THE events unfolding at Lonmin’s Marikana mine and spreading through the mining sector are the culmination of a "systematic, orchestrated, long-time plan" by people within the African National Congress (ANC), with expelled youth league president Julius Malema as their front man, says Sdumo Dlamini, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Cosatu, part of the ruling alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP), is holding its national congress next week where it will have to strategise to counter the "onslaught" against its largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The union federation will also have to deal with internal conflicts — some of them linked to the ANC’s elective conference in December — that are threatening unity.
The mining sector, particularly in North West and on the West Rand, is facing massive labour unrest with workers ditching established trade union representation, mainly the NUM, and tabling wage demands outside of bargaining processes.
Mr Malema extended his assistance to striking workers at Marikana after 34 of their number were shot by police last month and has addressed strikers at Gold Fields, near Johannesburg, where he called for a national strike in the mining industry, demanding that the NUM’s leadership step down.
Mr Dlamini said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr Malema and his backers in the ANC were hoping to plunge South Africa into "chaos" in a bid to remove President Jacob Zuma as president of the party in December.
"We also understand that there have been certain individuals behind him who are funding this for their own political ambitions," he said.
"Julius Malema may be the point person running at the front, but we know that there are big guns behind him.
"It makes Cosatu very angry that people are going to use the unsuspecting workers, sometimes leading (them) to their deaths … just because people want to be president of the country or the ANC in future.
"This is a systematic, orchestrated, long-time plan that is unfolding now," Mr Dlamini said. "The ANC as the ruling party shouldn’t be afraid to be bold, condemn and expose … the ANC must continue to identify and deal with those who fund this chaos."
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said on Wednesday that Mr Malema was no longer a member of the party, which was unaware of "anyone who supports him in this current stance".
Mr Dlamini denied that there were divisions in Cosatu, but bemoaned trade union leaders who harped on about the deterioration of the federation without providing any solutions to the challenges it faced.
"It can’t be Cosatu that goes out loud and says we are a failing federation … instead of fixing the problems inside," he said. "What do you expect those members to do? You are literally saying they must get out of Cosatu, and that’s a problem."
He insisted that no "individual" leader would be allowed to divide Cosatu. "There is no leader, no matter how powerful that leader believes he is … who is capable of dividing Cosatu," Mr Dlamini said.
"If any individual assumes the position of ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ as an individual, Cosatu is capable of managing that."
General secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has repeatedly called for Cosatu to make a "mind-set change" or risk losing members. His leadership has been criticised as being too "individualistic".
However, Mr Dlamini poured cold water on claims that Cosatu’s house is divided, and denied that there are simmering tensions between him and Mr Vavi.
He said the challenge for the federation at its congress next week would be to defend Cosatu against the current onslaught, and the alliance as a whole.
"We have already started, we are all out on the ground to ensure that we close ranks, that we wage a fierce fight against the forces that seek to liquidate Cosatu," Mr Dlamini said.
The alliance was planning to claim back the ground it had lost in Marikana by holding a joint rally there. "We are planning to do that so that we say to those workers who are being misled in the mining industry … ‘Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC have not turned their backs on you, you have to come back, you have to work within your organisations,’" Mr Dlamini said.
He acknowledged that the alliance "may have not been up-front" and may not have "effectively" handled the challenges faced by mineworkers, but he said working conditions on the mines had improved considerably since the end of apartheid.
Mr Malema said last night that he would address mineworkers in Mpumalanga on Friday to discuss "the challenges facing workers in South Africa".
"The meeting will also look into the actions by the NUM national leadership of persecuting and isolating real mineworkers’ leaders in that region," said his spokesman, Floyd Shivambu.
"Mineworkers in Mpumalanga and across other regions of South Africa are facing illegal suspensions and persecution by the national leadership of the NUM, which has since neglected mineworkers and workers in the energy and construction sector s’ interests and only obsessed with ANC factional politics and business deals."