Posted on October 2, 2010


Finance minister Trevor Manuel’s insistence in his budget speech that “we are all in it together” in “this shared future” rang rather hollow for a number of trade unionists. Some members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) regard it as particularly ironic.

These are the NUM members at mine services group, Teba Limited, where they are involved in a dispute that clearly illustrates the divisions and contradictions within the economy and society. NUM has a 25 per cent shareholding in Teba where the chief executive, who also happens to be the deputy chair of AngloGold Ashanti, is James Motlatse, a founder member and former president of the NUM.

Last month, Teba faced a two-day strike by employees, furious at the company’s 5 per cent pay offer. The generally skilled workers, most earning R3 500 a month, initially demanded 9 per cent.

Says Teba shop steward’s council chair, Khanyi Khohlooa: “The company said there was no money. That is when the directors suddenly discovered we were shareholders and asked us how we could strike against ourselves.” It provided a short, sharp lesson in the nature of shareholder democracy

Says Khohlooa: “With 25 per cent we could do nothing; the directors decide.”

NUM negotiator, Eddie Majadibodu, maintains that the fact that this situation has arisen in a company in which NUM has shares and where the CEO is a former union president, has caused “a lot of confusion”. It has also resulted in “many of us thinking again about the whole issue of union investment companies”.

Khohlooa agrees. “We now realise that the only way worker investment companies can make money is by exploiting workers.”

But, she also agrees with Manuel that workers, managers, bosses and investors are all “in it together”. Except that she likens the economic and social environment to a train where “a few [the bosses] are in first class, many workers are in third class and a lot are in fifth class — the cattle trucks”.

As many unionists see it, the first class section of the South African economic train has become increasingly luxurious by filching an ever greater share of available resources. For NUM members this is particularly galling.

Not only is former union president Motlatsi seen as having used the union to propel himself into the first class, other former officials are also seen to have done so over the past decade. The most prominent member of this group is former NUM general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa.

When he branched into business in 1996, Ramaphosa was joined by former NUM senior negotiator Irene Charnley who became a director of Johnnic Communications. She is now a director of at least seven companies and was nominated businesswoman of the year in 2000.

In 1997, former NUM deputy general secretary Marcel Golding and former SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union general secretary, John Copelyn left parliament and launched Hosken Consolidated Investments with R481 million of union money. Today HCI is a R10 billion conglomerate and the 17 per cent of HCI that Golding and Copelyn own between them is worth more than R1.6 billion.

“And all we are saying to these people in the first class is that we just want a decent living wage,,” says Khohlooa.

But, as many of the passengers in the working class areas of the economic train see it, conditions for them continue to worsen while their own collective funds contribute to the affluent lifestyle of bosses, old and new.

Says Majadibodu: “We in the union movement are going to have to look at this whole investment thing again.

Posted in: Archive - 2008