Uhuru-Spirit News


April 23, 2017 | Uhuruspirit

Newly elected Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi

Former General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zwelinzima Vavi, was on Sunday elected unopposed as the new general secretary of the newly-launched trade union federation known as the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu).

Vavi was elected alongside Mac Chabalala of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) as President, Nomvume Ralarala as first deputy President, and Motswari Letshogo as the treasurer, during the new federation’s founding congress that took place in Boksburg (near Johannesburg) from Friday and ended on Sunday.

It was reported that nearly 700,000 workers from at least 21 trade unions have joined to form the new trade union federation.

“This is only the beginning of a long journey to unite South African workers and to end the fragmentation of the trade union movement,” Vavi told SAFTU delegates in Boksburg.

“The central values of SAFTU include “independence, worker control and democracy, non-racialism and non-sexism, socialist orientation and militancy in fighting for the working class and the poor,” Raymond Mnguni, the chairperson of the SAFTU steering committee, said while addressing delegates.

After their expulsion from Cosatu, Vavi and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which was Cosatu’s largest union with over 400,000 members, regrouped to champion the formation of a new trade union federation in 2015.

Before its expulsion, Numsa was openly opposed to President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet for ignoring the plight of workers. Among one of the contentious issues was the government’s insistence on implementing e-tolling in Gauteng against the will of the workers.

"It is clear that the working class cannot any longer see the ANC or the SACP as its class allies in any meaningful sense," said Numsa leader Irvin Jim in December 2013.

Mr Jim also called on President Zuma to resign, saying his administration had been linked to too many scandals.

Ahead of the 2014 general elections, Numsa pulled its support for the ANC and had called on Cosatu to also do same.

The union is currently pushing for a new socialist party.

However, Numsa’s problems with Cosatu were much deeper and complicated than presented in the media.

There was the contentious fight with National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) over the representation of workers at Eskom. Numsa was later accused by NUM of poaching its members who worked at the power utility – one of the bases that led to its expulsion from Cosatu.

Apart from Numsa, most of the unions at Saftu’s founding congress were breakaway formations from Cosatu unions formed after dissatisfaction with the country's biggest trade union federation.

Demawusa and Matusa are breakaway unions from Samwu, while the National Transport Movement (NTM) broke away from the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), among others.

The other former Cosatu-affiliated union that is also part of the new federation is the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) which had opposed the expulsion of both Vavi and Numsa from Cosatu. As result, in 2016, Fawu took a decision to disaffiliate from Cosatu.

Saftu will be the country's fourth union federation after Cosatu, Fedusa, and the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu). Cosatu is still the biggest of all the country's federations.

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