People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 08, 2012




NUM Decides to Affiliate with WFTU


Swadesh Dev Roye


HELD at Johannesburg on May 23 to 26, 2012, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) of South Africa has decided to affiliate itself with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).


The NUM represents the workers of the entire mining sector in the country, including the coal, gold, diamond and platinum mines, and is the largest trade union of the country with more than three lakh members. Obviously, as always, the congress of the NUM was a very big political event of the country. One recalls that the NUM played a very important role in the unification of African trade union movement, which led to the formation of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985 and this contribution was recognised with the election of Comrade Elijah Barayi, one of the NUM leaders, as the first president of COSATU.” The NUM congress was counted as one of the series of political events to follow. The coming events are the congress of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in July 2012; then the congress of COSATU in September 2012 and the congress of ANC towards the end of the year. It may be noted that South Africa is one of the top five mineral resource rich countries of the world. The mining industry of the country contributes 9.6 per cent of GDP and 35 per cent of the export earnings




The president and the deputy president, besides four ministers, of the Republic of South Africa, addressed the NUM congress. However, President Jacob Zuma and higher education minister Blade Nzimande came as representatives of the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP), in their capacity of the president and general Secretary respectively. Many past and present political personalities in the country held the post of either president or general secretary of NUM; the current deputy president of the country too has served as the NUM general secretary. The re-elected NUM president Senzeni Zokwana and the re-elected general secretary Frans Baleni (both are serving miners) are members of the Polit Bureau and Central Committee of SACP respectively. The NUM being the most important affiliate of the COSATU, both the president and general secretary of this dominant federation of the country were present in the congress all through.


Around 1200 delegates including 225 women attended the congress. Then there were about 85 fraternal delegates, mostly from the southern African countries and also some international trade unions. This writer represented the WFTU in his capacity of the latter’s deputy general secretary.   




30 Years of Unbroken Revolutionary Trade Union Struggle” was the theme of the congress.  Incidentally, this year is the 30th year of the foundation of NUM. Recalling the long journey through the path of struggle, the congress documents recalled the participation of mining workers in the struggle of liberation of South Africa from the colonial clutch and hated apartheid regime of the imperialist aggressors.  


Consistent with the tradition of progressive trade union movement of South Africa, the documents presented to the NUM congress were voluminous, amazingly colourful and innovative in form and the contents, as well as politically rich with a clear orientation of class struggle. A striking point was that apart from the report of the secretariat and statement of accounts, a special publication titled, “NUM/SACP Joint Political Education Programme 2012” was given to all the delegates. It is a 320-page A-4 size document. It contained classics on Marxism-Leninism including the Communist Manifesto, Lenin’s Three Sources and Three Components of Marxism and Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Marxism and National Question, and of course materials in the context of the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa and present struggle for a national democratic revolution.  Another noteworthy document was a research report on organisation, analysing at length the strength and weakness at all levels of the organisation and the task ahead, called ‘Action Plan.’ The delegates were also provided with a compilation of the resolutions and declaration adopted at the last congress and those adopted at the Central Committee meetings held during the intervening period.




It is noteworthy that seven distinctly separate chapters of the report elaborately dealt with organisational matters; national and international economic situation; political situation, environmental matters, international relations and conclusion, in that order. The clear working class orientation in analysing the national and international situation apart, the report was well enriched with photographs of past activities of the union, graphics and statistical tables and statements.


The general secretary presented the report before the congress chapter-wise, in six separate presentations. The discussion on the report was also conducted chapter-wise --- at the end of each presentation --- and it was adopted accordingly. Now according to organisational structure, each mining area is identified as a region; thus there are a total of 11 regions in all. Each region is allocated a specific number of delegates according to their membership. While each of the delegations collectively discussed the report, only the leader of each delegation spoke on a subject on behalf of the respective delegations. This system enabled focussed discussion on each of the subjects, and the quality of the discussion was of high standard. The time allocated for total discussion was 380 minutes, which worked out to 35 minutes for each delegation.


The NUM’s understanding about the SA economy has been captured in the report: “Pervasive poverty, systemic unemployment and structural inequality are the three obstinate political economic challenges facing South Africa. The legacies of apartheid, compounded by some key government failures have culminated in the prevailing intractable socio-economic problems.” Illustrating the onslaught of inequality, the report noted, “Economic restructuring has transferred income and wealth from the poor to the rich as reflected for example in the decline in the workers’ share of national income and rise of profits. Whites in general have seen their income and wealth rise simultaneously with the growth of a tiny African middle class and bourgeoisie. Access to opportunities like education is also unequal with working class children likely to attend poorly resourced schools staffed by inadequately trained teachers.”   




