South African Labor Leader’s Resignation Shows Fracturing Unions

The head of the biggest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions said divisions within the group prompted him to resign, threatening deepening splits in the labor movement allied to the ruling party.

Cedric Gina’s resignation as president of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa followed confirmation yesterday by its national treasurer that the union was discussing quitting Cosatu and withdrawing support for the African National Congress. Gina said he opposes a split from Cosatu.

“There is too much bureaucracy in the union and as leaders we get ignored or told we are being influenced by outside forces,” Gina said today in a telephone interview.

A decision by Numsa to quit Cosatu and withdraw its support from the ANC has the potential to damage the governing alliance more than any other event since the first multiracial elections in 1994, Pierre du Toit, a politics professor at the University of Stellenbosch, said in a phone interview. South Africa is scheduled to hold elections before July.

“Cosatu’s power base is fracturing; it is certainly falling to pieces,” he said. “Developments within Numsa may potentially lead to the most significant realignment of South African politics since 1994.”

The 323,000-member Numsa has opposed a decision by Cosatu leaders to suspend General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi after he admitted having an extra-marital affair with a subordinate. Vavi, a critic of the ANC’s economic policies, has said his suspension is part of a political plot to weaken Cosatu.

Economic Policies

Cosatu opposed some of the government’s economic policies, including a decision to toll major roads around Johannesburg and allow so-called labor brokers to continue to operate.

While Numsa members may be in favor of the union leaving Cosatu, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will abandon support for the ANC, Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Helen Suzman Foundation, said by phone from Johannesburg.

Any group that left Cosatu would probably suffer splits itself, Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini said on Johannesburg-based broadcaster SAfm today.

If any union wants to walk out of the federation it can’t “hope to walk as a unified unit out of Cosatu,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Janice Kew in Johannesburg at jkew4@bloomberg.net; Amogelang Mbatha in Johannesburg at ambatha@bloomberg.net; Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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