Chirwa, Jim re-elected unopposed to Numsa leadership positions

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Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
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  • Numsa president Andrew Chirwa and secretary general Irvin Jim were re-elected unopposed to their positions at the union's congress on Wednesday night.
  • Chirwa says the Labour Court misinterpreted the union's constitution when it interdicted it from holding its congress.
  • Numsa has appealed the Labour Court ruling interdicting its congress, with a virtual hearing kicking off on Wednesday.
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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) president Andrew Chirwa and secretary-general Irvin Jim were re-elected to their positions unopposed at the union's 11th national congress on Wednesday evening.

Former president of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) president Mac Chavalala was elected first deputy president, while Puleng Phaka was elected second deputy president - the position previously held by Ruth Ntlokotse, who could not attend the congress as she was suspended.

Mphumzi Maqungo was re-elected as national treasurer.

A shadow of litigation still looms over the union's interdicted congress, as officials that were suspended from the union successfully overturned their suspension at the Labour Court and got an order interdicting the congress until it could be held in full compliance with the Numsa constitution.

Numsa has sought leave to appeal this ruling and proceeded with the congress.

Judgment was reserved until 10:00 on Thursday morning. 

Lawyers representing both Numsa and the officials - who have since had their suspensions lifted - made oral representations to the Labour Court via a virtual hearing on Wednesday evening. The hearing came on the same day Numsa kicked off its congress, maintaining it had taken the necessary corrective actions in line with the court's ruling after a meeting of its special central committee (SCC) on Tuesday. 

The officials, however, maintained that the congress remained invalid and that there is no room for misunderstanding in the union's constitution. 

Numsa had announced earlier on Wednesday that as it began its congress, it would urgently seek leave to appeal last week's Labour Court ruling, arguing that the court had misinterpreted its constitution. 

Judge Graham Moshoana opted to study the submissions from both parties and reserved judgment. 

READ | Numsa's lawyers say special meeting will solve issues, allow congress to go ahead

Chirwa told delegates at the interdicted congress that the court's earlier judgment had to be appealed or it would set a precedent for an array of misinterpretations of the union's constitution.

"The judge erred and misinterpreted our Numsa constitution. We think that he erred in how he interpreted it," said Chirwa.

Chirwa told the delegation that the suspensions, while lifted, emanated from serious instances of misconduct and ill-discipline within the ranks of the union and that leaving these unaddressed was akin to condoning anarchy.

"The organisation cannot excuse misconduct because the judge says that it is not in our constitution. It is a very strange thing. But while we are appealing, we have started to implement the court order and that is why some members who were suspended are here and participating," Chirwa said.

READ | Chaos looms as Numsa delegates arrive for interdicted congress

He also launched a broadside at Numsa Western Cape regional secretary, Vuyo Lufele, who staged a walk-out from the congress after officials maintained that it could go ahead despite the interdict. He accused those opposing the congress' resumption of looking to collapse the union itself.

"How can you have the guts to stand up at a Numsa gathering and tell the union that it cannot hold its congress. Not only that but to lead shop stewards of this union in your region out of a gathering of a union. That can't be tolerated. If you behave like a spy, we will treat you like a spy," Chirwa said.

Chirwa told delegates that the suspended officials were offered flights to get to Cape Town and participate in the congress. However, he said, many of them did not take up this offer.

"We will exercise patience with those members, especially the shop stewards. It is clear that some are responding under pressure because their funders want to see the results of their work, so they are desperate to collapse the congress," he said.

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