Numsa chills out in Slaapstad


Cape Town - It is perhaps appropriate that the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) chose Cape Town to stage its first national congress since becoming the largest union in the land.  Because the proclaimed mother city is also widely referred to as Slaapstad, an original sleepy hollow where "chilling out" is a way of life.

Habitually, labour movement conferences start late and speakers seldom keep to the time allotted to them.  But at this congress there are more than 1 000 delegates, along with international and local guests, media and officials are present.  Perhaps the biggest gathering of delegates of a single union in local history.

And former Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, now convenor of the putative new labour federation, perhaps set something of a new record.  Given a ten-minute slot to brief congress about developments regarding the new federation, he embarked on a six-page prepared speech.

Judging by the supportive reaction from delegates, they had no problem with the time.  Which may have contributed to the fact that, after completing his prepared speech, Vavi embarked on again warmly received, off-the-cuff comments, wrapping up hoarsely after 45 minutes.

"But they must know Comrade Vavi can’t just talk for ten minutes," noted one delegate as others nodded approval.

So the "chill out" factor of Slaapstad is everywhere in evidence.  An hour and more after the conference was due to start, both yesterday and today, there were still queues patiently waiting to enter the cavernous conference hall.  One large group on both days passed the time singing and toyi-toying.  

This is not much different to similar gatherings over the years.  But here there is no sign of queue jumping or of grumbling.  And everywhere it was evident that the delegates had been well looked after by the union:  the  tan Fidel Castro T-shirts of day one gave way today to white shirts with coloured patterning. 

Most delegates also trundled new, multi-purpose carry bags bearing the union’s logo.

After an 11-hour session yesterday, with a one-hour break for lunch, spirits are still high as the programme has again been rejigged.  

Economic development minister Ebrahim Patel is now scheduled to speak at 3pm.

His speech should be keenly watched since he is a former general secretary of the clothing and textile workers’ union (Sactwu) that has tended to be supportive of the ANC-led alliance and the government.  However, Numsa officials maintain that they have been "in talks" with most of the Cosatu affiliated unions, including Sactwu.

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