A corrupt elite is fighting for its life

Paul Trewhela on the anti-democratic politics in the trade unions in South Africa

The Stalinist political heritage of the ANC in exile, when it operated in its exile camps in Africa as a totalitarian state, continued after its return to South Africa as the single governing political party.

This expressed itself in its corporatist, top-down structure stretching across the legislature, the executive and the trade unions, summed up in the notion of a hegemonic "Alliance" between ANC, the South African Communist Party and the leaders of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), many of them members of the SACP.

This hegemonic ruling "Alliance" is now beginning to break down, expressed most horribly in the killing of 34 miners on the platinum reef at Marikana on 16 August last year by armed police under the command of the ANC-ruled state, several of them executed by the police in cold blood while in hiding, wounded or with their hands up in the process of attempting to surrender. Not a single police officer involved in these killings has been stood down.

These killings followed the separation of striking miners at the Lonmin mine at Marikana from the ANC/SACP/Cosatu governing "Alliance", in revulsion at their previous union, the "ruling" National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the most powerful in Cosatu.

The Marikana miners did so by abandoning the NUM, which they came to regard as being in collusion with big capital (Lonmin), the government (ANC/SACP) and the state (the police, armed forces etc).

Certainly, this voluntary, legal and entirely constitutional separation from the NUM and its "Alliance" expressed itself through the illegal, and entirely unconstitutional, murders by miners of security guards, police and at least one individual perceived as having been a representative of the NUM, immediately preceding the shootings on 16 August.

But it appears entirely likely that Jared Sacks was right when he argued on Daily Maverick that "a significant cause of the violence can be laid squarely on the National Union of Mineworkers and their murder of two of their own NUM members." ("Marikana prequel: NUM and the murders that started it all", 12 October 2012)

 Sacks provides convincing evidence that the cycle of violence at Marikana was initiated by the murders of two miners by NUM officials, when dissatisifed miners marched to the union's main office at Wonderkop with a memorandum on 11 August, five days before the massacre, and were shot down by NUM officials.

As Sacks reports, "every single person that I spoke to, without fail, blamed NUM for starting the violence and reneging on its responsibility to represent the workers. This was the case even when people I interviewed expressed dislike for the strikers and their own subsequent acts of brutality. Almost everyone felt more hatred towards NUM than they did towards Lonmin, the police or even the Zuma administration."

By breaking decisively from the NUM, the miners as militant workers threatened major institutions in South Africa, among them the legitimacy of the ANC/SACP ruling "Alliance". This was made final by their affiliating themselves with a smaller, rival union outside the rulling "Alliance", the Association of Mineworkers and Constructions Workers Union (AMCU).

They were indeed punished heavily for their transgressions.

Among the aftershocks of this ANC massacre of its once supposed loyal followers, the ruling Zuma faction holding power in ANC, the government and the state could only preserve its grip on power and wealth by faking a huge raft of internal local elections within the ANC itself last year, so as to secure Zuma's (and his clique's) re-election to the pinnacle of privilege at its five-yearly national elective conference at Bloemfontein/Mangaung last December. The rigging of the conference and of the ANC itself could only be secured by expulsions from office of an ever-widening range of previously loyal but dissenting ANC local leaders.

Disintegration of the "Alliance" has been further accelerated by these expulsions. In this way, there is now a conjoined crisis within the ANC and Cosatu, with its focus on illegitimate tenure of office, abuse of power and corruption.

Anyone in the structures of the Alliance perceived as threatening the tenure of the power elite must be hounded out. As at Marikana, there are indications that murder of the opposition has become an affair of state.

The next step in this process is due to take place today, Monday 27 May, when a meeting of Cosatu leaders will take a decision whether or not Zwelinzima Vavi - perceived as insufficiently slavish to Zuma as "Number One" - will be removed from his post as general secretary of the union federation.

Three recent articles which explore the issues involved are by Lee-Ann Alfreds, "Why Vavi's future is at stake", with a careful breakdown of topics relating to the forthcoming Cosatu meeting, in The Star and other newspapers of the Independent Group (Saturday 25 May);

Madala Thepa, "Marikana simmers" (with some very powerful firsthand reportage), in Sunday World, 19 May;

and Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, "Why Marikana is on a knife-edge" (firsthand investigation and analysis) in Sunday Independent, 19 May.

A further article by Charles Molele and Matuma Letsaolo in the current Mail & Guardian, under the heading "Warring Cosatu leaders head for showdown over Vavi" (24 May), reports that the decision-making process has been blocked by "failing to appoint the forensic auditing firm Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo to investigate the allegations of financial impropriety" made against Vavi.

Molele and Letsaolo report further that "the anti-Vavi group has attacked the Cosatu general secretary [Vavi] for failing to appoint the forensic auditing firm Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo to investigate the allegations of financial impropriety made against him.

"They have also accused him of failing to provide the inquiry with a clear scope of what they need to investigate."

The M&G journalists report a "senior Cosatu leader" who attended an earlier meeting as having told them: "People wanted to know why Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo was not appointed. Even the president of Cosatu, Sdumo Dlamini [the top Zuma heavy in Cosatu - PT], did not know why the auditing firm was not appointed.

"A clear understanding was not given to the commission. This was deliberate and has left the commission frustrated. ...

"What was surprising was that Gobodo was not there. We believe there is interference. The high possibility is that we may recall that chap [Vavi]. That's the plan. There might be people who want to defend him but he will fly. Heads will roll."

In a previous investigation, Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo found forensic evidence of corruption on the part of leading Zuma supporters at the head of the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), presented in a corruption charge laid before the South Gauteng High Court last June.

A leading supporter of the corruption application to the court, Adv Vusi Pikoli - removed from office as head of the National Prosecuting Authority by both Mbeki and Motlanthe administrations in 2007 and 2009, on account of his zeal in prosecuting corruption in senior officials, among them the Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi - was forced to resign from his post at Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo in March last year "after ANC officials allegedly threatened to cut off government contracts if Pikoli did not leave."

It seems strange that as the accused in a corruption inquiry, Vavi should have been required by Cosatu to arrange forensic investigation of his own alleged impropriety.

Whatever the outcome of this saga, a corrupt elite is fighting for its life. The indications are it will stop at nothing to retain its grip on power and unearned wealth.


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