The South African Federation of Trade Unions congratulates its affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) on another triumph at the Constitutional court today, 13 September 2018.
The court dismissed an appeal by an employer, Duncanmec, and ordered it to reinstate nine Numsa members whom it dismissed for singing a struggle song – “uMama uyajabula mangishaya ibhunu” – “My mother rejoices when I hurt the Boer” – during a strike in April 2013.
Duncanmec gave the nine workers a final written warning for embarking on an illegal strike, and then dismissed them for misconduct on the spurious ground that they were singing a ‘racist’ song.
This Metals and Engineering Bargaining Council (MEIBC) found in favour of the workers and ordered their immediate reinstatement. Duncanmec however appealed to the Labour Court to reverse this order but lost. The Labour Appeals Court then refused to hear a further appeal because there was no prospect for success.
The employer then took its appealed to the Constitutional Court which agreed that the song is hurtful to the employer, but ruled that using the word “boer” does not constitute racism or hate speech. It dismissed Duncanmec’s appeal and ordered it to reinstate the workers and to pay their backpay from when they were unfairly dismissed in April 2013.
SAFTU welcomes the precedent that the Concourt has set. If it had taken a contrary view it would have been a savage blow to the rights not only of workers but all South Africans, by making it a punishable offense to sing songs of the struggle against apartheid and racism.
The federation echoes the view of NUMSA who rejected the notion that struggle songs are racist: “The workplace in South Africa is extremely racist and untransformed. The working class continues to sing these songs today because it is not free and they are still fighting for justice and equality in the workplace which was promised to them, during the battle against the racist Apartheid system.”
SAFTU warns however, just was it did after previous victories at the ConCourt over labour brokers and minority union rights, that wining in the court, welcome though it is, will not automatically lead to victories in the workplace.
One thing that this case shows is how ruthless and relentless employers are becoming and how determined they are to destroy the power of unions and leave workers defenceless. This company was prepared to go all the way up to the Constitutional Court and spend thousands of rands, to justify unfairly dismissing just nine workers.
Other workers should never forget that this ruling was only won after five long years of struggle. The nine comrades would still be jobless but for the stubborn determination by the workers and the NUMSA officials and leaders who never gave up the struggle to defend their comrades.
Other bosses will be just as implacable as Duncanmet, and the only way to stop them is to follow NUMSA’s example – get organised, recruit all the workers in every workplace, confront employers as a united force and if necessary take strike action to defend the rights and win higher wages and better conditions at work.