The country’s largest trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), has expelled the National Union of Metalworkers’ of South Africa (Numsa), for not supporting the African National Congress (ANC). Anyone in South Africa who doesn’t know this news must have been living under a rock for the past week.
The expulsion of metalworkers’ union NUMSA is a seismic event. It will eventually rock the foundations of our politics and will probably become the split of COSATU. As predictable and well-signposted as Friday night’s decision was, the shockwaves are still reverberating. One person whose future is now at a crossroads is obviously Zwelinzima Vavi. As General Secretary of COSATU, he appears to have sided with the union that was expelled, and Numsa’s prediction that he could be next is probably accurate. But he also has a choice to make himself.
Imagine an alliance or political front featuring Irvin Jim, Julius Malema, Zwelinzima Vavi and Joseph Mathunjwa. If “Pay back the money!” made President Jacob Zuma hide from Parliament, there will be no place for him, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini to run, should this attack force line up. Following the expulsion of Numsa from Cosatu in the early hours of Saturday morning, there is renewed determination from the union’s leaders to change the political alignment of the country and come back fighting.
The big split has happened: NUMSA has been expelled from COSATU. And the extraordinary decision to boot NUMSA from COSATU calls for a deep reflection, analysis and evaluation on the state of our nation. COSATU was always more than a labour federation. Those who masterminded this betrayal know this. But their vision is clouded by their own myopia.
In 1966 the South African government declared District Six—a high-density, mostly coloured residential area intrinsic to the fabric of downtown Cape Town for at least a century and situated on prime land beneath Table Mountain —to be a white “Group Area.” The state promptly set about forcefully removing District Six’s “non-white” residents (eventually about 60,000 of them) to land up to 30 miles further to a flood plane known as the “Cape Flats,” which consisted of mostly swamp land and sand dunes populated by invasive vegetation.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has written a two-page letter to the union federation's president, S'dumo Dlamini, pleading with him to save it from collapse following the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.
Vavi, who was not present at a press briefing yesterday where Cosatu justified its reasons for expelling Numsa, said it was not too late to save the federation.
"If we do not do everything we can, history will judge all of us extremely harshly," he said.
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