'No chance' of Numsa leaving Saftu, says re-elected Vavi

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SAFTU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
SAFTU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
  • Zwelinzima Vavi said Numsa would not leave the federation on his account.
  • Rather, he said opposition to him at the Saftu conference was in the "heat of the moment".
  • Despite tension between himself and general secretary Irvin Jim, he said the pair were "old friends".

Re-elected South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has ruled out the possibility that his return to the position would drive the federation's largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) to leave the fold. 

Vavi was speaking to reporters during a briefing after his re-election to his position in the country's second-largest labour federation, despite allegations of financial misconduct and an attempt to suspend him in March. 

In March, outgoing Saftu president Mac Chavalala wrote to Vavi asking him to give reasons why he should not be suspended.

Chavalala found himself suspended a month later, alongside three other office bearers, after 13 Saftu member unions resisted attempts to suspend Vavi, calling the move unconstitutional.


Among the tensions is a disagreement between Vavi and Numsa general secretary, Irvin Jim, who wants Saftu to align itself to a political party. Vavi, in contrast, believes Saftu should remain completely independent of political influences.

Vavi defeated Moses Mautsoe to retain the position of general secretary while Chavalala lost his re-election bid for Saftu president to Ruth Ntlokotse. Still, for the duration of the four-day conference in Boksburg, Vavi faced heckling from Numsa delegates and calls for his defeat.

READ | Saftu crisis: 13 unions object to move to suspend Zwelinzima Vavi

When asked during the briefing on Thursday whether Numsa would walk out of the federation due to his re-election, Vavi said there was "no chance" of that happening and that the opposition to him from Numsa delegates arose in the "heat of the moment".

"At the time, Numsa disagreed about whether suspended officials should be allowed to contest positions. That was referred to unions and they spent a good amount of time outside and came back to recommend that they would be allowed to contest. We have put that behind us," said Vavi.

Asked about allegations that he was agitating to bring Saftu and Cosatu together as a united labour front, Vavi denied this and said all unions and labour federations in South Africa had a duty to unite against exploitation of workers, but that such unity should not be uncritical or unprincipled.

"We didn't engage with that issue. But that is not what we are doing at all. We are adamant that there must be unity between all trade unions in the country, including Saftu, Cosatu and Nactu (National Council of Trade Unions) and 27 federations that exist with hundreds of unions around the country.

"We make a statement that says that unity is absolutely necessary. But it is not unity without any principles. We insist that the starting point of that unity is unity in action," Vavi said.

Vavi tipped his hat to various unions currently cooperating in industrial action in various sectors around the country, including the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and National Union of Mineworkers at Sibanye Stillwater, and the Public Servants Association and the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers Union at the South African Revenue Service.

READ | Zwelinzima Vavi re-elected as Saftu general secretary at high stakes conference

Vavi, once again, took an opportunity to deny the allegations that he misused funds of the federation. He said he was "hurt" by the "misinformation" that he claims arose to scupper his campaign for re-election.

"The scars remain open on my part. I remain angered by attempts to attack my integrity with misinformation throughout the campaign period," he said.

'Old friends' with Jim

Vavi said his disagreements with Jim were of a political and ideological nature, and that he still believed he and the Numsa secretary-general were good friends despite disagreements on aligning Saftu with a political party.

"We are old friends. And our relationship was deeper than just a friendship. It goes a long way back. As soon as there is a rising tension between us on the basis of whatever political and ideological differences, with someone I have such a long history with, I must admit that. I want to argue that where there is no debate, there is no confrontation of issues," said Vavi.

Ntlokotse said investigations and reports were underway to get to the bottom of allegations against Vavi and the national executive committee (NEC) has given officials making the allegations the time to present their evidence for the conclusion of the report for its submission to the NEC.

Following the announcement of the Saftu conference results, Numsa released a statement in which it congratulated Ntlokotse on her election as president and acknowledge the election of the national office bearers.

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