South Africa’s Biggest Labor Union Withdraws Support for ANC

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country’s biggest labor group, said it won’t endorse the ruling African National Congress in next year’s election and called on President Jacob Zuma to resign.

The ANC’s political alliance with workers is “dysfunctional, in crisis, paralyzed,” Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim said in Johannesburg today, reading from the resolutions of this week’s special congress. Numsa will begin work on forming a political grouping to challenge the ANC in elections in the future, Jim said.

Numsa’s move is the first by an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the ANC’s biggest ally, to withdraw support for the ruling party. The 338,000-member organization has criticized the ANC’s economic policies, which it says favors the wealthy and black elite and hasn’t done enough to reduce poverty and create jobs for the one in four South Africans without work.

“There is clearly an increase in the fracture of support for the ANC,” Adam Habib, a political analyst and the vice chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said in a phone interview. “The big question is by how much the support will dwindle.”

Numsa today called on the 2.2 million-member Cosatu to split from its alliance with the ANC. The ruling party has won every vote since the first multiracial one in 1994 with more than 60 percent support, gaining 65.9 percent in the poll four years ago.

At Loggerheads

While Numsa’s decision will lead to a drop in financial and electoral campaign support for the ANC in the short term, “on its own it’s not debilitating to the ANC,” Habib said. “The real issue is whether Numsa is prepared to use its base and resources to form its own political party which will contest for votes.”

Cosatu and the ANC are still discussing the matter and aren’t ready to make a statement yet, Keith Khoza, spokesman for the ruling party, and Patrick Craven, his counterpart at the labor federation, said in phone interviews today.

Numsa has been at loggerheads with the leadership of Cosatu since the group’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, was suspended in August pending an investigation into an extra-marital affair he had with a subordinate. Vavi, a vocal critic of the ANC and Zuma, has said his suspension is part of a political plot to weaken Cosatu.

Zuma Booed

Zuma should resign because of the poor record of his administration in tackling corruption, Jim said. Zuma, 71, is embroiled in a political scandal relating to the possible misuse of more than 200 million rand ($19 million) of public funds used to upgrade his personal residence in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.

“Since the allegations on use of taxpayers’ money for renovations of the president’s home, there have been concerted attempts to squash the truth,” Jim said.

Numsa’s call adds to those made by opposition parties after the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian newspaper said last month a draft report by the nation’s corruption ombudsman found Zuma personally benefited from the renovations to the home that went beyond required security upgrades. The ombudsman’s final report is due to be released next year.

Zuma was last week booed by a crowd of tens of thousands of people at a globally televised memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died on Dec. 5. That prompted Thabo Mbeki, who was defeated by Zuma in an election for the ANC’s top post in 2007 and then ousted a year later as the nation’s president, to say Zuma should step down if the ANC asks him to do so.

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