Theft and looting no longer surprise most of us. But, still, the news that almost R88 million was stolen from the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), in just three years, is shocking.
Municipal employees are not the highest paid in the country and they would have, in good faith, been depositing their membership fees every month in the hope that their union comrades would be there to lead the fight to improve their work circumstances.
But now it seems that the welfare of workers was the last thing on the minds of the union leadership as they stuck their hands in the piggy back and removed more than R2 million from it every month. Welfare of workers is not that high on the list of many unions in present-day South Africa.
Top of those agendas – apart from earning fatcat salaries or stealing union funds – is politics. Whether the unions, like those affiliated to Cosatu, see their role as supporting the ANC or whether they see their objective – as does an organisation like the SA federation of Trade Unions led by ex Cosatu man Zwelinzima Vavi – as bringing down the ANC and replacing it with a socialist workers’ paradise, is almost irrelevant.
All are using their members’ sweat to pursue their own goals. What is sad about the Samwu debacle is that is appears to have been overlooked by the Registrar of Trade Unions as the looting went on.
Perhaps this was due to the efficient cover-up put in place by the looters, but perhaps this is because Samwu is part of Cosatu, which is part of the tripartite alliance. Yet, the registrar was quick to act to threaten miners’ union Amcu for trivial irregularities.
As is often the case in South Africa, the Samwu outrage shows the poor suffer the most.