NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Comrade Mtutuzeli Tom’s Memorial Lecture delivered by the President of NUMSA, Cde Cedric Sabelo Gina

22 October 2012, Posted in Campaigns, Speeches

Cde Mtutuzeli Tom is the son of Mpongo Village who was born on 07 September 1959. He lived an exemplary life of selflessness and sacrifice that we are here to celebrate and take a leaf from!

In his final farewell in 2010, I explained its extra-ordinary nature. I said he was special, and I repeat he was extra special.

It is for this reason that we have decided that Cde Mtutuzeli Tom will be celebrated each and every year without fail by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and this we will always do so that we may produce more like him to lead our union and the working class that is longing for more like him.

Mtura in the student politics

Comrade Mtura started to be noticed as a leader in the student politics. He participated in the organizing of COSAS in Mdantsane.

He did not shy away from challenges that were there at the time, there were serious challenges that led to fights about which group of young people was organizing young people in line with what the ANC,which was banned at the time, wanted the young students to be organised.

It is not a mistake that when he joined Mercedes Benz in 1983, then other young people elected him to be a shopsteward.

He was also an activist of the East London Youth Congress. I will talk later about the time Cde Tom led a workers in Mercedes Benz before he became a Deputy Chair of Cosatu in 1988 and the President of Numsa in 1992.

Cde Mtura led the trade union movement when it was not easy for a person to utter words, "I am available", because uttering those words meant an immediate attention by the Special Branch that worked hand and glove with many companies.

I think things have changed now, the words "I am available" have become very easy to say, sometimes leading to serious problems for the organization. In fact, a new and foreign tendency is taking place when comrades who want to respond to a question of availability go out of their way to request that, that particular question be posed!!!.

It is wrong and it must stop because Mtura will not be proud of any leader of NUMSA or of the ANC for that matter to behave in that way.

I met Mtura for the first time in Empangeni, as a young apprentice metalworker that was working for Genrec Engineering, a Murray and Roberts subsidiary in Richards Bay.

He came to address a rally of metalworkers in the midst of Inkatha/ Third Force inspired violence in KwaZulu Natal. He was a fearless metalworker.

He came to report the organisational issues of NUMSA and more so the political developments pertaining to CODESA including imminent departure of other COSATU leaders to ANC government after the 1994 elections.

I vividly remember that he came with Cde Alec Erwin, who promised metalworkers in that stadium that the end of apartheid he was going to allow his baldness to go away!.

I guess his life and politics changed dramatically. When he denounced the ANC in 2009, Cde Tom was still an active member of his branch in Mdantsane where he lived until his untimely death in 2010 just after South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup.

I think my second meeting with Mtura was a Central Committee meeting held in Woodmead before the Mafikeng Congress of 2000, where in his opening speech, he reminded Central Committee members that he was from a township; Mdantsane and people must always remember that when they do their dirty campaigning.

Mdantsane is a township that is known for having produced countless champions in boxing. I assume this was a rare moment that Cde Slumko Nondwangu talks about when he says it is hard to count more than five times when Mtura was angry.

The opening of this particular Central Committee before the 2000 Congress was a case in point. It was my first central committee as my region’s Central Committee delegate.

Dare I remind you that all current NOBs of NUMSA are from different creations of apartheid called townships, ranging from Esikhawini, Motherwell, Mamelodi, Atlantis and KwaNobuhle!

Leading to the Mafikeng Congress, he acted as a General Secretary and the President of the Union at the same when Comrade Peter Dantjie unexpectedly left the organisation after the untimely passing away of Cde Mbuyiselo Ngwenda.

He delivered a safe and sound, but broke national union to that national congress. Let me hasten to clarify that he had no role in that situation, there were many practices that were not in order that were taking place in the national union.

He had a plan, together with the collective that was elected in that Congress, he implemented a turnaround plan that gave a sustainable life that NUMSA enjoys today.

Many dishonest officials left the union at that time

For the sake of Marikana massacre and the unnecessary death of more than 44 workers, I want to spend more time discussing Cde Tom, the Mercedes Benz shopsteward and what lessons we can learn from him as current shopstewards; this includes us who are current National Office Bearers. I will talk later about Cde Tom, the longest serving President of NUMSA.

