COCA COLA AND MANQOBA: A WORKERS' REJOINDER
Manqoba Khumalo's lack of integrity has long been exposed. It is now so well established within the human imagination that the ''Captured media'' such as the Times of Eswatini once reported that the erstwhile minister had given his wife a multi-million Emalangeni tender to cut grass for Eswatini Electricity Company.
THE COCA-COLA SCHOOL OF ETHICAL EXCELLENCE
It is indeed a fact that Manqoba's tenure as the General Manager of CONCO( Coca-Cola Eswatini) was riddled with corruption. But what is missing is the fact that Manqoba is a true "Coca-Cola Son of the soil". His moral bearings had been carefully developed for more than 20 years within the company. In his own words as spoken at the company's year-end function in 2019 held at the company's premises, Manqoba stated that "There is truly no better school of excellence than the Coca-Cola school of excellence, and that all who were part of it should be grateful to be part of it."
Are we so naïve to believe that Manqoba had bamboozled the entire Coca-Cola hierarchy to believe that he was morally upright and that he was the epitome of virtue but somehow unravelled his true colours when he assumed the mantle of General Manager of Coca-Cola Eswatini? A more plausible narrative is that the so-called Coca-Cola school of Excellence breeds Corporate psychopaths. A corporate psychopath is simplya person with no moral compass, like the litany of people who work for Coca-Cola internationally. They are people who only care about the bottom line,and profits, and couldn't be bothered by how this affects the people who help to make those profits.
HOW TO KILL AN AMPHIBIAN
There's a popular internet urban legend which states that if one puts a frog into a pan full of water and then slowly increases the temperature in the pan the frog will remain in the boiling water until it is thoroughly cooked. The truth is that a frog will never sit quietly in a pan full of water, whatever the temperature of that water, let alone boiling! But this urban legend is simply an allegory of the modern capitalist experience.
The frog is the average worker, the water in the pan is the toil and the sacrifices that worker has to make on behalf of whatever entity makes profits out of them. In 1986 when Coca-Cola relocated its concentrates manufacturing plant from South Africa to Swaziland it was probably the best employer in the country in terms of financial remuneration and general well-being. This period of plenty slowly made way for a period of deprivation as the world gradually woke up to the full extent of the over-indulgence in carbonated drinks, and the emergence of multiple competitors.
There was a genuine need to reduce operational costs and since staff wages are regarded as operational costs, these were simply not allowed to grow with the rate of inflation. This trend continued until the company could no longer differentiate itself from regular employers in the country's hardware retail industry. It is this general systematic attitude towards the company's labourers which led to the employees finally deciding to create a union to advocate their rights.
It is not the actions of any particular General Manager. It is an undeniable fact, for example, that Manqoba Khumalo inherited a company where almost half ofthe Production Labourers were not fully employed. These "temps" earned E18/per hour up until 2015 and were not even provided with Personal Protective Equipment by the company. Allof this was well known and approved by the company's international hierarchy. The narrative that the seeds of the company's union were laid during Khumalo's tenure is misinformed and naïve.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
So much has occurred at CONCO since Manqoba last worked there. Without a doubt the one thing that fully indicates the culture and the values of the Coca-Cola company ihowch it has handled the emergence of the company's first union, the Beverages Manufacturing and Allied Union (BEMAWU). Since the company's inception the company has been playing its duplicitous role of pretending to respect workers' rights to form a union even while it does everything in its power to destroy itToll this day the company has refused to recognise the union.
Meanwhile, the union's leaders have been systematically fired from the company for the flimsiest of reasons. The union's founder, Mxolisi Zwane, for example, was fired for carrying his work home. The exact charge was that he had company documents on his personal laptop. While this is indeed against company policy, many employees still do it even now. Most previous employees have also done it without even as much as receiving a warning for doing so. What this culture of victimization has done is spread fear in the workplace.
With fear in the a,ir the union has gradually lost membership. What perhaps keeps the union hopeful is the fact that the country is undergoing civil strife as a result of its equally corrupt government, which Manqoba Khumalo is ironically a part of. The fate of CONCO employees is tietoth that of the entire country. As long as the country is ruled by a kleptocratic psychopath in the form of King Mswati, companies like Coca-Cola will continue to have carte blanche to decide whether to follow basic labour laws or not. So far this E100 billion a year company still believes it should benchmark its employee wages on companies like CashBuild and Buildit. That alone is an insult.
Nb: the views expressed here are of the author and the Bridge Publisher and management is not liable for any factual errors