‘Tension with Irvin Jim exacerbated Saftu divisions’ – Vavi

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According to general secretary of Saftu Zwelinzima Vavi Numsa is not going anywhere. Photo: Jabu Kumalo
According to general secretary of Saftu Zwelinzima Vavi Numsa is not going anywhere. Photo: Jabu Kumalo

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The tension between the newly elected SA Federation of Trade Unions’ (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa’s general secretary Irvin Jim has left the federation with a deep wound and Vavi is convinced the two need to reach out to each other.

Their personal tension, which escalated to their unions, nearly split the federation when Numsa threatened to leave after a heated debate during the four-day conference in Boksburg, Gauteng.

Numsa was left frustrated earlier this week 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.

READ: Numsa fails in attempt to take control of Saftu

Vavi described their tension as old things that also affected their families.

Vavi revealed that he and Jim had been close friends for a very long time, so when tension started to rise between them, their families were badly affected.

He said: 

We are old friends and our relationship as individuals is deeper than anybody will ever know. It was not just a personal relationship, but a relationship between families. So, as soon as there are rising tensions between us, based on whatever political and ideological differences, our families are also badly affected.


Vavi added both he and Jim were mature individuals who must take responsibility as leaders to resolve their differences.

He was preaching unity between them and also within the federation.

I must admit that there is a discussion in relation to that matter. I know that these differences existed for some time, but where there is no debate, there is no confrontation of the issues. There will always be issues that could be resolved in a discussion.


Vavi promised to reach out and expected Jim to do the same.

He also made a solemn commitment on behalf of the new federation’s leadership to put aside personal differences to advance the interests of workers in South Africa.

Vavi said Numsa was not going anywhere.

The federation declared that it would at all times be on the side of the working class.

Vavi added that it was a sign of their growing maturity that contestations, which had taken place in the federation, were political and ideological, but not intended to be personal.

We declare that we have reaffirmed to be distinctive principles as vouched in our inaugural national congress in 2017. We declare that we are moving beyond divisiveness in favour of principled unity and recommit to building a fighting trade union movement.

He dismissed allegations that he and Jim had been trying to take their unions back to Cosatu.

“We declare that we will seek to work together in solidarity with other trade unions to protect workers against consistent and unrelenting attacks from capitalists and their system.”

He explained that he believed all trade unions must work together because they were all protecting the workers’ rights.

“We need unity in action on the ground, not just declarations. We must unite the left forces and convene the socialist conflicts and fight against the increasing levels of outsourcing, subcontracting and other forms of precarious employment.”

Saftu concluded the conference after electing the new leadership, which comprised four females at the top. Vavi hailed the structure as a true reflection of women’s empowerment.


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