Comrade Tom played a prominent role in convincing NAAWU and SAAWU comrades to join a united metalworkers union, the coming of Mercedes Benz SAAWU comrades into the 1989 merger Congress was largely as a result of the work that Cde Mtura did in Mercedes Benz.

But his leadership skills were to be tested when some NUMSA workers started a strike against National Bargaining Forum which was a NUMSA national decision that was to change collective bargaining in South Africa.

A sleep in was started, with the flags of the SACP and ANC put in the premises of the company. At this point, he was a Deputy Chairperson of COSATU in the Eastern Cape Province and an ordinary fulltime shopsterwad at Mercedes Benz and the NBF delegate for Mercedes Benz.

He defended with his life, the decision of the national union to negotiate at a national level. When other shop stewards organised a sleep in in the plant, he organised daily meetings of other workers in Gompo Hall in Duncan Village. The numbers of workers in Gompo Hall increased day by day, led by Cde Tembalethu Fikizolo and Cde Mtutuzeli Tom.

I can already visualize the similarities between the Koppie in Marikana, the Mercedes Benz sleep-in and the Gompo Hall meetings in Duncan Village! Do I have your attention comrades?

Comrade Mtura and Cde Tembalethu were already given names of being collaborators at this point and those years it was like a death sentence to be called a collaborator but listen to how Cde Mtura responds to suggestions that ringleaders of the Mercedes Benz sleep-in must be fired from the union, he says; “

The involvement of the ANC and the SACP helped the situation because when the NUMSA leadership called for both this organization of the people, their senior leadership was at hand to intervene.

The ANC was represented by Cde Steve Tshwete, Cde Wilton Mkwayi. The General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, Cde Joe Slovo represented the SACP and Cde John Gomonono represented COSATU.

A mass meeting was held in a church hall in Mdantsane with all this leaders present in the meeting. It is said that Cde Arnold Stofile had raised an issue about these workers having a political agenda but this did not stop the intervention of the leadership.

On the other side, the employers had met with the then head of international relations of the ANC, Cde Thabo Mbeki. According to Mr. Ian Russel, they met him to explain the dangers of the Germans deciding to disinvest in South Africa because of the Mercedes Benz sleep in!

Mtura, the longest serving President of NUMSA

Cde Tom took the position of the President at a very interesting time in South Africa. The ANC had just been unbanned two years earlier and the CODESA negotiations were taking place.

NUMSA was just from posing serious questions about the future relationship of workers with the ANC.

When the democratic decision was taken by the federation, he marshaled NUMSA to contribute to the content of the ANC economic policy from the trade union socialist perspective, true to the NUMSA preamble and the Freedom Charter.

That humble contribution assisted the contribution of COSATU to the RDP document that became the ANC economic policy document towards the 1994 democratic breakthrought.

He led NUMSA that had very strong locals that led in many COSATU locals and ANC branches.

When violence affected our comrades in the East Rand and KwaZulu Natal, under his leadership NUMSA took a decision to defend our members with every tool we could find and that decision ensured that the negotiations process proceeded despite serious attempts from many sections of SA society to derail them.

He was surely devasted when Cde Chris Hani was murderded in cold blood, but he clearly understood when Cde Mandela commanded us to give peace a chance and I am sure he calmed all members of NUMSA who were ready to avenge that painful death.

Cde Tom was more than happy to see countless metalworkers joining the ANC government at different levels.

He deployed the following comrades, Cde Enock Godongwane, Cde Willies Mchunu, Cde Bheki Ntuli, Cde Alfred Mtsie, Cde Mike Mabuyakhulu, Cde Alex Erwin, Cde Bennie Fanarof, Cde John Gomomo, Cde Danny Oliphant and many more leaders.

He was content with remaining in NUMSA even when he could have easily been deployed himself. Even at the later stage, he released one of his closest National Office Bearer, Cde Vincent Mabuyakhulu who was his Deputy President.

It is unfortunate that some, very few, of the comrades have done things that would have made Cde Tom to be very angry against the workers and poor. I call on all metalworkers who find themselves in positions of power, be it as a government official or politician, just to take one moment and reflect about whether Cde Tom would be proud of their contribution to the NDR or not!.

