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32262South Africa-Full Marx at Numsa's political school & 1 protester shot dead every 4 days

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  • Cort Greene
    Feb 7, 2014

       South Africa will hold its fifth democratic general election on May 7

      The vote, which will elect a new parliament, and in turn the president, will see the favoured ANC face a phalanx of insurgent opposition parties that have fastened on to widespread popular unease over corruption, poverty, housing, lack of jobs and repression.

      Full Marx at Numsa's political school

      07 FEB 2014 00:00 VERASHNI PILLAY

      Numsa's political school is preparing the way for a distinct labour movement.

      Dialectic boogaloo: Numsa members attend a week-long political school in Joburg. (Gallo)

      "Comrades, comrades, thank you. We will now hear a presentation about protests called … 'South Africa's rebellion of the poor'." The woman at the mic looks up with a toss of her curls and peers over her glasses at the assembled shop stewards: 171 invited, but a few less in the room at the moment.

      It is day five of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) weeklong political school at a humble hotel near the OR Tambo International Airport.

      As University of Johannesburg academic Dr Carin Runciman takes the mic there are more than a few yawns. It's the deathly pre-lunchtime session on a day that is already running late.

      But the man sitting next to me, his baseball cap pulled low and his red Numsa shirt hanging loose on his slender frame, underlines a few lines in a massive ring-bound folder in front of him. Then he finishes writing down a note from a previous session: "The world we are living in is divided into two."

      That would have been from "Marxism as the dominant working-class ideology and programme in the 20th century".

      Module Two of Numsa's yearlong political school is in full swing and my neighbour isn't the only one concentrating.

      His classmates reach into their hefty binders and extract a sheaf of notes from Runciman's presentation so they can follow her talk more closely. A good plan, given her heavy Scottish accent.

      "Protest issues differ from province to province," Runciman says as she clicks through 10 years of data analysing protests in the country. We look at how protests reached a turning point in 2010/2011 and how KwaZulu-Natal took over from the Western Cape as the province with the most protests in 2013.

      The next slide shows a bar graph of protests in Madibeng, a municipality covering the tortured village of Mothutlung in North West. The place had shot to notoriety in the preceding weeks when four community members were killed in clashes with police. Their issue? Demanding water, after facing crippling shortages that lasted some seven months.

      "There is this idea that the recent protests in Madibeng have been 'popcorn protests' with no informed organisation or outcome, but that isn't true," says Runciman.

      She shows us a graph illustrating 24 protests recorded in the municipality since 2007. "Eleven of these cited water as a grievance," Runciman says. "In 2013, all the protests in the area were related to water and sanitation."

      In other words, the ANC-led government should have seen this coming. Which is why Numsa is here, really. And, seen through the prism of dialectical materialism, recent political and historical events certainly make sense for the left-wing union: there were the fights over their beloved Zwelinzima Vavi's suspension as trade union federation Cosatu's general secretary, they came close to storming out of their decades-long alliance within Cosatu, and by extension the ANC and government.

      Basic truth
      The unseemly battle that has been tearing the alliance apart in recent months has brought home a basic truth to the country's best organised and strongest union: it's time to break free.

      This has always been Numsa's natural instinct. It joined the ANC and its predecessor the United Democratic Front reluctantly at the behest of its members at the height of the struggle.

      "As Numsa, we must lead in the establishment of a new United Front that will co-ordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities," read one of their key resolutions from their special national congress in December last year, drawing a line under months of internal turmoil and charting a way forward.

      This political school is their way of fleshing out this resolution.

      This isn't the first time Numsa has run such training. But with five modules of about a week each scattered across the year, a further Wits University course offered to a select few, and the creation of a new position of ideological officer to oversee training, things have definitely been kicked up a notch since the special national congress.

      "It is understandably more intense because the path that we've entered into requires a clarity of purpose," Numsa national education co-ordinator Dinga Sekwebu tells me over pap and meat during the lunch break.

      Sekwebu, a thoughtful man with a kind face, has put together a killer syllabus, complemented by reading circles, academic texts, panel discussions with respected academics and worksheets analysing the ideological underpinnings of government policies and implementations. Not to mention the highlight of this module: the resistance expo.

      Engage with members
      Numsa invited more than 100 small community organisations and grassroots protest movements to engage with their members.

      "I was very impressed," said Ayanda Kota, organiser for the Unemployed People's Movement. "They asked good, open questions. It was very democratic – no views were being suppressed."

      Nor did Numsa issue a series of brash press statements advertising their sympathies for the struggles of these movements.

      "You see EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] going into these spaces and trying to swallow and assimilate other people’s struggle," says Kota.

      Julius Malema's political formation has certainly featured, but not always in glowing terms.

      Sekwebu says the constituencies of Numsa and the EFF, with the latter’s pull among "black working-class kids", are joined at the hip.

