Cyril RamaphosaOn Monday South Africa’s metalworkers union, Numsa, made what may prove to be a final break with the African National Congress, announcing it would work towards founding a new socialist movement. They had particularly harsh words for vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Numsa’s general secretary Irvin Jim said that the union was under attack because of its “socialist revolutionary character”, because the ANC was now led by a “filthy rich black and African tiny middle class” — politically represented by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We reiterate our very correct political analysis that the ANC’s Task Team intervention, led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, was not only a farce, but an overall flouting of Cosatu’s constitution and founding principle of being a worker-controlled and democratic union federation of workers,” Jim said

Now Ramaphosa may today indeed be “filthy rich” but once he was a leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. I happened to come across an issue of the South African Labour Bulletin of May-June 1987 last night. It indicates that these tensions between Ramaphosa and the metalworkers goes back nearly three decades.

Metalworkers – even then – supported socialism and greater workers control. Ramaphosa, on the other hand, was pushing the ANC’s key policy document, the Freedom Charter. Was there not a gap between these two positions, Ramaphosa was asked. This was his reply:

national consciousness and socialist consciousness are complementary…and between the two there is no gap

“…we believe that the struggle for the seizure of power by the people is by no means a negation of the struggle for an exploitation-free society. I do not think that MAWU” (a predecessor to Numsa) “can be so erroneous as to believe that in a South Africa of our experience, liberation from racist oppression is no liberation at all. A correct exposition of the character of our struggle will confirm that national consciousness and socialist consciousness are complementary in achieving a South Africa free from national oppression and economic exploitation.

Perhaps it needs to be underlined that trade union struggle is not an alternative route to that South Africa of our vision, but rather an indispensable part thereof. And our view is: fine, ultimately there has to be a system where there would not be any exploitation of anybody – a socialist system – but then again you still have to canvas mandates from people…Socialism is something you start building and learning and working through and discussing and so forth, and you move towards it – and between the two there is no gap.”