Cosatu facing new crisis

Cosatu is on the verge of a walkout by seven of its unions and nearly a million members.

FILE: Cosatu's Johannesburg headquarters. Picture: Janice Healing/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - As the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) stands to lose half of its members, Luthuli House says the federation split is bad for the alliance, workers and society as a whole.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was kicked out of Africa's largest federation by 33 votes to 24 at the weekend.

The metalworkers union claims its withdrawal of support for the African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party was the cause of its expulsion.

The 349,000 member-strong metalworkers union was expelled from Cosatu in the early hours of Saturday morning, after protracted factional battles over recruitment and support for the ANC.

Cosatu is now on the verge of a walkout by seven of its unions and nearly a million members.

The unions include the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), the South African State and Allied Workers Union (Sasawu), the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Pawusa) , the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the South African Football Players Union, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa and the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu).

The seven unions have come out in support of the metalworkers union and collectively, they represent over 900,000 workers.

The unions today announced the resumption of a court bid to force Cosatu officials to hold a special national congress so that workers can vote on divisions that have crippled the labour movement.

Pawusa's Godfrey Soetmelk has issued a warning about the implications of Numsa leaving Cosatu.

"Taking away all the affiliates that are presently here is going to be a huge setback."

Fawu deputy general secretary Moleko Phakadi says the unions have also not ruled out the possibility of starting a new federation.


ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe says he's not competent to discuss the decision by the seven unions to suspend themselves from Cosatu.

Mantashe earlier described the decision to expel Numsa as tragic and disappointing.

He said he doesn't understand the decision taken by the seven unions.

"It's a decision to disengage instead of finding solutions so I don't understand the logic of finding solutions through disengagement."

But he admitted the expulsion of Numsa is bad for all concerned.

"It's bad for the ruling party, Cosatu , progressive forces and society as a whole."

Mantashe said it's still possible to fix these problems but that people would have to swallow their pride and give up things that are important to them.


The seven affiliates say they want Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to remain within the federation and Numsa to return to the fold.

The CWU's Aubrey Tshabalala says they don't want the general secretary to leave with Numsa.

"Vavi is the next target and we want Numsa to come back and for Vavi to stay in his position."

Saccawu's Mduduzi Mbongwa says a polarised atmosphere currently dominates Cosatu meetings.

"They are all linked and they behave like representatives of their affiliates instead of acting like leaders of the federation."

The unions say they will consult with lawyers this week after getting fresh instructions from their members.

Video: 'The fight isn't over'.