A rousing welcome at a national trades union conference and a belated wage deal at the Marikana platinum mines are the first signs that President Jacob Zuma is fighting back.
He has been under fire over his handling of the crisis at Lonmin’s platinum mine at Marikana, North-West Province, where police shot 34 striking miners dead on 16 August. The worst state violence since the end of apartheid looked as if it might cost Zuma his chances of re-election as President of the governing African National Congress (ANC) at its December conference.
For weeks, Zuma had seemed to be missing in action. After visiting Marikana after the killings, with heavy security, to speak mainly to the mine executives, Zuma sent his ministers to push unsuccessfully for a ‘peace accord’. The strikers wanted their wage demands met first. Then on 19 September, Lonmin announced that the strike had been settled by offering mineworkers wage rises of 11-22% and one-off payments of 2,000 rand (US$244). However, the deal seriously damaged the credibility of Lonmin’s management and the mainstream trades unions.
Old alliances have been upturned as some politicians ran for cover and others tried to exploit the Marikana tragedy: the dispute had lasted five weeks and cost 45 lives. Zuma has made common cause with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) whose biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers had lost credibility at Marikana. Mineworkers at Marikana had rejected the NUM as their representative in wage negotiations with management.
So smaller rival unions, such as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the Committee for a Workers’ International, stepped into the dispute on behalf of the dissident workers. This quickly turned into a three-sided and violent confrontation between AMCU, the NUM and Lonmin, with the police protecting the company’s property. In the first round of clashes, both NUM officials and police were killed, as well as striking mineworkers.
NUM chides mine owners
AMCU and its radical allies say that Lonmin’s capitulation to most of their demands proves that the mainstream unions, such as the NUM and other Cosatu affiliates, can no longer credibly represent workers’ interests. In a bizarre political twist, NUM officials blame Lonmin for its weakness in the face of the workers’ militancy. South Africa has about 80% of the world’s platinum reserves and the strikes spread across the platinum belt and seem to have encouraged strikes in some gold mines, too.
After ministers spent several weeks minimising the economic damage of the Marikana shootings, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan admitted that the unrest could undermine growth and investment. In recent years, South Africa has benefited from substantial portfolio investment and from its role as an investment platform for other countries in the region.
One of President Zuma’s most determined critic, the former President of the ANC Youth League Julius Malema, has stepped up calls for nationalisation of the mines, proposing a radical alternative federation of unions to challenged the hegemony of Cosatu. His latest demand is for strikers to make the mines ‘ungovernable’.
NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni says Malema’s group is responsible for the more than 800 people who have been trying to persuade workers at Xstrata, Murray and Roberts, and Samancor to down tools. Malema aims to link the mining protests to existing community campaigns about services, corruption and mismanagement.
Against this, Zuma’s team has been lobbying the 20 main unions affiliated to Cosatu, with some success, judging by the warm reception given to his keynote address at the opening of Cosatu’s National Conference in Midrand on 17-20 September. Sceptics point out that Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini is a close ally of Zuma’s.
Union grip on ANC
Given that its members make up about half of the ANC’s 1.2 million members, Cosatu is a key power base for aspiring party leaders. Despite the union leaders’ conditional backing for Zuma this week – some had demanded that he make more radical policy commitments – there is criticism of his record everywhere. Only the state-run South African Broadcasting Corporation has refrained from pinning the blame for Marikana on Zuma. Even his ex-wife, the veteran politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, took a swipe at him at her farewell as Home Affairs Minister, en route to Addis Ababa to take over the chair of the African Union Commission from Gabon’s Jean Ping.
The two main candidates challenging Zuma for the ANC presidency, the national Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale, want to merge their campaigns in the lead up to the party congress at Mangaung on 16-20 December. Along with ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa, they decline to defend Zuma’s performance. When NUM officials asked Motlanthe (a former Cosatu official) to intervene in the Marikana crisis, he replied that although he sympathised, they should ‘seek help’ from Zuma.
Sexwale’s presidential campaign – known as ‘anyone but Zuma’ (ABZ) – is looking for allies. Sexwale is willing to run as deputy to Motlanthe in a contest for the ANC presidency, on condition that he would take over as President after one term. Sexwale’s supporters worry, though, that Motlanthe might be unwilling to fight all the way against Zuma – unless he thinks victory is assured. Both challengers will watch the nomination process keenly. On 1 October, the rival ANC factions are due to announce their slates of candidates for the top six posts in the party: president, deputy president, secretary general, deputy secretary general, chairperson and treasurer general.
