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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Unions give Mbeki the cold shoulder

25 Oct 2002 00:00

The Congress of South African Trade Unions' (Cosatu) member unions boycotted President Thabo Mbeki's stakeholders' forum at the Sandton Convention Centre last week, complaining that the federation itself had not been invited.

Cosatu and its affiliates took a resolution not to attend the forum, saying the snub was part of a campaign to divide the federation's national leaders from its affiliates.

They also took a position that they could not attend such a forum until Cosatu's differences with African National Congress leaders and the government were settled.

The stakeholders' forum formed a part of Mbeki's three-day imbizo tour of Gauteng.

Government spokesperson Harold Maloka said the invitations were handled by the Gauteng government. Thabo Masebe, a Gauteng government spokesperson, reasoned that since the imbizo programme was a provincial one, Cosatu's provincial leadership had been invited.

Reacting to Cosatu's two-day anti-privatisation strike early this month, Mbeki and other government figures attacked Cosatu's leadership as "ultra-leftist". The Cabinet described the strike as a failure and declared there was a "crisis of leadership" in Cosatu.

At the Sandton Convention Centre, Mbeki lashed Cosatu for its opposition to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad). He mocked Cosatu's claim that it had not been consulted over Nepad's formulation, saying it had been aware of the process through representatives who attended Organisation of African Unity meetings where the plans were discussed.

Over the weekend, Mbeki also lambasted Cosatu during his imbizo. Responding to a question about the privatisation of Telkom, he said in a mocking tone that no state asset had been privatised. He told the cheering crowd that Telkom, Eskom and Transet all belonged to the state.

He responded in more detail a day earlier while addressing workers in Rosslyn in Pretoria. "There is not a single restructuring programme which happened without the consent of the relevant trade unions," he said.

"The only two companies government privatised were SunAir and Aventura. There was no reason why government should run a small company like SunAir, which was of no strategic importance. When Aventura was privatised -- because government could not run holiday resorts -- it was Cosatu that bought it but later could not raise the money. When people go around agitating against privatisation, you should be asking them 'what are you talking about?'"

Cosatu's Vukani Mde said it was "untrue" that Cosatu had endorsed any restructuring. He said the unions were only concerned about the privatisation of basic services. "The Communication Workers' Union is opposed to the ongoing privatisation of Telkom, which will cost in total 25 000 jobs by next year. More than 22 000 have already lost their jobs."

Mde pointed out that the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union has consistently opposed the "unilateral" concessioning of the country's ports. Likewise, the National Union of Mineworkers had fought the planned privatisation of 30% of Eskom's generation capacity.

"Where there has been meaningful consultation and agreement, as over Spoornet and Denel, the commitment of the government to the agreements has left much to be desired."

Mde said that if Mbeki believed the unions supported these restructuring plans, he had probably been "misinformed" by the ministers or senior officials in charge of the relevant sectors.

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