Unions march to different tunes ahead of elections 

South Africa’s major trade -union federations are divided over who their members should vote for in Wednesday’s national and provincial elections. 

While Cosatu, which boasts more than 1,8 million members and is allied to the ANC has openly rallied its members to vote for the party, one of the country’s biggest unions Numsa has taken a rather radical stance. 

“Numsa has taken a conscious political decision that we will not dictate to the working class in general which political party they must vote for, it is for them to choose,” the union’s general secretary Irvin Jim said in articulating the union’s position on the elections. 


Numsa is affiliated to Cosatu’s rival the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), led by Zwelinzima Vavi, a former general secretary of Cosatu. 

“Just like a union is a voluntary organisation, Numsa is very clear that history will judge us harshly if we were to keep quiet and allow our members without guidance to vote for the worst political butchers in the form of these right-wing capitalist political parties who have no mercy for the working class,” Jim said. 

The National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) general secretary Narius Moloto took a cautious approach. 

“We do not want divide workers by telling them who to vote for. We leave the choice to them,” Moloto said. 

Nactu is one of the country’s major union federations, boasting more than 400 000 members.  

Its largest affiliate is the Association of Mine-workers and Construction Union. 


Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said the federation was “humbled by the faith workers have in Cosatu and the ANC”. 

“We are excited by the workers’ passion to defend the gains we have won and to vote in their millions on election day to ensure the ANC is returned to office with a huge majority,” Losi said. 

She said Cosatu did not want to nullify some of the governance mistakes, and that as an alliance, Cosatu was entitled to point out challenges and mistakes to ensure they were addressed. 

“It is natural to be irritated with the government over our difficulties and not to accept our own goals.  

“This has been the tradition of Cosatu, but equally, we are correctly proud of our alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party,” Losi said. 

While Numsa has refused to align itself with any political party, it has, however, singled out seven parties it described as being “anti-workers” for -voters to boycott. 

These are the DA, Patriotic Front, ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus, Build One SA, Rise Mzansi and the African Christian Democratic Party. 

Jim said these “anti-worker political parties” do not deserve the workers’, and should be snubbed, arguing that “they will take the working back to slavery”. 

Saftu spokesperson Trevor Shaku said while condemning the government’s weaknesses in various areas, sight should not be lost on the positive things brought about by the governing party. 

“It is our contention that we are on the march towards a failed state, however, it is not true that apartheid and colonialism are better than democracy no matter how liberal this democracy is. 

“The gains registered by the workers are significant. Strides have been made such as inclusive access to education, healthcare, water supply, and electricity to improve people’s lives,” Shaku said. 

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