Cosatu General Secretary received a less than rapturous welcome in Orkney on Friday as a few hundred striking workers pelted him, and his car, with stones. The hostility has reminded Vavi of the work Cosatu is yet to do to win the trust of workers and avoid implosion of NUM. He is now ready to strike back.
A resolute Cosatu General Secretary, Zwelenzima Vavi, rushed to restore credibility the National Union of Mineworkers and trade union federation’s credibility on Saturday. It was the first time Vavi had spoken publicly since he was pelted with stones by a mob of striking workers in Orkney on Friday. Workers there accused NUM and Cosatu of being in bed with business, and being a messenger for the Chamber of Mines.
Instead of speaking directly to the incident, Vavi vowed to take back the North West, and would hold a rally there next Saturday. “We call on all workers in the North West, and also Limpopo and Gauteng, to attend the rally and reclaim the Rustenburg area from the forces of counter-revolution,” Vavi said.
He indicated a successful fight to reclaim NUM and Cosatu’s soul in that area, would the mobilisation of all the federation’s affiliates. He claimed the wildcat strikes in the mining sector had presented mining companies with the perfect opportunity to downsize. Demands to reinstate these workers, he said were above the capabilities of the new-fangled strike committees, political parties and trade unions.
Vavi admitted that key decisions taken by Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) had been lost in the din of political posturing ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung. He added that there is a systematic campaign underway to wipe out NUM in the platinum sector, confessing that a significant weakening of NUM would have grave consequences for Cosatu and the tripartite alliance. “Scores of NUM shop stewards have been forced out of the mines as they continue to be targeted in a clearly well-orchestrated campaign of violence and intimidation to weaken NUM, a campaign which, in our view, aims not only to weaken Cosatu but the Alliance and the revolution itself,” he said.
Cosatu had appealed to state security to investigate the deaths of NUM officials in the platinum belt, said Vavi. “We have made a call to the Minister of Safety and Security to ensure that the police improve their intelligence capacity so that they can get to the bottom of the wave of violence, intimidation and killings of NUM shop stewards and activists,” he said. Cosatu will also be marching in Rustenburg on October 27th to fight against the subversive forces threatening NUM’s dominance in the platinum belt,” he said.
Vavi was particularly derisive of the newly formed National Socialist Democratic party. He said the party has “a right to exist, it must propagate, it must use propaganda, it must sell their vision to people”.
But he felt the party’s march to the Union Buildings next month would be at the expense of workers. “What I want to take an issue with is they want to keep workers out on an ‘unprocedural’ strike until this march takes place,” he said. “There will be consequences which they will not be there to help with.”
But even as he talked down the prospects of the like of Amcu and the Democratic Socialist Movement, Vavi was not averse to criticism of the weaknesses of NUM that Marikana had exposed. He was reticent about the extent of these weaknesses, but said one was the social distance between shop stewards and mine workers.
Vavi did not confirm whether NUM President, Senzeni Zokwana, had indeed promised workers at Gold Fields’ KDC West mine that he would return there on Thursday, but said he’d left the Carletonville gold mine before Zokwana addressed workers.
Vavi said he and NUM officials like Zokwana had personally been negotiating with police for the release of arrested strikers, and with Gold Fields for their reinstatement within the company. The release of strikers saw stringent bail conditions placed on these workers, including being barred from speaking with fellow workers. Vavi added that he was working with NUM to ensure bail conditions would be relaxed.
Despite Vavi's claims that Cosatu and NUM doing work behind the scenes to help alleviate the plight of striking workers, miners appear to have lost faith in NUM representing them adequately. The crisis of faith was highlighted by Zokwana’s failure to pitch up in Carletonville on Thursday (or if by some chance he was too busy, his failure to send another NUM official). In their absence Amcu was then able to come in to the rescue of workers. Vavi's quest to reclaim NUM's once-undisputed dominant spot in the platinum belt may turn out to be a most difficult climb indeed.