The National Council of Trade Unions is a result of a merger between the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) and the Azanian Confederate of Trade Unions (AZACTU) that took place on the 5th of October 1986 in Broederstroom.  This merger was a sequel to abortive unity talks that took place on the 8th and 9th of June 1985 at Ipelegeng. 

The meeting at Ipelegeng which brought in UDF unions that were expelled in 1983 and AZACTU was intended to broaden unity.  However, the meeting ended inconclusively as a result of clashes between the so called "Workerists" and "Populists". 

At a subsequent meeting on the 7th August 1985, CUSA was not invited but individual affiliates were invited.  AZACTU was not invited.  This was despite the decision taken on the 9th June 1985 to adjourn the meeting.  Protest from the UDF unions to the Feasibility Committee was ignored.  CUSA's Joint Executive Committee took a decision that none of its affiliates  should attend.  The only CUSA Union that attended was the National Union of  Mineworkers.

UDF unions attended in protest.  This process brought about discussions between CUSA an AZACTU, that resulted in a merger and the formation of NACTU in 1986.  COSATU was formed in 1985 as a result of this process. However NACTU at its founding Congress committed itself to unity based on working class principles.  This commitment is enshrined in the NACTU Constitution and its congress resolutions.