I was in Sweden last week, when we met with the Social Democratic Party (now led by a metalworker), Cde Stefan Loftven and also visited a Member of Parliament who was sent to parliament by the Social Democratic Party coming or supported by the metalworkers union.

He meets with the union leadership and their research department twice a month to do what all workers were taught, to take a mandate and report back.

I know that we want to have powers to recall our deployed cadres and He would have agreed with us but I think he would have called for a reflection about the current deployment strategy of our federation and our affiliates.

Because, clearly comrades, we do not have a plan for our comrades who get deployed to government and I think it s for this reason that we discovered after a long time, when damage was done others have ideologically crossed the floor.

They were no longer acting as disciplined members of the ANC or SACP but as disciplined members of a class that works fulltime against workers and the working class.

I will later talk about how Cde Mtura is missed by the international metalworker’s movement and the working class.

NUMSA played a crucial role in the struggles that took place when we started to block the attempts by the neoliberals in our movement, the ANC. The dumping of the RDP was painful to Cde Mtura, as it was to all of us.

In NUMSA, it brought back the debates about whether the Alliance was relevant post the liberation. There again, Cde Mtura did not kill the debate, he allowed it and guided it to our continued commitment to these Revolutionary Alliance.

In the midst of those debates and the antiprivatisation strikes NUMSA lost a young hero, an organic intellectual par excellence, Cde Mbuyiselo Ngwenda. Cde Mtura was devastated, we were devastated.

NUMSA would never be the same again. When Cde Peter Dantjie was supposed to fill that vacuum, he was overwhelmed and left to join Samancor. Cde Mtura was tasked by the union to leave Mercedes Benz and be based in Johannesburg on a full time basis to run the union as a President and the General Secretary.

Once again, he did not say no when he was asked but most importantly, when he read that report in Mafikeng Congress as a General Secretary, he was clear that someone else must take the reins. He was not an opportunist at all. Then came in Cde Slumko Nondwangu.

I will be failing in my duty today if I do not spend more time here. The corrupt officials and the Special Branch of the South African Police had colluded to destroy NUMSA.

When Cde Tom and Cde Vincent Mabuyakhulu went to Johannesburg, the National Union was technically bankrupt and it was very hard.

When we went to the Congress in Mafikeng, as a union, we had an overdraft of more than R5 million. Cde Tom played an important role in our current achievements of more than R300 million in reserves.

We will forever be indebted to him and other leaders in all our structures that led with him from year 2000 until his untimely passing in 2010, two years after he had graciously handed the baton to the next President of the Union.

Cde Tom loved NUMSA and always thought about its future. I want to share with you, my complete surprise when both Cde Tom and Cde Vincent Mabuyakhulu came to Durban to meet with Cde Basil Cele and Cde Petros Ngcobo. I was an RFC member at the time.

I was part of the ROB meetings because KwaZulu Natal in its wisdom extended all ROB meetings to Regional Finance Committee members.

I later heard that they had come to request my leadership in KwaZulu Natal to release me to stand as a Second Deputy President in the 2004 National Congress because other regions of NUMSA have discussed this matter with them.

I am forever grateful to you comrades for sending Cde Mtura to do that visionary task and he could have rightly opposed you and suggested another experienced and older comrade.

I think the significance of this matter is that in NUMSA, you can be an RFC member today or a LOB member but metalworkers have the possibility to pull you from where you are and make you a national leader, no one needs to call regional leaders and tell them that he is ready to lead.

Metalworkers have eyes and ears.They will all the time do the best for this organization, just like Cde Mtura did!

It was a privilege to lead with Cde Mtura. I know that I speak on behalf of many other leaders who passed through his teachings that happened in different ways.

The "Standerton Minute" is another moment where Cde Tom succesfully led us to stay united as a union.

Indeed, his experience of dealing with Merceds Benz sleep in came handy when some disgruntled regions of NUMSA were ready to split NUMSA but through political engagement, even when they came with Mr. Madisha, he helped to maintain a united organisation.

It was sad that Cde Tom became sick towards the end of his term in 2008 and he then spent less and less time in the union activities.

I always felt very bad as his second Deputy President when I would sit in a meeting with him here in East London, where we will come to have NOB meetings to accommodate his health situation, when I will pick up from his contribution that this is not the Mtura who taught me leadership.

