Farewell To Karl Cloete – Former NUMSA DG
Unathi Vimbani | Amandla Online | January 2020
The gigantic leader of the workers and working class has left the office. Cde Karl Cloete resigned from his position of being Deputy General Secretary of National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA).He was close to his retirement. This is a position he held since 2008 and he has performed his duties with great aplomb. He dedicated almost 33 years of his adult life to serve the working class and workers. The cruelty of life, is that certain chapters of life must be closed, the chapter of Cde Karl Cloete serving workers full time in the office is closed.Knowing him and the love he have for the workers and working class he will open his doors so that we can drink from the fountain of wisdom sharpened by concrete struggles of workers and working class.He cleared his on the 1 December 2020.We know Cde Karl Cloete as a family man,he will use this time to re-rebond with his wife,children and grandchildren.
The Marxist- Leninist that was manufactured in farms has resigned, not passed on, we wish that he will open his house for us budding Socialists. We want to drink from the well of wisdom, that was attained through lived experience and years of struggle for the workers and working class. Cde Karl Cloete is an astute Marxist-Leninist intellectual, when he speaks, the audience catch feelings, because everyone knows that the cool and calm voice will utter reasonable facts. We know that he will not start his speech in an electrifying song or catchy slogans, but no one get bored because an astute Marxist-Leninist intellectual is about to speak and everyone will learn valuable lessons of being the best of the working class and workers leader, and how best to service the workers and working class.
Wanxonxwa phi uCde Karl Cloete aze abeyi yinkokheli yabasebenzi ephum’ izandla? Cde Karl
Cloete early awakenings and life’s journey started in 1966 on farm between Klawer and Vredental on the South West coast, where he was born. He was exposed to the working life of farmworkers and their super-exploitation at the age of 5 years. He used to accompany his parents to the tomato and potato fields for harvesting at 5h00 in the morning. The frosty and freezing mornings awakened the young farmboy to be class conscious, even though his young age rendered him incapable of doing anything tangible in terms of activism and challenging the super exploitative bosses of his parents. Another vividly exploitative nature of the farm bosses; was when they offered his parents a form of apartheid slavery remuneration of wine for labour, and his parents refused this form of super exploitative remuneration, as it was against their Christian ethos. This refusal put Cde Cloete and his family on a collision course with the farm owners and they were forced to move from farm to farm several times.
At a tender age, he started to work as a casual worker at Makro in Milnerton whilst a student in high school. He did not do well at School because he was supposed to juggle school with work as the way of augmenting her mother’s domestic worker salary. He eventually dropped out of school while doing Standard 7.
His formal employment was in the 1970s when he joined Atlantis Diesel Engine (ADE). He only worked there for seven month and fell victim to retrenchment; forcing him to join the ranks of the unemployed. He found common cause with the Atlantis Residents Association which was his first political home. He rose through the ranks to become its secretary. Whilst serving as a secretary of the Atlantis residents Association, he volunteered his time to recruit and organize for the South African & Allied Workers Union (SAAMWU) and the Clothing Workers Union (CLOWU).
Before joining Numsa on 7 August 1987, at Grapnel Manufacturing, he was a shop steward for Chemical Workers Union. His greatest influence was the Durban Strike of 1973, the Occupation of the Mercedes Benz plant in East London by NUMSA Members for a R2/hour wage increment, Oscar Mpehla’s fiery statement that “the worker will never be wrong” & and the first Numsa president – Daniel Dube.
He was carrying all these valuable
lessons when he became
the Numsa full
time official in 1991.
These lessons shaped
Cde Cloete to be revolutionary that we lived
to experience. We know that he
participated in the ANC &
SACP, but we are not interested in that history.
Cde Karl Cloete
as the Numsa General Secretary from 2008 – 2020. His pro-working stance quickly realized that Tripartite Alliance was warming up to the Neo-Liberal Agenda which sought to kill the manufacturing sector and create the exodus of workers from factories.
This gigantic unionist was infuriated when Cosatu purged progressive unionist and the union he was leading – Numsa. I never saw him angry in any situation. I know as a calm and collected comrade who always used Marxist-Leninist tools of analysis to deal with any situation. When I heard him in a press conference calling the then President of Cosatu – Sdumo Dlamini “utsotsi”, I knew that Sdumo’s style of leadership and the destruction Cosatu – the great Federation of John Gomomo & Oscar Mpehla – real pierced his heart.
Being a tireless & relentless champion of the workers, Cde Karl Cloete led the formation of SAFTU as a new home for the purged progressive workers. He knew that we must not mourn but mobilise because our adversaries – the Capitalist would intensify exploitation whilst we are busy squabbling about government perks, not ideological differences.
We have learned that, as a union leader, you must serve workers diligently. Cde Karl Cloete also taught that the strength of workers is in their numbers, so they must be organized as a united force. He was an incorruptible leader who frowned upon the misappropriation of union funds for personal use. We shall draw upon Cde Karl Cloete’s experiences and teaching to build NUMSA as a giant union and SAFTU as a giant federation.
Here is a fitting quote by Lenin to describe the work of Cde Karl Cloete “… the first commandment of every trade union movement should be: Do not rely upon the state, rely upon the power of your class. The state is an organization of the class in power. Do not rely upon promises, rely upon the power of the union and upon the consciousness of your class.”
By Unathi Vimbani – SAFTU & SRWP Activist in Nelson Mandela Region(PE).