Can a snake be both pet and carrier of deadly poison? THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY IN NUMSA

by Aug 26, 2022Amandla Issue 83, Articles

The NUMSA autocrats. Democracy is not an added extra that can be suspended where it is expedient to do so. It is integral to the socialist project, woven into its fabric. If the revolution is not a democratic one, it will not be socialist and it will not lead us to communism.

THE NUMSA PRESIDENT CALLED his fellow comrades snakes and enemies for daring to demand adherence to the Union’s constitution and accountability for the union’s investment arm, the Numsa Investment Company (NIC). This can lead us to no other conclusion than that this is a call for the elimination or surgical removal of his fellow Comrades. It also suggests that it is the end of the road for internal democracy and vibrant, robust and frank debates in a union that prides itself on democratic worker control. Tolerance and appreciation of sharp differences and perspectives came to define the culture and tradition in Numsa. Its unravelling is summed up in a recent resignation letter of a Numsa comrade; I have loyally served the union through the 18 years I have worked for Numsa – from 1988 to 1995 and again from 2011 to the present. For much of that time, Numsa has stood out as a beacon of worker control and working class democracy. But I have looked on over the last months with increasing dismay as Numsa’s leadership appears to have abandoned the crucial principles of working class unity and democracy in favour of increasingly isolated sectarianism. For me, democracy is not an added extra that can be suspended where it is expedient to do so. It is integral to the socialist project, woven into its fabric. If the revolution is not a democratic one, it will not be socialist and it will not lead us to communism. Every time a leadership substitutes itself for the masses, it betrays the revolution. Regrettably, that is what is now happening.

These sentiments in the letter of resignation are symptomatic of what is going on in Numsa now. And this takes place at a time when the union should be celebrating its 35-year history as the biggest trade union on the African Continent, a union which has contributed to radical Left politics in South Africa and militancy in the manufacturing industry. Internal democracy until the wheels came off When Numsa went to its 8th National Congress in Sedibeng in 2008, there was no dispute about credentials. The only thing Regions insisted on was that the ballots do not sleep over at the municipal offices, as proposed by the then Secretariat, but that voting and results be done on the same day. That Congress ended without any drama. With the 9th National Congress held in 2012 in KwaZulu-Natal, there was no credentials dispute and that Congress ended without any drama. With the 10th National Congress held in 2016 in Western Cape, there was no credentials dispute and that Congress ended without drama because everything was done in accordance with the union’s constitution. Why then did the 11th National Congress become such a disaster, given the near smooth running of previous National Congresses? The answer is short and simple:

  •  The lifestyle and monetary spoils sponsored by the CEO of the NIC will disappear if the election is not manipulated in favour of the dominant faction in Numsa.
  • Investigations into malfeasance and corruption will expose what the NIC CEO has been doing, with the knowledge of those who were beneficiaries of all ill-gotten gains.
  • The bankrupt political and ideological fog of the dominant faction would cease with no prospects of a political come back in South Africa. Build-up to 11th Congress The run up to elective meetings in Numsa which was meant to culminate in the Numsa 11th National Congress was a treacherous one. There is no doubt in my mind that every single Numsa leader or official must take collective responsibility for the turmoil in Numsa and the current state of affairs. The Labour Court interdicted the Numsa 11th National Congress on the basis that the National Office Bearers, Central Committee and National Executive Committee became constitutional delinquents. They were responsible for unconstitutional decisions which saw:
  • 53 shopstewards, elected officials and office bearers suspended or purged simply because these comrades demanded a forensic investigation into the goings on in NIC and accountability of the union’s investment arm
  • Members not in good standing allowed to attend and vote in elective Numsa Local Shopstewards Councils and Elective Regional Congresses. Numsa’s constitution directs that a member in good standing is a worker who pays a subscription fee equal to 1% of the wages. Some members, unconstitutionally, have elected unilaterally to pay a flat rate, less than the 1%. Any member who pays a flat rate is not constitutionally entitled to participate or vote in meetings of constitutional structures
  • The refusal to allow Local Shop Steward Councils (LSSCs) to elect their own delegates to the National Congress. The Numsa Constitution provides that, “For a National Congress, each Local may elect one shop steward per 300 members, as a delegate for their region at the Congress.” The power to elect National Congress delegates lies with no one else but the LSSC. The Labour Court came to the same conclusion and thus interdicted the Congress.
  • The unconstitutional decision to place the Mpumalanga Numsa region under administration and ban them from sending delegates to the Congress. This was simply because the majority in the Region had a different leadership preference. This intrusion resulted in the collapse of two elective Regional Congress in Mpumalanga.
  • Interference and obstruction in the Numsa Ekurhuleni Special RECs which prepared for the Ekurhuleni elective Regional Congress. This resulted in intimidation and violence visited on democratically elected shopstewards who are believed to have had a different leadership preference.
  • A failure to convene a Credentials Committee which is a constitutional prerequisite for the accreditation of National Congress delegates prior to the National Congress. Numsa has a very efficient membership system that can produce a report on who pays 1% subscription fees, who pays a flat rate and who does not pay at all due to the absence of organisational rights in the workplace. To hurriedly convene a Credentials Committee during the National Congress because the Labour Court found Numsa wanting is not just disingenuous but deceitful because it is practically impossible to accredit delegates within a few hours.

It is mind boggling and incomprehensible to understand why certain shopstewards were barred from participation in the Numsa 11th National Congress. To quote one worker leader, it is clear that a devious plan was at play. Sikumbuzo Nkebe says the following in a Facebook posting; I am the Chairperson of Gqeberha Local. I was elected to be a delegate to the National Congress by the LSSC (Local Shop Stewards Council). A task force was sent by the Central Committee to rerun the election of delegates to the national congress. I was again elected before the national congress. Before the national congress I was told that I must not attend the national congress through a letter to my region. Before the national congress the courts unsuspended all of us but I was still not invited to the national congress. So why do you think I must not support President Ruth Ntlokotse for justice and defending the constitution?  

Advocate Sinclair Nhlapo briefing Numsa second deputy president Ruth Ntlokotse and Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. The Labour Court interdicted the Numsa 11th National Congress on the basis that the National Office Bearers, Central Committee and National Executive Committee became constitutional delinquents.

Business unionism responsible for much of the decay:

In September 2008 the Numsa NEC responded to allegations of corruption and fraud in the NIC, then under the stewardship of Mr Tony Kgobe by:

  • Instituting a forensic investigation which was done by ENS Attorneys  Suspending the NIC CEO
  • Bringing disciplinary charges against the NIC CEO
  • Dismissing the NIC CEO after a guilty verdict by Advocate Cassim SC.

It is strange that the Numsa General Secretary and National Office Bearers do not have the same vigour as in 2008 to launch a forensic investigation into claims of impropriety and alleged wrongdoing by the current NIC CEO, Mr Khandani Msibi. Another sore point and probable reason for suspension of Comrades was the demand that the NIC pay back the loan which Numsa made to them. It now stands at R136 million of workers’ subscription money and NIC is refusing to pay it back. Yet, at the same time they said they cannot afford to pay back the loan, four NIC executives got paid out a preference share of R95 million.

A fuller study of the disastrous role played by union investment companies has become urgent if internal democracy and worker control are to be restored.

Karl Cloete joined Numsa as a member on 7th August 1987 and is the former Numsa Deputy General Secretary.

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