The National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) is South Africa's second largest trade union federation with more than 400 000 members. Its largest affiliate is the  Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), particularly because of a major increase in membership since the 2012 Marikana massacre. After AMCU, the three largest affiliates are in the chemical, food and transport industries. NACTU was founded in 1986 and the current general-secretary is Cunningham Ngcukan. Joseph Maqhekeni was elected NACTU president in 2001 and is still in office. 

Other than regular union activities, such as organising and representing workers, NACTU has been involved in anti-privatisation campaigns, challenging existing labour laws, and campaigns against unemployment. Most notably, NACTU has been engaged in a ten-year long process of merging the smaller trade union federations (The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), NACTU and the Confederation of South African Workers’ Unions (CONSAWU)), into one federation called the South African Confederation of Trade Unions (SACOTU).


NACTU was founded on the 5 October 1986 in Broederstroom, North West. The Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) and the Azanian Confederation of Trade Unions (AZACTU) made the decision to merge and form a new union federation as both federations were to some degree influenced by the Black Consciousness Movement, and - while agreeing on non-racialism - insisted that the leadership of the federation must be Black. One potential explanation for the merger between AZACTU and CUSA was the desire to strengthen their position on the shop floor. This was of particular importance to CUSA, as their largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), had annexed a large part of their membership who had joined the newly-formed Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985. During the formation of COSATU there were discussions surrounding the possibility of both AZACTU and CUSA  joining the new federation, but these talks were halted over the issue of COSATU allowing Whites to take up positions of leadership. 

While NACTU was, in principle, also non-racial, it was considered closer to the Black Consciousness Movement than to the African National Congress (ANC). The core principles of the federation posited that Black workers were to be leaders and to have no formal affiliation with political parties. However, despite seeking independence from political parties there was a growing relationship between NACTU and the Pan African Congress (PAC) during the 1980's. At the end of the 1980's NACTU saw a decline in their membership from 144 000 to 130 000 members. The decline in membership was in part because COSATU was far more efficient at servicing existing members and recruiting new members, while simultaneously harbouring strong connections to the most popular anti-apartheid movements of the time. 

In 1987 to 1989 NACTU held several meetings with the ANC, the PAC and other anti-apartheid organisations about their political affiliation. During these talks NACTU established itself as part of the broad front against apartheid, and participated in a variety of actions against the apartheid state. In adopting this politically outspoken stance, NACTU members and affiliates experienced similar repression from the state as other anti-apartheid organisations. 

Merger with other trade unions 

In 2005 NACTU, together with FEDUSA and CONSAWU, began talks of merging into a single large trade union federation. The name of the new federation would be the South African Confederation of Trade Unions (SACOTU). If the three federations would have merged in 2005 it is estimated that SACOTU would have boasted around 1.1 million members, that would made it a significant union federation and a strong rival to COSATU. 

In 2007 FEDUSA and NACTU agreed to the formation of SACOTU. By 2014, while SACOTU was formally a trade union federation, an agreement had still not been reached over details of the merger. Effectively, both federations were operating as distinct entities despite formally merging in 2007. In 2015 there were speculations that ex-COSATU affiliate, National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA), might join the new federation.

Affiliated unions

Building, Construction and Allied Workers union (BCAWU)
Banking, Insurance, Finance and Assurance Workers Union (BIFAWU)
Hotel, Liquor, Catering, Commercial and Allied Workers (HOTELICCA)
Metal and Electrical Workers Union of S.A. (MEWUSA)
Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA)
National Services and Allied Workers Union (NSAWU)
National Union of Food, Wine, Beverages, spirits and Allied Workers (NUFWBSAW)
Professional Educators Union (PEU)
South African Chemical Workers Union (SACWU)
Transport and Allied Workers Union (TAWU)
Transport and Omnibus workers Union (TOWU)
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU)
Entertainment Catering Commercial & Allied Workers Union Of South Africa (ECCAWUSA)
Federal Council of Retail & Allied Workers (FEDCRAW)
Industrial Commercial & Allied Workers Union (ICAWU)
Industrial & Commercial Workers Union of South Africa(ICU)
Inqubela Phambili Trade Union (ITU)
Labour Equity General Workers Union of South Africa(LEWUSA)
National Security Commercial and General Workers Union (NASECGWU)
National Public Service Workers Union (NPSWU)
National Transport Movement (NTM)
South African Private Security Workers' Union (SAPSWU)


Barrett, Jerome T. and Mullins, Anne Finbarr. 1990. “South African trade unions: a historical account, 1970-1990” in Monthly Labour Review, October 1990.

Pretorius, Fransjohan. 2014. A History of South Africa: From the Distant Past to the Present Day. Hatsfield, Pretoria: Protea Book House 

Visser, Wessel. 2007. “A Racially Divided Class: Strikes in South Africa, 1973-2004” in S van der

Velden, et al (eds), Strikes Around the World, 1968-2005: Case-studies of 15 Countries. Aksant Akademic Publishers, Amsterdam, 2007, pp.40-60. 

Trade Union Federations Announce Merger [Online]. Available: (Accessed the 10.11.2015)

NACTU Introduction [Online]. Available: (Accessed the 11.11.2015)

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