Vavi spars with Numsa ahead of congress

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Irvin Jim. Photo; Archive
Irvin Jim. Photo; Archive


The rift between National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) secretary-general Irvin Jim and SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) boss Zwelinzima Vavi is overshadowing the start of the Numsa congress (also known as the “metalworkers’ parliament”) tomorrow in Cape Town.

Two months ago, tension between the two was also palpable at the Saftu congress, where Numsa was left frustrated after the majority of delegates voted against its motion to lift the suspension of four senior officials. The four were suspended after their plans to suspend Vavi had come to light.

Zwelinzima Vavi
Zwelinzima Vavi

In a 23-page letter, which City Press has seen, Vavi defended himself against allegations of unleashing propaganda against Numsa and having no regard for its future or leadership.

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

Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola declined to comment on Vavi’s letter.

The allegations against him were included in Numsa’s 11th congress report, which Jim shared with all regions so that they could prepare their input on policy ahead of the congress.

The congress report read, 

Vavi has absolutely no regard for the future of Numsa or its leadership. In his capacity as a Numsa deployee, he speaks recklessly and unprovoked about the relationship between Numsa and the vanguard party it has catalysed,

The “vanguard party” referred to was the Social Revolutionist Workers’ Party, which fared badly in the 2019 general election.

In addition, Jim threatened that Numsa’s national executive committee (NEC) expected Vavi – as its deployee – to champion its aims and decisions, which included keeping the federation united, failing which, Numsa would invoke the principle of recall, in line with chapter 9 of its constitution.

In response, Vavi asked,

Why didn’t Numsa tell me in 2017, when I was elected, that I was expected to champion the aims and decisions of Numsa or face a recall?

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Vavi said that he thought that Numsa had sponsored his name to champion the decisions of Saftu’s collective leadership adopted in the national congresses.

Numsa is the single largest union in South Africa. Saftu was formed in 2014, when Numsa was cut off from trade union federation Cosatu – which Vavi led until he was suspended and expelled in 2015.

In the congress report, Jim claimed that he and the Social Revolutionist Workers’ Party had nothing to do with the infighting in Saftu, or with the tension within the national office-bearers’ collective.

Vavi countered the statement by saying that Jim had endorsed his deployees, during the second national Saftu congress and in regional congresses, to boldly sing songs that opposed him.

“What do you call that? Is that what you call ‘not being involved’ in the political squabbles that were taking place within the Saftu national office-bearers’ collective?” he asked.

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Vavi was placed on suspension by Saftu president Mac Chavalala following allegations of misusing federation funds.

Chavalala and three other national office-bearers of Saftu were later suspended in May by the NEC for abusing their powers in calling for the suspension of Vavi. This, in turn, led to Vavi’s suspension being revoked.

Vavi, who wrote that he had not been invited to the 11th Numsa congress, said: “We wish the ‘metalworkers’ parliament’ the best in their deliberations and the challenges confronting their 35-year-old Numsa.”

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