      But he has his reservations about the new kids on the block talking big on nationalisation. The lack of a democratic culture in the new party, with its pseudo-military structure, is problematic, as is its leaders' poor track record on internal democracy in their previous roles in the ANC Youth League, not to mention the corruption charges against Malema. "It seems to fly against the union tradition of internal democracy," says Sekwebu.

      Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese laughs off rumours of Numsa joining the EFF. "They try to give the impression they're talking to us. So does Wasp [Workers and Socialist Party]. They're not. It's lies."

      He stops and looks me in the eye. "We're playing the long game. We're not in a rush like these guys."

      Which doesn't mean an electoral alternative is off the table. Since the announcement of their quest for a united front, rumours have been flying about how Numsa could single-handedly realign South African politics at the polls if it wanted to, in a way that the Democratic Alliance and Agang could only dream of.

      Opinion is divided among the shop stewards in attendance at the course.

      "Politically, the delegates there were very uneven," Runciman tells me later. "Some of them still had a lot of sympathy with the ANC while others were clear that the break with the ANC was needed and wanted to form something different – and everything between."

      My studious neighbour during classes, Prince Shabane, turns out to be a shop steward for South African Truck Bodies in Bloemfontein, where he repairs trailers. He tells me the point of the school is to bring capitalism down. "I'm hoping for Numsa to have its own labour party by 2018," he says confidently.

      I come back on Saturday for the resistance expo and chat to a number of the social movements. Mining communities, freedom of information campaigners, Right2Know, farm workers' representatives: they all have a sense of hope about the potential offered by a newly invigorated Numsa, free from the constraints of a ruling alliance they believe to be increasingly out of touch with its people.

      As the academic sketches the breadth and scope of what is fast becoming a crisis in our country on Thursday, she unexpectedly turns the spotlight on the union.

      She pulls up a scathing press statement the union issued in 2011 about a community protest, when they were still ensconced within the ruling alliance and less sensitive to the concerns of the landless, the poor and the unemployed whose cause they should have been championing.

      The delegates are quiet. Then a Numsa official, Woody Auron, stands up. "In 2003 Cosatu took a resolution that said, no relationships with social movements outside the alliance unless they had a proven organisational track record." He shrugged helplessly – this in effect ruled out the majority of grassroots protest movements.

      "We were disciplined Cosatu members then … we listened," he says. "But now that Numsa has made a break with that conservative thinking on Cosatu we can make relationships with those organisations."

      The audience responds with cheers, and he smiles: "We're no longer bound by those dusty resolutions."

      Verashni Pillay is an associate editor at the Mail & Guardian.


      1 protester shot dead every 4 days

      James-Brent Styan6 February 2014 18:03

      The SA Police Service (SAPS) this year, on average, allegedly shot and killed one protester every four days in South Africa.

      There have already been nine confirmed cases of fatal shootings where the police were involved this year.

      According to data from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) up to 2011, the number of complaints of brutality by the police have soared since 2007. In 2007, fewer than 16 cases were reported. Two years later, 59 complaints were laid against police officers.

      Most of the complaints were filed against members of the unit for public order policing, which is in charge of crowd control during protests.

      Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini said the latest figures were not yet available, and Ipid could therefore not comment on trends regarding police brutality.

      DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said the trends were going in only one direction, and especially Marikana, where 34 miners were killed in 2012, will have a major impact on the Ipid figures.

      “The police have a mentality that protesters are the enemy against whom they must wage war. And it looks as if police top management don’t not know how to resolve the problem.”

      Joseph Mathunjwa, president of the trade union Amcu, says South Africa is becoming a fascist state, with the police using force to suppress protests.

      However, Annelize van Wyk, chairperson of the portfolio committee on police, differs.

      “You have to be careful if you say the police are acting more violently and are shooting and killing more people. What are you comparing it with? The number of protests – and they are violent protests – are increasing every year.”

      Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said last week there were more than 13 000 protests last year in which police were involved and 1 882 of them were violent protests.

      Van Wyk said there were also all sorts of contributing factors that led to violence.

      “It’s issues like the non-delivery of services, or council members who aren’t doing their job. Often the police then unfairly become the protesters’ target.”

      Statistics from the Auditor-General (AG) support Van Wyk’s views on service-delivery issues that need attention.

      In a submission delivered by the AG before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) yesterday, the AG said that up to 93% of national government departments did not comply with financial regulations and control measures.

      This contributed to government entities wasting as much as R30.3 billion last year.

      R2.28 billion of this is unauthorised expenditure by 32 government departments. Provincial departments of health and education were the worst culprits.

      Van Wyk said individual members of the police should also be considered. “Do we ever ask ourselves if these people’s lives are not also threatened? They also have loved ones.”

      She said many police officers work more than the normal working hours and under great tension.

      “Of course you don’t want to see people being killed. And people have the right to protest. But it must be peaceful.”

      - Beeld