Despite all that, I will be consoled by all the teachings he gave me and know that if he had an opportunity to hear all sides of the story, he would have reasoned differently.

Cde Mtura, the staunch believer in socialism

Cde Mtura never minced his words when he spoke about socialism. He instilled a conviction to us that socialism is the future, we must build it now.

So far, Cde Mtura is the only President of NUMSA who had a poster filling the SACP debit order form because he strongly believed that a NUMSA member who is not a member of both ANC and SACP is a member that need serious political education.

He enjoyed speaking to metalworkers, helping them all the time in his speeches, to appreciate the importance of belonging to the SACP and the ANC.

I attended the Rusternburg Congress of the SACP. Cde Mtura was in attendance representing our union. I was there as a delegate representing BHP Billiton Alluminium workplace structure of SACP which he had encouraged.

This Conference of the SACP discussed many issues including politically purging communists who were serving in the Cabinet of President Thabo Mbeki that was implementing the GEAR policy.

I could not read his mind in that conference but I know that he supported the struggle against the GEAR policy. The same conference said that disciplined communists implement what is decided by the organisation that deploys them, in this case, our ANC.

In hindsight, I think here there was a political contradiction, viewed dialectically or otherwise, there was a political contradiction.

Many things have happened since then, including an intellectual intervention by our SACP that what we were dealing with then in the Rustenburg Congress can be summed up as a sophisticated strategy of the neoliberals in the ANC as the 1996 Class Project.

In hindsight again, maybe if this intellectual intervention, the further probing question about this communists, was going to be whether they did not leave the SACP together with President Thabo Mbeki in 1988? I am sure Cde Tom was going to ask if indeed it was correct to change the SACP into a mass party after the unbanning? Cde Mthura was not going to understand why the SACP and NUMSA leadership has not find time to meet, when Cde Joe Slovo came in person to intervene in the Mercedes Benz sleep in strike in Mdatshane.

I am raising these important questions for our NDR so that new organic intellectuals of our union can write, write and write to seek for solutions of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Let us make Cde Tom happy by engaging on his questions in our SACP workplace units that must multiply in all our factories.

Cde Mtura would have been pained by the sour relationship that has happened between the leadership of the SACP and the leadership of COSATU, in particular the deliberate isolation of his affiliate NUMSA when it was always explaining a COSATU CEC position.

He really would have expected the SACP leadership to avail itself for bilateral meetings with NUMSA as an important affiliate of COSATU that shares a similar view with the SACP that this country needs an industrial strategy as one measure of reversing the influence of Mineal Energy and Finance Complex in our economy.

Cde Tom loved the ANC. I will not be able to talk about his underground activities because he never blew his horn – that would be unlike him anyway. I know that he played an important role in the underground work of the movement, not only in Mdantsane.

Let me hasten to talk about Cde Tom who strongly believed in the basic structure of the ANC, the branch in Mdantsane. When the movement was under attack from COPE, he was very angry.

When we visited his branch as metalworkers in January 2009 to prepare for the mother of all 8 January statement that shocked South African people who were bombarded with an obituary of the ANC, he was very happy. Cde Tom believed in the ANC and he made many metalworkers to believe in the ANC.

I think he would have reflected on what has happened between 2007 and 2012. I am sure he will be angry that the labour brokers issue has not been resolved in our country.

He will be angry that what he thought can only be done by Gqozo's soldiers was done by our police under a democratic government, whilst he would have welcomed the Furlam Commission of Enquiry, he would supported the COSATU Congress declaration.

He would have agreed with NUMSA that there are lessons that we must all learn from the Marikana Massacre, in particular the events that led to Marikana…surely he would have shared with us, the discussions and discipline that accompanied the Gompo Hall meetings during the sleep in strike of Mercedes Benz.

Lastly, on Mangaung, he would be excited that COSATU has adopted the NUMSA approach of continuity and change.

He will be calling for stability in Mangaung. In his own way, he would force us to self-critically reflect about Polokwane and the wrong methods that we adopted in achieving the Polokwane outcome including questionable characters that we worked with to achieve the change that was necessary at the time.

