South African Labor Leader Quits Showing 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 comments 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, while Numsa General-Secretary Irvin Jim called reports that the union may leave Cosatu “sensationalism.”

“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 it won 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.”

Vavi’s Suspension

The 323,000-member Numsa has opposed a decision by Cosatu leaders to suspend General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi after he acknowledged 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.

Cosatu opposed some of the government’s economic policies, including a decision to charge tolls on major roads around Johannesburg and allow suppliers of temporary workers 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.

Jim, the Numsa general-secretary, called Gina’s resignation a “betrayal” motivated by personal political aspirations.

“There is nothing on the congress agenda about Numsa leaving Cosatu,” he said.

ANC Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize said the party was concerned about the dispute among its labor allies.

“It will not help the country, it will not help the ANC,” he told the Cape Town Press Club. “We really hope these matters can be resolved. All the ANC can do is play a supportive role.”

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