The political-organisational tasks adopted by the congress included a commitment to “contribute to the building of a strong ANC, SACP, COSATU and mass democratic movement.” As we know, COSATU is a constituent of the tripartite alliance of South Africa, the others being the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). This alliance is perceived as strategic to pushing forward the liberation struggle to accomplishment of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) based on the vision of the Freedom Charter which “demands that the wealth of the country including its natural resources beneath and above the soil, and water and productive capacity, be restored to the people as a whole (i.e. nationalised).”


The COSATU’s perception about the alliance is: “the tripartite alliance was strategically entered into as a revolutionary vehicle to take forward the objectives of our revolution.” However, COSATU is conscious of the limitation of class compositions of the present state. “From class analysis the current state has been pursuing an agenda that is hostile to the working class….. It represents an alliance with big capital, particularly finance capital and the creation of a black capitalist class” (secretariat report to COSATU Central Committee 2011).


The NAM being the biggest constituent of the COSATU, its congress did discuss the current contradiction between the working class and the bourgeoisie within the multi-class alliance. The report noted, “There is a real temptation for the ANC to be converted into a movement representing the interest of the new derecialised elite of the exclusion of the black working class.” The congress cautioned that, “The working class constitutes the bulk of the ANC membership and strong electoral base…… Therefore the ANC must continue to recognise the leading role of the working class, because they are essentially responsible for the electoral victories of the ANC.” The NUM congress called upon the working class of South Africa to strengthen their hold on the ‘Tripartite Alliance’ in order to intensify the struggle of the toiling masses aimed at achieving favourable shift in the correlations of class forces and enabling the “working class to intensify its hegemony in the society of oppressed classes…… We must defeat the modern narrow nationalist tendency which seeks to hijack the ANC and steer to serve the interests of new black elite.”   


However, trade unions committed to working class democracy like the NUM is bound to be free from any illusion about bourgeois democracy. Dealing with the ‘state of the country’s democracy” the report of the secretariat completely debunked Lincoln’s theory of supremacy of people in bourgeois democracy by elaborately quoting from Lenin’s State and Revolution and also from Charles Darwin’s Essay on Democracy. While the former noted bourgeois democracy as full of restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor, the latter said it is “cheque-book democracy in which wealth determines participation in a democratic system.” The report noted that, “The Marxist view is fundamentally opposed to liberal democracy in believing that the capitalist state cannot be democratic by its nature, as it represents the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Marxist view liberal democracy as an unrealistic utopia”




Around 20 resolutions on different important national and international issues --- political, economic and organisational --- were adopted by the congress. However, the most important resolution having important implications for the world working class movement was the one to affiliate the NUM with the WFTU. The preamble of the resolution spoke volumes about the WFTU and the NUM, “The NUM is a class oriented trade union from its inception. NUM has been consistent with its political ideological posture; the NUM plays a critical role domestically and internationally…… NUM to affiliate with the WFTU as a deliberate political effort to advance class conscious trade unionism.”  


This decision about affiliation of the NUM with the WFTU is certainly a decisive step forward in materialising the ongoing move to affiliate the COSATU with the WFTU; this coming COSATU congress in September 2012 may discuss it. Apart from the NUM, four other unions of the country are also affiliated to the WFTU. These are the NUMSA, NEHAWU, CAPPWAWU and POPCRU which are among the most powerful unions of South Africa.  


Extending solidarity with the fighting people of Palestine the congress asked the Chamber of Mines and individual mining companies of South Africa to stop exporting minerals to Israel. It also cautioned that any enterprise, on its failure to comply with this decision of the congress, shall have to face strike action by its miners.


The NUM congress also decided upon a number of political tasks. On ideological education of the working class, it pointed out areas of weakness and decided to conduct joint political programmes with the SACP, including steps to organise ideological education camps with introductory, intermediary and advance courses. The SACP-COSATU relations are considered most crucial for the National Democratic Revolution in South Africa. There are areas of concern in this regard. It resolved to organise a “conference of the Left” in 2013 --- during the “Red October month.” 


Apart from the ideological campaign, the NUM congress clearly committed itself to organisationally strengthening both the ANC and the SACP simultaneously. It decided to run a dedicated drive for membership of both the organisations amongst the ranks of NUM. A target was set to “ensure that 80 per cent of NUM members are active and card carrying members of the ANC by December 2014,” and also that, “60 per cent of NUM members are active and card carrying members of SACP by December 2014.” 


In South Africa it has become a standing practice to elect new leadership in union conferences through secret ballot. The whole process starts a number of days before the commencement of the conference. Candidates are nominated through a very elaborate process and the elections are conducted by professionals in the field.


Given the political importance of the NUM, the election of new leadership for it occupied much space in both print and electronic media in the country. Obviously the post of general secretary was in focus, and the contest was between the incumbent general secretary and the deputy general secretary. On the last day of the congress, the delegates cast their votes by batches during the currency of the congress session. The NUM congress thus re-elected the incumbent president and the general secretary.