Below is a brief interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Stephanie Naidoo had with National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) President, Piet Matosa, on the state of the Union amid retrenchments in the mining industry.
Interviewer: On the general state of the Union, which is bleeding membership, and unable to fight the onslaught from AMCU and NUMSA. What is your response to this as the President of the NUM?
Piet Matosa: You will recall that we started to lose the membership when there was an exodus in 2012. As far as NUMSA is concerned, I am unable to confirm whether, you know, they have recruited any of our members because, you will recall that since they were dismissed or expelled from COSATU; they were expelled for poaching the memberships from other unions, and extending their scope without the approval of the federation. So, as things stand now, I really do not think that they have made some significant enrollments.
What will the NUM do to get out of the slumps it is in, especially as it relates to membership?
Well, we keep on servicing our members, we keep on recruiting, we keep on preaching unity among our members, we keep on warning them of people who will promise them things that, at times, do not exist. And, as a member and as the Leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, I am preaching, always, where I go, that fairness to members is key, listening to members’ concerns and attending to them, is what is going to retain the current membership, and also improve the current membership we have. And one other thing that I think is critical is to allow members to air their views whenever they are having problems – they should not be suppressed. And, we are encouraging our Leaders at the branches, and including at Regional, and the National level that members have to be given an opportunity to continue raising their concerns, and also cautioning the Leadership on a number of issues, that we may not be aware of.
The theme at the Congress in 2015 was Back to Basics, servicing members. How is the NUM servicing members, considering that the mining sector is bleeding so many jobs?
Well, that is the challenge we are really facing; and which is a threat to the existence, of each and every union that is operating and organising in the mining industry. You know, the mining industry as we speak now, is destroying a number of jobs, and I am sure you might have seen in the marches that we had as COSATU, across the country, and in the marches that we had as the National Union of Mineworkers, to the Chamber of Mines, and also to Anglo Gold Ashanti. We were raising that particular issue – that jobs cannot be destroyed, at the pace at which they are being destroyed by the industry.
What then, is one of our failures in servicing members, is that members of the union, are owners of the organisation. Two, is that, the engagement campaign that we are busy with has to continue, in terms of listening to the cries, and the concerns that our members are having. And the other thing, we have to continue improving their wages, and conditions of employment, including their safety as well, because safety is one of the trends that we are having in terms of membership decline in the industry. We have been really working very hard, around the clock, to ensure that we maintain our current membership, and also improve our current membership. There is no area, where we are not continuously recruiting. One other problem that we are faced with is that of the company, through not capturing the recruited members, timeously. So, at times, the work that we are doing in terms of recruitment, is not the work that we see, and realise, is needed, because of the capturing of membership. So if that can be improved, and we are talking to members, and we are talking to the companies, to at least capture the membership forms that have been submitted, to improve that within the Union, we have created a Membership Unit, which is the unit that monitors membership every time that the membership forms are submitted.
Why are there reports that the NUM Youth Structure does not support you? Is there any truth to this claim?
I would not really know the truth, and the facts. I am the present President of the National Union of Mineworkers. There is no Conference or Congress that is yet to prove that there is no support. Another thing is, wherever I go, and in each and every meeting that I attend, I might have really not seen it, but as far as I am concerned, I have not picked that up. You know, there is certain leadership, in the current leadership of the Union, and it is not doing its own thing – it is implementing the programmes owing to the decisions of our structures. So, everyone has got a responsibility to work towards ensuring the unity of our organisation, and that includes the Youth Structure, the Women’s Structure, the National Executive Committee, and all Regional Committees. So, I cannot confirm that, not that it is worrying. What I feel is that, I have not figured that out. It would be very much impossible for me to comment on it, or confirm it, because I really have not seen it.
The NUM, together with its mother federation, COSATU, has been vocal on ANC factions. Are workers’ issues not being sacrificed by NUM, COSATU, and other trade unions, by being so involved in ANC factional battles?
I am not qualified to speak on behalf of our federation, COSATU, but, I can only speak on behalf of the National Union of Mineworkers. I think preferring Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa to be the President of the African National Congress, to us, that is not factional. It is not factional because, we have expressed our feeling, and you will recall, when President Jacob Zuma, before he became the President, we also, under the umbrella of the federation, made a pronouncement in terms of our preference, with regards to the leadership of the African National Congress. We are encouraging our members, to raise this name of Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, in their branch meetings. Because, even the branches must nominate, and by branches, I mean, branches of the ANC. So, we are saying, in our branches, we have to alert the other branch members to nominate Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa as the National Leader, and as the President of the African National Congress, and we do not see that as factional. Because, you know, even if we had nominated whoever, it would not be a factional decision, or a factional choice. The reality is that, the African National Congress is going to convene its Elective Conference in December, and people have been making their choices known to the public, and that is why we are also an interested partner, and alliance partner, to COSATU, that we think it is very much critical and important for us, to make our views known.
Is there anything that you would like to add from the NUM, or yourself?
As the leadership of the Union, we are calling our members to the call, we are calling our members to ensure that unity of our organisation is not compromised, at all natural times, because, it is only unity that brought us to where we are today. You will recall, we went through a very painful period, from 2012 to around 2014, we are committed to the principles and the values of the National Union of Mineworkers, which kept us going. Fairness to members of the Union is key, members of the Union have to be allowed, as I have said, to raise issues, and members of the Union should know, that not everything that they have read, is definitely going to be implemented because, leadership is there to guide.