South African Union Federation Targets Ex-President; Launches Intimidation Campaign

South Africa mapWillie Madisha isn’t about to be deterred from reforming South African organized labor. Until recently, the Pretoria resident headed the Congress of South African Trade Unions, or COSATU, that country’s main labor federation. After being relieved of his duties this past February over unsubstantiated corruption charges, a month later he launched a rival organization, the Independent Trade Union Movement. Certain COSATU loyalists appear to be indicating their disapproval – and through methods that would do the Mafia proud. 

COSATU was founded in 1985 and covers 21 unions representing some 1.8 million workers. William Mothipa Madisha was a leader in that group almost from the start. But since his publicized defection, he’s been barraged by death threats and rude anonymous phone calls. “I’m getting perpetual threats and at times threats to my family…on a daily basis,” he told the South African newspaper, The Star. “One of the SMSs said, ‘We will hit you where it hurts most’. I take it they were referring to my family.” He added that he wasn’t going to be deterred. “Whatever we are doing is right,” Madisha remarked. The former leader of COSATU has made clear he doesn’t want to lead the new union, preferring instead to help it get off the ground.

Madisha, an ex-school teacher who once headed the COSATU-affiliated teachers union SADTU, was kicked out of both organizations following his charges that South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande had embezzled funds received from businessman Charles Modise. He also had accused COSATU officials of steering union funds toward the African National Congress (ANC). This affair goes to South African politics at the highest level. The ANC’s leader, Jacob Zuma, a longtime Communist, is set to be named South African president this May 6 by the ANC-majority parliament. One of COSATU’s largest unions, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, helped put the ANC over the top in the April 22 parliamentary elections. Madisha is an outspoken ally of outgoing President Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma is no stranger to scandal. His financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was charged a few years ago with corruption and fraud related to an arms deal he’d worked out on behalf of the South African Navy. He was released this past March after serving 28 months into his sentence. All charges were dropped against Zuma this April. The close working relationship between union bosses, the Communists and the ANC might well be the death of Willie Madisha – literally. (South African Star, 3/30/09; other sources).