27 May 2014

South Africa: The Status of Numsa's United Front

opinion

Attending an event hosted by SACSIS on 22 May 2014, NUMSA's Dinga Sikwebu, education officer and the co-ordinator of its newly formed "United Front" said that the union "recognised that the shadow of the ANC is going to be with us for a long time."

The remark was made in response to the question that framed a discussion, which evaluated the outcome of South Africa's 2014 General Election: "Will the ANC rule until Jesus returns?"

Sikwebu took the opportunity to bring participants up to speed with the status of NUMSA's United Front and the possible formation of a new political party, a workers party, which is generating a great deal of interest in the media.

NUMSA is grappling with many challenges in relation to expanding its struggle beyond shop floor concerns. However, Sikwebu argued that issues around democracy, civil liberties, police brutality and unemployment, may be some of the things that could bring the United Front together.

He was emphatic that there is no decision in NUMSA to form a new political party -- for the moment, it's about exploring the possibility for a new movement that takes struggles beyond the shop-floor.

**Look out for the complete video and podcast of this event that SACSIS co-hosted with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which will be published on this website in the next few days.

Transcript of Dinga Sikwebu's Input

DINGA SIKWEBU: Thank you. My name is Dinga Sikwebu and I must say I come from NUMSA. I'm at head office of NUMSA and I head the Education Department of NUMSA. And... I mean I thank the comments that have been made about what's called the NUMSA moment and I'm taking copious notes and trying to reflect on that so... Just a few points.

I think that as a union we recognise that the shadow of the ANC is going to be with us for a long, long time. We have no illusion about that and this is also reflected in how we take policies within the union. And we had our special congress and there was this question about how to vote in 2014, some of the participants at the congress said look they are prepared to go with what the union says, but don't ask me to cut myself in the middle between my role as the chair of the ANC in Mdantsane and my identity as a NUMSA member. And you'll find in our formulation of the resolution that we did try to strike the balance because we recognise this power of the ANC and why it's going to be with us for a long, long time.

The second thing that's important which I'm taking from people is that I think there's been a lot of emphasis on NUMSA forming a political party and all of that. And little about what we're doing about the sort of building of what we call a United Front. And again to us this idea of a United Front is not you know like the UDF in 1983 with patrons and presidents and all of that. It's about joining together struggles on the ground, joining the dots between different communities that are involved in struggles.

And we've been careful just to say to people that you know we are concerned about the short flow. The first campaign that we launched was not about this, you know, employment tax incentive. It was about youth unemployment, which affects workers who send their kids and who graduate and who don't get jobs after that. It's about middle classes who send their kids and are faced with graduate unemployment. And the phrasing of that campaign was, in a way Raymond, to ensure that there is a popular appeal in what we do.

I think we were the first one before the Nkandla before all of this to raise the question of Nkandla and what must happen to it even before the public protector had announced... and how that should be taken up as an anti-corruption matter.

The last thing I want to say is that for us it's important to build this broad coalition and you must Nomboniso admit that when the traditional courts bill...

NOMBINISO GASA: Yes, ok.

DINGA SIKWEBU: We were the only union - we were the only union and we are trying and this is important for the panel because these are things we are grappling with, because sometimes we find that the workers who work in the factory they also have roots in the countryside.

And we are trying to explore to find these multiple identities so that a discussion that Nomboniso was part of in NUMSA about the Traditional Courts Bill had an echo amongst the workers because they knew what would happen when they go home. And in this way we are trying to find connections between what is part of the year an urban proletarian and some part of the year, people have a family in that (rural area) and we are trying to find...

The last question, which I didn't here from the people that we are struggling with is that we don't talk about the working class broadly in NUMSA because we have an understanding of the fragmentation that has happened to that section of the community and that we are struggling and exploring ways of finding connections between people who have a job and people who don't have a job.

Our members in the surveys we've done, you know, will have a medical aid and we've found that 56% of people own their houses or they have bonds. And how do you link this with the shack dwellers. And we think the issues around questions of unemployment, the questions of issues of democracy, police brutality, some of the civil liberties... may be the things that bring this United Front together.

And I think sometimes that people get carried (away) about some of the sound bites about a political party. Anyway, there's no decision in NUMSA about starting a political party. It's about exploring the possibility of a movement and I think that sometimes the sound bites about a party get so pronounced that the actual work of building a united front gets forgotten.

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