‘Numsa congress report a ploy to mobilise delegates against me’ – Zwelinzima Vavi

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Zwelinzima Vavi. Photo: Daniel Born/ Times Live
Zwelinzima Vavi. Photo: Daniel Born/ Times Live


The plot thickens ahead of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA’s (Numsa) national congress.

Re-elected SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has dispelled allegations about plunging the union into disrepute.

In a letter, Vavi rebuts allegations that are levelled against him in Numsa’s 11th congress report complied by its general secretary Irvin Jim. Numsa’s week-long conference kicks off at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Monday will run until Friday.

In the report, which City Press has seen, Jim lambasts Vavi for the alleged persecution of Numsa leaders and political betrayal of the union.

READ: Numsa fails in attempt to take control of Saftu

“I see this whole report as an attempt to misinform the delegates and mobilise them against Saftu general secretary and make him a bogeyman for the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party’s (SRWP) election woes,” said Vavi.

The SRWP is a political party that Numsa established. It contested the 2019 general elections. Numsa is a Saftu affiliate but did not receive an endorsement from the federation’s leadership for the party.

Vavi conceded that he had to endure the threat of a recall as a so-called deployee since after the 2019 elections.

In the report, Jim said: 

It is a fact that Numsa catalysed the development of Saftu, and Numsa defended Vavi when he was under attack in Cosatu. Numsa was expelled first and we advised him to resign. He did not take this advice until it was clear that he was going to be removed.

He added that the union did not know that Vavi would one day turn against Numsa and its leadership, “nor did we anticipate that he would go on to persecute any of Numsa’s leaders”.

In rebutting this claim, Vavi called it “naked blackmail and a statement that belonged to the world of the mafia, not principled politics”.

Vavi added that the statement was in concord with Numsa’s threat of a recall should a deployee fail to observe Numsa's decision.

“I never betrayed Numsa, unless you mean that as a statement that suggests that I must account politically to Numsa only and disregard the rest of the collective decisions of the federation."

Where did it go wrong between Jim and Vavi?

According to Vavi, the seed of animosity between him and Jim was planted in July 2016 when he barged into a meeting among Numsa national office bearers because he needed insight as to why the leaders did not attend a steering committee meeting, which would have been paramount in the formation of Saftu.

The meeting was disrupted and Jim was infuriated to the extent that he lashed out, with a near physical altercation ensuing.

“I was deeply frustrated that Numsa’s national office bearers were not playing their role in leading the process towards the launch of the new federation. It was so uncomfortable to write a letter to Numsa’s leadership, bearing in mind the historic relationships with each of its leaders. My calls were no longer being taken by Numsa’s general secretary,” said Vavi in the letter.

No invite

Vavi said he did not receive an invitation to Numsa’s national congress.

“In the absence of an invitation to address Numsa’s 11th national congress, as is the culture, custom and tradition of Numsa, this reply to the general secretary’s report was the only available option to the Saftu general secretary,” read the document.

READ: ‘Tension with Irvin Jim exacerbated Saftu divisions’ – Vavi

Saftu spokesperson Trevor Shaku confirmed that the response originated from Vavi but declined to comment further.  Numsa’s spokesperson, Phakamile-Hlubi, said that Vavi's claim that he was not invited to the congress was not true.

“Numsa did send an invite to the Saftu leadership. It is not true that they were not invited.”

Hlubi added that the congress report was shared with all the regions ahead of the congress so they could make inputs on the policy positions that the union would debate on during the congress.

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