Irvin Jim claims Numsa is target of 'propaganda attack' as union suspends official

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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Irvin Jim.
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Irvin Jim.
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  • National Union of Metalworkers of SA secretary-general Irvin Jim said the union has suspended its second deputy president Ruth Ntlokotse.
  • Jim said the union was being attacked by propaganda campaigns on social media aimed at sewing division ahead of its conference.
  • He would not say if he would stand for re-election as secretary-general at the conference later this month.
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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) secretary-general, Irvin Jim, announced that the union's second deputy president and recently elected South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) president Ruth Ntlokotse has been suspended for misconduct amid what he called attempts to infiltrate and destroy the union.

Jim said this was decided at its special central committee meeting on Tuesday. 

This also comes ahead of Numsa's upcoming elective conference, which is set to take place at the Cape Town International Convention Center from 25 to 29 July. 

Ntlokotse was elected as the president of Saftu - the home federation of Numsa - in May. The Saftu conference laid bare disagreements between Jim and re-elected secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi on whether the federation should tether itself to a specific political party or attempt to contest elections for political power.

While Jim is supportive of this, Vavi believes the federation should maintain its independence. Also at issue is 3Sixty Life, the life insurance subsidiary of the Numsa Investment Company, which was placed under curatorship last year.

Jim went to the courts to halt the curatorship, in a move that critics internally say aimed to cover up for Numsa Investment Company boss, Khandani Msimbi. Critics also say that Jim had no mandate to intervene in the curatorship from the union.

READ | Numsa to hold conference, elect new leadership in late July

While he would not go into the details of the misconduct that Ntlokotse is accused of, Jim said the official's conduct undermined democratic centralism in the union ahead of its elective conference. He denied claims that Ntlokotse was being targeted by Numsa leadership.

"The conduct of Ruth Ntlokotse undermined Numsa and they have placed her under suspension. False claims that she was being victimised and suspended as a way to target her are not true, although she did not attempt to clarify it. We reject the narrative being peddled by some that this is a decision of individuals and not Numsa structures," said Jim.

Jim said individuals have been "tip-toeing in the shadows", setting up groups on social media platforms like the Facebook group "the Numsa we want" and "Numsa 2".

"What is disturbing is that they behave in a disruptive manner and the faction calling itself Numsa 2 has been spreading misinformation ahead of the conference. The goal of this faction is clear. They want to impose their own leadership on the union. If they fail, they will work to collapse and liquidate the union," said Jim.

He defended his bid to halt 3Sixty Life's curatorship as a step to preserve a business that worked to improve the lives of workers.

"We have led a very united organisation over the years in our tenure with the privilege we have had to lead. But clearly because this year we announced that we were going to a conference, we woke up to new Johnny-come-late individuals who are not sleeping 24/7.

"I don't know. If you want to be a Numsa president, you must be a member, you must be a shop steward, you must service workers, you must work within the ranks of the organisation. But we are faced with propaganda where 3Sixty life would have been put under curatorship. That is where all hell breaks loose.

"We are struggling for socialism but we live in a capitalist world. We wanted to set up this company to improve and benefit the lives of workers. Then suddenly the propaganda comes up that we are captured by investment companies," Jim said.

READ | Saftu plans August 'shutdown' over Eskom, economic crisis - Vavi

When asked if he would stand for re-election as secretary-general at the conference, Jim said such a question was "premature". He said the union must emerge from the conference with a renewed commitment to advancing workers' interests in tandem with Saftu, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), and the United Front (UF).

Jim said the re-launching of Numsa's regions has been concluded and eight of nine regions have held successful congresses. Mpumalanga could not launch the region and will not be able to attend the conference, said Jim. He said nominations are open until 22 Jul and will be handled by an external electoral body.

Numsa president Andrew Chirwa said the National Executive Committee suspended five NEC members along with Ntlokotse at the special committee meeting. One of the suspended members is from the Western Cape and four are from the Eastern Cape, pending investigations of misconduct.  

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