WHAT A surprise! The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has become the first affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to be expelled by the labour federation.
At the end of a long night of knives, or the night of long knives, just before the first cock crowed to announce the coming of Saturday, Cosatu’s central executive committee finally told Numsa to “vat julle goed en voetsek”. “Hit the road Jim, don’t you come back, no more, no more!” said the committee. And Numsa was heard humming a hit song by the Spinners, “Throwing a good love away, you don’t know it now, but you’ll know it someday.”
Who will rue the day Numsa was expelled? Will it be Cosatu, Numsa or the African National Congress (ANC)? Or, is it ordinary workers who will pay the highest price? In the weeks to come political animals like me are going to subject you to volumes of verbiage and high analysis in our attempts at pretending we know the answers to these questions when, in fact, a lot is still going to happen between Cosatu and Numsa, and within each formation, before we can fully understand the implications of Cosatu’s decision.
While there is inadequate space in a newspaper column, the answer lies in understanding the forces — historical, political, economic, ideological and otherwise — that shaped what some among us sometimes romantically refer to as the “Numsa moment”.
To some of these, the Numsa moment and the Marikana massacre are part of the same historical moment and turning point. Beyond this moment lie radical political and economic change born out of fundamental transformation in political and economic relations in SA.
In other words, the expulsion of Numsa will deliver political realignment and, therefore, constitutes the beginning of the end for the ANC and its ambivalence towards neoliberalism.
Some of the forces behind the internal Cosatu battle and the expulsion of Numsa are larger than both Numsa and the Cosatu central executive committee. To understand why the tripartite alliance has not been as adept as it should be in its response to the change in the relationship between the alliance and state power, we must start by accepting that 20 years in the life of any country is a very short time.
In Darkness at Noon, a book by Arthur Koestler, it is said that history has a long pulse. This suggests several things but I would like to highlight two.
First, the changes to the content of the historical forces that are going to shape events and decisions inside and outside the components of the alliance are both incomplete and continuous. In this regard the “Numsa moment” is but one among many future moments that will deliver a different, weaker or stronger alliance. The quality of leadership, strategic and tactical acumen, a sense of vision and values, moral and ideological courage and the clarity of thought available to the ANC, Cosatu and South African Communist Party (SACP) will ultimately be the difference between decay and regeneration.
Second, changes in political and economic reality since 1994 dictate that the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP ask whether current formulations of their National Democratic Revolution are still an appropriate response to these changes. This must happen given the possibility that, since 1994, the forces that have shaped the response are those that are hostile to change as conceived in different formulations of the National Democratic Revolution.
That said, there has never been a more important moment since 1994 for the ANC, Cosatu and SACP to be honest about the different configurations “the enemy within” has manifested itself in, especially during the past decade. Subjective interests have become the fuel that propels factional interests in alliance structures and the alliance itself. More unfortunate is the degree to which some, by foregrounding subjective interests, have become affiliates of members in positions of power.
Numsa’s expulsion is, therefore, the harbinger of things good or bad.
• Matshiqi is an independent political analyst.