South Africa’s Biggest Union to Review ANC Support Amid Tension

South Africa’s biggest labor group said it will decide this week whether to support the African National Congress in next year’s election amid rising tension within the ruling party’s alliance.

Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa holding a special congress in Johannesburg this week will discuss “the crisis of the alliance, the crisis within the Congress of South African Trade Unions and Numsa’s attitude to the South African national elections in 2014,” Christine Olivier, second vice president, told the conference. Andrew Chirwa, who was elected Numsa president today, said members must debate whether to call on President Jacob Zuma to resign.

The 330,000-member Numsa is threatening to withdraw from Cosatu, the ANC’s biggest ally, after the labor federation suspended General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi pending an investigation into an extra-marital affair he had with a subordinate. Vavi, who has criticized the ANC for its economic policies and failure to curb corruption, has said his suspension is part of a political plot to weaken Cosatu.

The ANC has won every election since the first multiracial one in 1994, ruling in alliance with Cosatu and the South African Communist Party.

Numsa’s criticism of Cosatu and its threat to withdraw its membership has sparked a backlash from the SACP, which said in an open letter yesterday that the union’s Secretary General Irvin Jim is seeking Vavi’s reinstatement to further his own political career. Jim said in an interview today that the SACP is trying to undermine Numsa.

Zuma Scandal

“They think that very cheaply they are going to separate Numsa leadership from our members,” Jim said. “The SACP barking on us demonstrates that Numsa is moving forward. They see nothing else except to defend the state, they are compromised and we will not waste our time on them.”

Chirwa told Numsa members today they should debate whether to ask Zuma to resign following a political scandal relating to misuse of public funds on renovations at his personal home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.

The Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian reported last month that a draft report by the nation’s corruption ombudsman found Zuma personally benefited from a state-funded upgrade of his home that cost more than 200 million rand ($19 million). The ANC has denied that Zuma was involved in any wrongdoing.

“Numsa has without fear or favor condemned this wanton misuse and theft of public funds, by all those involved,” Chirwa said. “Should we not ask that Jacob Zuma resign in the interest of the poorest of the poor?”

Thabo Mbeki, who was defeated by Zuma in 2007 in an election for the ANC’s top post and then ousted a year later as the nation’s president, told London-based Channel 4 News last week that Zuma should do the “honorable” thing by stepping down if the ANC asks him to do so.

Zuma, 71, was booed by a crowd of thousands of people at a memorial service on Dec. 10 for former President Nelson Mandela, while Mbeki was cheered.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amogelang Mbatha in Johannesburg at ambatha@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gordon Bell at gbell16@bloomberg.net

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