Publicly, Motlanthe says the system of rival slates for the top six posts is divisive. Many think he lacks the stomach for a bare-knuckle fight with Zuma for the party presidency. By November, when most of the nine provinces will have submitted their preferences for the coming elections, there will be little doubt about the favourite. Should Motlanthe withdraw at that stage, Sexwale’s supporters assure us that he is determined to challenge Zuma with his own band of ABZ activists.
The pre-conference negotiations could prove critical. Sexwale and Motlanthe’s campaigns are trying to woo to their cause ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, who is still allied to Zuma. Mantashe is extremely popular in Eastern Cape Province, where the anti-Zuma campaigners scored a narrow victory in party elections in August.
Getting Mantashe on side by offering to keep him as Secretary General under a Motlanthe-Sexwale presidency would extend their base in the Eastern Cape and counterbalance the dominance of Zuma’s neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) (which has the most ANC members, with Eastern Cape next). Motlanthe’s original slate had Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula for Secretary General: Mbalula’s likely to get that if Mantashe turns them down.
The other problem for the anti-Zuma people is Malema. Although Sexwale defended him in his ANC hearing this year, the two have never been close. More recently, Malema pronounced himself opposed to Sexwale standing even as Deputy on the same ticket as Motlanthe: he would prefer Mathews Phosa as Motlanthe’s running mate. Malema wants a new party president to reverse his expulsion from the party in return for his support against Zuma. Some in the anti-Zuma camp are wary of being drawn into a messy deal. They believe that there is so much opposition to Zuma that they can win the leadership without Malema.
In August, the anti-Zuma group won the leadership of the ANC’s Eastern Cape district of Oliver Reginald Tambo; provincial officials had disallowed the first election for ‘voting irregularities’ but the same anti-Zuma team won the rerun in late August.
The Motlanthe-Sexwale group relies on the Eastern Cape and Gauteng (where it also has majority support) as its main bases. Now it is trying to weaken Zuma’s grip on KZN, by persuading provincial leaders to change position publicly. Bheki Cele, whom Zuma fired as National Police Commissioner, was Chairman of the ANC’s large eThekwini region (Durban) in KZN for over a decade. He is unafraid to take on the Zuma militants and has emerged as key strategist for the Motlanthe-Zuma campaign. We hear Zuma is concerned about Cele’s activities and has asked for a meeting with the top six provincial leaders to determine their individual loyalties.
Zuma’s allies are sounding out whether Motlanthe would abandon his presidential ambitions and accept reappointment as Deputy President. The idea is that, half-way through his second term, Zuma would offer Motlanthe the state presidency while remaining ANC President. The Motlanthe group seems unimpressed, not least because Zuma’s team has made similar overtures to former ANC Secretary General Cyril Ramaphosa. As a Non-Executive Director of Lonmin, Ramaphosa has come under heavy attack since the Marikana massacre and now seems more enthusiastic about a deal with Zuma, if he can win assurances from the canny President: he announced on 20 September that he is ready to serve his country again. Yet again, the Zuma camp has dangled the prospects of the deputy presidency in front of Sexwale, hoping to split him off from Motlanthe.
Beyond the dealmaking, Malema is stepping up his campaign. Zuma wants the authorities to prosecute him for corruption in Limpopo Province. They are trying to encircle Malema by taking on his friends and business partners and choking off his flow of money. On 16 September, Zuma instructed the Hawks, the Special Investigating Unit of the SA Police Service, to investigate allegations against him of incitement to violence during the Marikana protests. The Unit is seeking videotape footage and has given the case to investigators who deal with ‘crimes against the state’.
Malema’s group wants to mobilise the retrenched workers of the Aurora mine, where presidential nephew Khulubuse Zuma has a stake. They also claim they can ‘prove’ that presidential son Duduzane Zuma is part of a labour-broking syndicate which has supplied workers to Lonmin’s Marikana mine. As militancy grows among the workers and the ANC leadership elections draw near, the battle will get still rougher.