Posted on October 2, 2010


A tsunami is a dangerous and almost entirely destructive event, a wave that sweeps all before it, damaging and destroying. Which is why it seemed unfortunate that Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi chose, before the last Cosatu congress, to refer to the the growing groundswell of support for the country’s then sacked deputy president, Jacob Zuma, as “an unstoppable tsunami”.

Tsunami seemed an inappropriate term. Especially since Vavi and others who enthusiastically joined the groundswell, claimed this as something of a cleansing agent, a tide of renewed democracy that would sweep away dead wood.

But, with hindsight, Vavi’s choice of words seems quite appropriate. Certainly in the sense that this political groundswell has, like any tsunami, left a trail of damage in its wake including considerable harm to the fabric of worker solidarity.

This wave has also not retreated to allow for reconstruction and rebuilding. Destructive currents continue to swirl, maintained by a high tide of emotion which even Gwede Mantashe, who was swept into the post of ANC secretary general by the same forces, has been unable to tame.

This is hardly surprising, since there exists a multitude of human agendas, including often naked self interest and a desire to settle old scores behind those who encourage the ongoing currents of destruction. It is the same mix of motives that energised the tsunami which hit the political shore in Polokwane in December.

It deposited Jacob Zuma safely on the high ground of ANC leadership and is no direct reflection on him. But it, and the currents it generated, certainly reflect none-too-favourably on many of those who whipped up that wave and who continue to promote the rip tides and whirlpools that threaten still more damage.

This week’s fracas at the SABC and the rumpus that passed for the recent congress of the ANC Youth League are all evidence of the aftermath of the political tsunami. So too was the brief but bitter outbreak of infighting within the National Union of Metalworkers and the current rumblings of disquiet among elements of the labour movement.

Much of this disquiet is focussed on the currents that are attempting to undermine sacked Cosatu president Willie Madisha in his role as unsalaried chair of the Job Creation Trust (JCT), which he has held for most of the nearly ten years of the trust’s existence. Yet the JCT, under the stewardship of Madisha, is one of the labour movement’s greatest social achievements.

Working with the Development Bank, the JCT has created, on average, nearly 4 000 jobs a year, most of them sustainable. This is probably a better record than any other single agency, public or private, in the country.

Community and co-operative job creation was financed by a fund of R89 million created when organised workers donated one day’s wages to the JCT in 1998. So far, R53 million has been disbursed. But, courtesy of shrewd investments and protected by properly audited accounts, the JCT, at the end of last month, still boasted a fund of R89 million.

Celebration of these facts was dampened when Vavi demanded that Madisha be dismissed as JCT chair and as a trustee. But the demand was dismissed unanimously by a board meeting which included trustees from all three founding union federations.

It was a small sign that the tide of often blind emotion that created the Polokwane tsunami and sustained its aftermath is now in retreat; that reasonable assessment of established facts may be taking the place of blind emotion, often fuelled by misinformation.

One important fact is that a united labour movement created and funded an independent trust that has an enviable record of job creation and financial accountability. The bulk of the labour movement would almost certainly see this as a beacon of hope and not a target to be undermined.

Posted in: Archive - 2008