He will indeed support that leaders from unions must avail themselves to lead this important movement to the workers and the people of our country and the continent.
However, he will be disturbed that once again, we will rely on persuasion of branches only to have the working class leadership of our movement because we have not implemented our ever important 2003 Cosatu Congress resolution called the 2015 plan, in particular the swelling of the ranks of leadership in the ANC.

He will not be pleased that some opportunists who, not long ago, have called COSATU all kinds of names, had been crossing fingers that COSATU CEC was going to join them in their campaign to continue to cause problems for the movement that is still trusted by our people.

He will be extremely happy that COSATU has emphasized the importance of a radical economic policy shift that must be endorsed by the leadership that will be re-elected in Mangaung and the working class leadership that will join them.

Talking about COSATU, he would have appreciated the outcome of the COSATU Congress of a united outcome in the leadership process, but he would have advised that COSATU leadership must with immediate effect make time to seriosly discuss some worrying tendencies that took place towards the Congress.

Whilst he loved the SACP and the ANC, he will not be afraid to condemn their role in the skirmishes that we saw in COSATU National Congress if he thought they played a role.

He believed that COSATU independent role must be respected without unscientific questions like "independence from what" that we were hearing in our own Congress, instead of a contribution of how independent allies would ensure a stronger Alliance position at he end of the meeting.

In the 1998 address to COSATU by President Mandela, he understood the meaning of what President Mandela was saying when he said COSATU must be able to take independent decisions in opposition to neoliberal policies that maybe taken from time to time in our beloved broad church, the AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS.

At some point we must theorise about use of the term church, because it can be associated with priesthood and ordinarily in society, the priests are messengers of God. Cde Tom would have preferred a bus analogy and not the one that says wait for another bus, but the one that's says get into the bus and fight to take over the driver's seat.

Cde Mtura, the internationalist!

Cde Tom was a tower of the metalworker’s struggles in the globe. Comrades in Sweden, South Korea, Italy and Germany remember him all the time. I just want to quote a recent message from Swedish Union, IF Metal;
"IF Metall remembers Tom as a very passionate Trade Unionist.

He always put its members first and worked hard to improve the working conditions for the NUMSA members.

Tom was also a great friend to Sweden and IF Metall, and we were lucky to meet him lots of times, in both of our countries. We had long discussion about Trade Union issues as well as political. It was always very stimulating".

He was instrumental in the merger of the metalworkers unions in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. He was angry at what ZANU PF was doing to its citizens who are in trade unions, despite some former leaders of the ANCYL saying we can learn some lessons from ZANU PF.

I think as Africans, we all like the resoluteness of President Mugabe to imperialists but to only praise that and stop listening to workers in factories in Zimbabwe who are saying that since some companies have been taken over by war veterans, they do not get their salaries, production is no longer planned, then we must ask, is that what we must learn?

Cde Tom would have posed this question just like he navigated between those who were saying the sleep in in Mercedes Benz can proceed until Mercedes Benz Head Office closes the South African factory, I am sure those statements sounded very revolutionary but no one knows if the economy of East London would have become what it s today or even the funding of the East London IDZ was going to come from National Government without an anchor employer like Mercedes Benz.

He was a trade unionist indeed who thinks about the needs of his constituency at all times.

Dear comrades, I have raised a number of important things about the leadership of Cde Mtura and I have also raised questions, some may argue they are controversial, but I think they are important to be discussed.

I appeal to our union, and other organizations in the Alliance mentioned to take these important questions in a comradely manner, they are all meant to build our movement.

I wish all the branches of the ANC the success as they put aside their prejudices and work in unity to repair the standing of the ANC that is being affected by factionalism, careerism, corruption and blatant opportunism of people who condemn the slate politics and then propose a slate for the branches to use in the same meeting.

I persuade you to remember what we are saying as NUMSA and COSATU, continuity and change plus a radical economic policy shift to reverse once and for all the damages of the 1996 class project in our society.

I want to thank the regional and local leadership for the role they played in ensuring that this day is a success.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the family for allowing us to talk about a man they borrowed us for more than 20 years and appreciate that they are here.

I want to impress upon Mkhonto and Amahle to make their Mom and late father very proud by reaching the sky in their careers and education.

I thank you!