THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has identified “hotspots” across the country where it has built “embryonic” United Front structures — but insists that they are not forerunners to a political party.
Head of the United Front and the Movement for Socialism Dinga Sikwebu says that despite a surge in service-delivery protests over the past 20 years, there is no cohesion in these struggles.
He says the United Front is not a coalition but the coming together of community and worker organisations against socioeconomic problems. It supported the Lwandle community in the Western Cape when they protested against their eviction from land belonging to the South African National Roads Agency and residents unhappy with the running of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro in the Eastern Cape.
At its launch next month United Front structures will decide how to approach the 2016 local government elections. While much has been made of the “Numsa moment” focusing largely on its split from the tripartite alliance, there is confusion about its 2013 decision to form a United Front and research the possibility of a workers party or a movement for socialism which may contest elections.
Its progress so far has been “uneven”, Mr Sikwebu admits, but it has made considerable gains in Gauteng and Mpumalanga — where it has launched structures — and in the Free State, Eastern Cape and Western Cape. The United front first found expression in a campaign against the National Employment Tax Incentive Act in June when it protested outside Parliament with other organisations. This approach was found wanting.
“The image we did not want to build was that of an ostrich, which is big up top but thin on the ground. So the best way to build embryonic United Front structures was in townships, where there is a concentration of our members and where there are (service delivery) hotspots,” Mr Sikwebu said.
The front is working with aggrieved residents in Ekurhuleni, to tackle the “surcharge” municipalities add to electricity payments. In Katlehong, Vosloorus and Thokoza, they are supporting campaigns for improvements to health facilities and lower costs for burial sites.
In Germiston, the United Front is campaigning for basic services such as water and electricity in informal settlements. In Mpumalanga, where “the appetite for the United Front is high”, according to Mr Sikwebu, youth groups and church organisations are supporting campaigns for safe mine dumps and clean water.
In the Eastern Cape the United Front has structures in Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, East London, Grahamstown and Sterkspruit. Head of ideological work for the United Front Zanoxolo Wayile — a former Nelson Mandela Bay Metro mayor and MP who failed to make the cut for a seat in Parliament — says they are targeting the massive crisis in education and health in the Eastern Cape.
Mr Wayile says corruption is also a major issue and disgruntled ANC councillors and Cosatu leaders are working with the United Front. He likened the structures being launched to the United Democratic Front of the 1980s: “We are not reinventing the wheel, we have been there in that space.
“We feel the United Front will take on its own political life independent of Numsa after its launch in December.” While the relationship between the front and Numsa’s possible launch of a political party appears tenuous, Mr Sikwebu likened the union’s role to that of a midwife. “The midwife doesn’t name the child, the child doesn’t look like the midwife. We are not building something that will look like Numsa, we are not building something that will dictate the policies of the government,” he says.
Mr Sibeku says that if organisations working under the United Front banner wish to raise the issue of contesting the 2016 elections at next month’s launch conference, Numsa will contribute to the debate but will not dictate a course of action. “People want an alternative, but there are dangers of getting into this electoral thing prematurely. You can be swallowed by the machine and you will not be different to anyone else. If we are cajoled into 2016, we may trip.
“My feeling is that in this there is going to be a combination of struggle, of electoral politics, and of litigation. If you put those three together it could be a way to fight issues,” he says.
The United Front will launch on December 14. Clarity on how the Movement for Socialism or Workers Party waiting in the wings will develop will emerge after Numsa’s March 2015 central committee meeting.