Andrew Chirwa: The new face of the anti-Zuma wave

2013-12-22 14:00

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Calling for the head of President Jacob Zuma from within the structures of the governing alliance is bound to get you hate mail, and Andrew Chirwa has already experienced it.

Fresh from his unanimous election as president of metal workers’ union Numsa, Chirwa on Friday sounded almost like Zuma’s chief antagonist, Julius Malema, when he told delegates in his rousing but brief closing speech: “[Friends and enemies] have even started to send us messages, labelling us, attacking us, doing all manner of things to our character.

“And we wish to say to them they can do any other thing to us. They can harm us, they can kill us, but they can never destroy the organisation. This organisation will remain in the next decade to come.”

On Tuesday, Chirwa made headlines by leading the call for Numsa to consider asking for Zuma’s resignation over the Nkandla debacle.

By Friday, this had become a resolution, but with a slightly different emphasis.

Numsa called for Zuma to resign with “immediate effect” because his administration was pursuing “neoliberal policies” like the National Development Plan, e-tolls, labour brokers, the youth wage subsidy (Zuma’s signing of the Employment Tax Incentive Bill into law this week was a sore point), and the “corruption, patronage and nepotism” of his administration.

According to the union, the 2008 sacking of former president Thabo Mbeki sets a precedent for recalling the face of an unpopular policy.

During an interview with City Press at the end of the congress on Friday, shop stewards approached the charming Chirwa to have their pictures taken with him. He took it in his stride.

Another colleague, saying goodbye for the Christmas holidays, urged him to appoint security guards. He laughed cautiously; but like suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, it seemed something he might consider.

Chirwa is younger than one would imagine a trade union boss to be, but on stage he seems more mature than his age and very much at ease.

Born in 1980 in Zebediela near Polokwane, he is still a member of the ANC and its youth league, but he will let both memberships lapse now that Numsa has declared it will not support the ANC in next year’s election.

He declined to say which party he would vote for or planned to join next.

Chirwa grew up in Mookgopong (formerly known as Naboomspruit), Limpopo; and studied electrical engineering at Mamelodi Technical College in Pretoria, where he became active in the college’s student representative council in 2000.

The following year, he began working for Ford while finishing his studies part time. In 2003, he was elected as a Numsa shop steward, becoming deputy regional chairperson in 2008 and chairperson in 2009.

He became the national deputy president of Numsa last year before stepping up this week to replace Cedric Gina, who resigned over differences with Numsa’s leadership.

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