Socialist Worker

Numsa expulsion is a sign of the crisis in South Africa

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2429

Striking Numsa union members marching earlier this year

Striking Numsa union members marching earlier this year (Pic: Numsa)

The South African trade union federation Cosatu expelled the country’s biggest union, Numsa, last Saturday.

The equivalent in Britain would be the TUC expelling Unite. 

But the dramatic events are not unexpected. Whatever the official reasons given for the rift, the reality is about political shifts since the Marikana massacre in 2012.

Then the state shot and killed 34 striking miners.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said he would fight the expulsion. 

“Cosatu is consumed by internal battles between those who support the ANC and those who consciously fight for an independent, militant federation which stands for the working class,” he told a press conference.

“We have been rejected by Cosatu, but we have not been rejected by workers.”

The federation’s Special Central Executive Committee meeting voted through the expulsion by 33 votes to 24.

The most likely outcome now is that Numsa will establish a new, more radical union federation. 

Seven other unions announced on Monday of this week that they will not take part in Cosatu’s executive because of the expulsion.

Numsa has also launched a “united front” that it hopes will develop into a new workers’ party. 


It refused to campaign for the ANC in this year’s general election.

Numsa led a victorious mass strike earlier this year.

And mass strikes by new unions that are not affiliated to Cosatu, such as the miners’ Amcu union,  have exposed how conservative the main unions have become. 

Cosatu was established in 1986 to fight the apartheid regime, around the then radical National Union of Mineworkers and six metal workers’ unions that became Numsa.

But it is closely associated with the ruling ANC, as part of the tripartite alliance that had governed since black majority rule was won in 1994.

Jim said the ANC is pushing the expulsion. He said at the press conference that the party’s general secretary Gwede Mantashe “can look for the nearest cliff and jump”.

The federation is bogged down by internal rows. 

Its head Zwelinzima Vavi has been Numsa’s ally and his position is now in question.

The Democratic Left Front, which Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in South Africa supports, said, “Cosatu will degenerate further into essentially a sweetheart and bureaucratised union.”

It said the left “must regroup around the leadership of Numsa and fight for a new Cosatu that is militant, democratic, worker controlled, independent and socialist. 

“This will open a new chapter in the history of the workers’ movement in South Africa. Now is not the time to mourn. We must organise.”


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