The COSATU Central Executive Committee (CEC) met on 7 November and decided to expel its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA). This brings to a head a process which started when NUMSA decided at its December 2012 Congress to break with the Tripartite Alliance, get involved with working class community struggles – which they call a United Front – and investigate a Movement for Socialism and the possibility of a new political party.
The response of the elite
NUMSA’s decision has seen it face the full wrathful might of the state, the ANC and its allies – with the SACP notably leading the way in gutter politics and attacks on NUMSA leaders.
These attacks are also being waged outside the formal meetings of COSATU. Three NUMSA shop stewards in Kwazulu-Natal have been assassinated; at its Conference on Socialism in September, a French socialist was detained at OR Tambo airport and summarily expelled. NUMSA has been also been attacked in its bank account with its agency fees held back and the Department of labour refusing to register NUMSA’s revised Constitution – in which it extend its scope, in keeping with its decision to welcome workers across sectors.
Part 5 (five) of the Educational series on United Front
The resolution by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) that it would form a United Front to coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities sounds in the ears of many activists as similar to the United Democratic Front (UDF) of the 1980s.
Yet NUMSA claims that the call for a United Front does not mean a formation of an organisation or a political party but a mechanism “to mobilize the working class in all their formations into a United Front against neoliberalism”. NUMSA claims that its United Front is not necessarily an organisation; nor is it an attempt to revive the UDF. This article in our series on the United Front aims to clarify these issues by looking at the history of the UDF.
Community and worker struggles against apartheid
From the 1976 Soweto uprising of school students, community groups in the Eastern Cape, the East Rand and the townships around Pretoria began campaigns around issues such as housing, rents, bus fares and other services. A mix of township youth and community activists began mounting a sustained challenge to the apartheid government.
Fledgling independent unions had begun a strike wave in 1973 and some of these merged with community struggles in townships in the East Rand to form civics – where they were joined by the youth who had been radicalised by the experience of 1976.
Oppose ANC provincial hegemony and you will be ‘dealt with’
“It’s not about the politics, it’s all about the money,” said a former KZN ANC party strongman at a 2008 multi-party meeting at which councillors whose wards contained hostels were urged to submit their ‘company profiles’ ahead of the release of the next municipal budget. A former party insider claimed, “First they will offer you money, if you don’t comply…” then made a horizontal gesture across his throat. The meaning was clear.
Not much has changed in the KwaZulu-Natal killing fields since the fall of apartheid, when politically-motivated murders claimed the lives of thousands. Over the past five years, there appears to have been a resurgence of this trend which, together with intimidation, harassment and manipulation of the criminal justice system and press, appears the arsenal of choice of a regime increasingly at odds with its citizenry.
This pattern has revealed communities struggling for participation in local development; tyranny by corrupt councillors; collusion, shoddy workmanship and tender-rigging with politically-connected private companies; a police force often accused of acting on political instruction; the repeated appearance of certain high-ranking ANC officials; and the insatiable greed of many elected to public office.
We saw this modus operandi in 2009 when supporters of shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) at the Kennedy Road informal settlement, were assassinated, and some illegally arrested. We saw it in 2010 in uMlazi when local police hunted Zakheleni Settlement community leader, Bheki Buthelezi - allegedly on the orders of the local ward councillor - while others were shot and intimidated. We saw it in 2011 when the eThekwini Municipality’s Head of Housing, Nigel Gumede, reportedly intimidated AbM leader, S’bu Zikode. We saw it again in 2013 when Cato Crest housing activist, Nkhululekho Gwala, was threatened by Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo at a public meeting convened by eThekwini Mayor, James Nxumalo. Dhlomo was killed later the same night.
Part 4 (four) of the Educational series on United Front
In 1919, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) organised the suppression of workers that, together with soldiers, had overthrown the German imperial government in the 1918-1919 German Revolution and brought an end to the First World War. The SPD restored capitalist and state power but, despite being brutally repressed by the SPD, the German working class continued to struggle against the government until 1923.
Right-wing forces also wanted to oust the SPD-led government, recapture direct state control and reverse the results of the Revolution.
United action against the Kapp Putsch
In March, 1920, right-wing military forces occupied Germany’s capital, Berlin, under the leadership of Wolfgang Kapp and the SPD-led government fled. All left parties, excluding the KPD (German Communist Party), called for a general strike to counter the coup and defend democracy. Soon, the strike had spread across the country. Workers spontaneously organised an insurrectionary offensive, forming armed defence and strike committees to unite workers from different political tendencies and co-ordinate their actions.