to be an exciting and refreshing alternative to the moribund Cosatu, which, under president Sdumo Dlamini, had lost credibility as the voice of the working class. The country’s main trade union federation had reduced itself to being a defender of the greedy Jacob Zuma coterie.
Cosatu’s personality-driven axing of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the ill-advised expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers
of SA provided the seeds for a fresh movement to be sown.
In its founding resolutions, Saftu was unapologetic about its Marxist-Leninist orientation and its mission.
It would oppose all forms of state capture, including “neocolonialist state capture by the corporate class” that – in its view – was waiting to fill the vacuum that would be left by the Guptas when Zuma was removed.
The new federation, South Africa’s second-largest trade union, would also build a united front with other societal forces that “would leave no stone unturned in defeating neoliberalism and austerity measures”.
To its credit, Saftu has done very well in its young life.
Saftu and the Federation of Unions of SA have overshadowed a confused Cosatu on pertinent national matters.
So when Cosatu belatedly woke up to the fact that Zuma was a wrecking ball, leaders of these federations and their affiliates had been leading voices in the fight against state capture.
Even on nonpolitcal issues affecting South Africans – such as the VAT increase, the soaring fuel price and electricity hikes – the voice of these two federations was larger than the historical voice of the working class.
And this could not be blamed on its alliance with the ANC. Previously, Cosatu had not shied away from tackling the ANC government.
It spoke rather to Cosatu’s willingness to fall under Zuma’s spell and the deliberate efforts by the ANC’s national office to mute Cosatu’s independent voice.
Although Cosatu became more assertive in the dying days of the Zuma administration, it is still trying to find itself in the Cyril Ramaphosa era.
It knows it cannot be a sweetheart to his administration, but, at the same time, it cannot play into the hands of the Zuma-centred forces who want to destabilise Ramaphosa’s clean-up.
But, so far, Cosatu has had a mature approach to the post-Zuma rebuilding project.
Saftu, on the other hand, has behaved like a brat pack of ideologues whose knee-jerk reaction to everything is to reject.
Using ideologically laced language and ideologically loaded logic, it says “no” to all initiatives aimed at fixing the country.
And it gets quite petty, too.
Saftu felt moved to respond to Ramaphosa’s statement that it was time for South Africa to do away with vilifying businesspeople, that the label “white monopoly capital” should be discarded once and for all, and that job-creating entrepreneurs should be treated as heroes.
Saftu saw this as evidence that government “is firmly ensconced in the ruling capitalist class and would continue to follow policies in the interests of his fellow classmates and ‘heroes’.”
Labelling business the “class enemy” of the unemployed, the poor and the hungry in the country, Saftu said it would “defy his instruction” and “campaign even more aggressively to condemn the exploiters and profiteers who have led South Africa into an economic catastrophe and inflicted misery on to the poor majority”.
It was a silly riposte that just seemed to be done for the sake of making a noise.
When the unemployment statistics came out, Saftu saw another opportunity to reach into the Marxist thesaurus.
Instead of engaging with the subject in a cogent manner, the Saftu volcano spewed some ash, with Ramaphosa being the prime target.
“The fight must now be stepped up to a new level, to fight to save every job and against the ANC president’s capitalist economic policies to prop up the system of monopoly capitalism that has pauperised the working class, created the widest inequality in the world and is now making the rich even richer and the poor even poorer,” the federation said.
It said the figures showed that “this crisis-ridden capitalist system has to be replaced by a new growth path based on the nationalisation of the mines, banks and industrial monopolies, and to build a new democratic socialist order in which the wealth created by the labour of the working class is owned, controlled and shared by the working people and not a superrich capitalist elite”.
Read that again.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni provided Saftu with another opportunity to let rip with the rejectionist rhetoric after he spoke about the possibility of SAA being closed down.
Saftu accused this “ANC government minister” of wanting workers to pay the price of mismanagement of the asset by executives and the board of directors.
“He will represent the monopoly capitalist class, of which he is now a member, and whose interests will dictate his approach,” it said.
Saftu is a young union, but its members are adults who are seasoned unionists.
However, in their behaviour and approach, they may as well be #FeesMustFall activists.
It is time they grew up.
There is a country to be rebuilt, problems to be solved, an economy to be revived and a society to be repaired.