KENNETH MOKGATLHE: This is why SA can’t afford for the ANC to not pay its staff

OPINION

There is disturbing precedent that has been set by labour unions and political parties in South Africa regarding the unfair treatment of their staff. It is not only the African National Congress (ANC) that is mistreating their own staff, the behaviour takes place in the unions, parties and other human rights organisations claiming to defend the rights of workers.

It is still shocking that political parties are violating the rights of their own workers who are servicing the party. The recent news reports that the ANC is failing to settle its salary bill does not augur well for the rights of workers across the country.

This is not the first time, and probably not the last, that we will hear about ANC staff not being paid on time, or going for months without a salary.

Human capital within political parties and labour unions are not a priority. Those working in those organisations are at risk of not being paid, sexual exploitation, poor working conditions, no job security and zero other worker benefits.

The ANC was formed in 1912 to wage a struggle against land dispossession that was legalised in 1910 when the Union of South Africa was formed. Few laws were enacted to justify the crime, which had begun since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652.

The failure of the ANC to settle its salary bill signifies that the party has forgotten that the purpose of its existence is to fight for the rights of the marginalised, which includes workers. The SACP and Cosatu’s silence on the issue is also deafening, which is ironic as the two organisations claim to advance the freedoms of workers.

The ANC was inspired by left politics, which seeks to advocate for socialism and that has not changed. It was formed on the grounds of striving for equality, freedom and other essential values. So why would they be the ones betraying the cause which they claim to advance?

Politics aside, ANC or not, I wholeheartedly understand the pain felt by the ANC staff. As South Africans we are aware that the income of a single person helps more than eight people in a family. Which means the non-payment of salaries for party staffers has surely affected many people.

While I was still with the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) as its member of parliamentary support staff, there were many times when we were not paid on time because two factions were facing off with each other, which was said to have affected the cash flow of the party. Had there been a political will to pay us, the party could have debited as little as R100 from those representing the party in government. We had councilors from nine provinces who drove fancy cars while we went to serve the party on an empty stomach.

As a result of the party’s influence in the country’s political arena, we were not able to get enough coverage to pressure the party to pay us. The party hasn’t been able to pay us for the 24 months of outstanding salaries, and life goes on.

It is essential for a party like the ANC to be self-sufficient so that ite does not fall into a trap of being funded by non-ANC people as it will become easier to control the policies of the party (and ultimately those of government). Going out and inviting funders to assist through crowd-funding places our young democracy at risk given the ANC’s dominance in national politics.

China or any other government in the world does not need to have a Chinese person to spy for them; it becomes easier for those wishing to spy to use party members who are financially exploited because they want to make more money. The situation at the ANC is cause for concern for those who love this country.

Many political parties and labour unions staff personnel are not affiliated to trade unions, and this puts their rights at risk of being neglected. These organisations should practice what they preach, and lead by example. If the ANC continues to neglect workers as it is currently doing, then it means that a farm owner will feel emboldened to do to his worker what the ANC has done to its workers.

The factions within the ANC and other parties should not affect employees’ rights. It is clear that the factions within the governing party have reached a boiling point where they are failing to run their own, small offices. If they are failing to sort out administrative issues there, which do not have more than 200 workers, then how can they manage the affairs of this country?

If there is a political will to look after the staff at the ANC, why are party representatives in government not ordered to contribute a certain amount into the account of the party? Is the ANC going to accept money from anyone, including potential state capturers? The party should devise a means to sustain itself as “the leader of the society” as it calls itself. It should be able to reclaim its independence, and that cannot happen as long as it receives money from just anyone.

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is an independent writer, social and political commentator. He holds a BA honours in political science from the University of Limpopo. A former PAC spokesperson, Mokgatlhe is currently studying teaching at the University of South Africa.

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