Q&A with Numsa boss Irvin Jim on fallout with Saftu boss Zwelinzima Vavi

Mawande AmaShabalala Political journalist
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim were central to the establishment of Saftu as an alternative to Cosatu following a political battle within the ANC-aligned federation that saw Numsa expelled for refusing to continue backing the ruling party. File photo.
Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim were central to the establishment of Saftu as an alternative to Cosatu following a political battle within the ANC-aligned federation that saw Numsa expelled for refusing to continue backing the ruling party. File photo.

After Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi confirmed there was a “big fallout” between him and Numsa counterpart Irvin Jim, TimesLIVE spoke to the latter to hear his response.

The war between the two culminated in a letter of intention to suspend Vavi by fellow Saftu national office bearers (NOBs).

Vavi believes Jim’s hidden hand is behind the move by the NOBs. But Jim has since defended himself against the accusation.

Question: It is said that the source of the Saftu political events that unfolded this week,  culminating with the letter of intention to suspend Saftu GS Mr Vavi is a fallout between yourself and Mr Vavi. What is your take on this?

Jim: This is a joke. The NOBs of Saftu were acting independently and it is a conspiracy theory to think otherwise.

Question: Is it true that the genesis of the fallout between yourself and Mr Vavi is your differing opinions on the Socialist Revolutionary Workers' Party (SRWP)?

Jim: The SRWP is a product of Numsa and was catalysed by Numsa, just like Saftu. SRWP can speak for itself. The SRWP, like Saftu, has deep roots in Numsa and its revolutionary resolutions of its 2013 special national congress. That congress passed resolutions which have materialised into the SRWP and Saftu. As general secretary of Numsa, and leader in the SRWP, I have a revolutionary duty to protect and defend both Saftu and the SRWP. Both Vavi and I as individuals are free to hold different political opinions and to support and belong to any party of our choice.

Question: The allegation is that you have been pressuring Mr Vavi to get the SRWP to be the baby of Saftu and that he has been resisting this pressure. What is your version?

Jim: This is rubbish. We were expelled from Cosatu as Numsa because, among other things, we had resolved that Cosatu must be free from political party interference and move out of the ANC-led alliance. The SRWP has no programme to make itself a baby of any union, including Numsa, actually. The SRWP is not Numsa, and Numsa is not the SRWP, even as the history of the SRWP is in Numsa!

Question: Did you personally have anything to do with the letter of intention to suspend Mr Vavi sent to him this week by Saftu president Mac Chavalala?

Jim: No, the letter of intention to suspend was an independent decision of the Saftu NOBs. I have nothing to do with this and was not informed of the decision in advance.

Question: The Saftu affiliates that are backing Mr Vavi claim that you influenced the move by Mr Chavalala to diminish Mr Vavi’s chances of re-election in the upcoming Saftu national congress in May. What is your comment on this?

Jim: In Numsa we have serious internal democratic preparations towards congresses, which include discussing leadership positions openly. Vavi and all others who may be put forward as candidates by affiliates will be subject to proper formal internal democratic discussions and debates, including what Numsa’s views are about each one and the collective. This process has not even started yet. If the idea is to lock Numsa support behind Vavi by these unions you are talking to, they are doing a bad job marketing Vavi, and acting to divide Saftu.

Question: Do you believe Mr Vavi is deserving of a second term as Saftu general secretary?

Jim: We have a proud tradition in SA of worker control and this is something that should be defended. However, I cannot use your newspaper to prejudge and influence the leadership outcome of a Saftu congress as workers will elect the leadership of their choice. 

Question: What is the view of Numsa on the current goings-on within Saftu pertaining to Mr Vavi?

Jim: We strongly advise all affiliates of Saftu including Numsa, all leaders of Saftu and Vavi himself to refrain from abusing perfectly normal internal Saftu organisational and administrative processes for personal political ambitions, among other wrong ambitions. Saftu must swiftly resolve these challenges and get on a war footing to marshal and grow its affiliates' capacity to defend the working class consistent with its discipline policy dictates governing both its staff and elected leadership. On this front, there are no holy cows. There is no room for opportunism where individual leaders can exploit their popularity to avert Saftu’s disciplinary code of conduct where hegemony of democratically elected leadership must prevail for all, regardless of the position one occupies. And in this context, both Saftu’s constitution and its policy on the disciplinary code must be respected and cannot be read as mutually exclusive, but are to be mutually reinforcing because in our formations and in Saftu, discipline has been de-constitutionalised.

I also think that all affiliates must refrain from actions and making statements that may jeopardise the congresses now going on and being prepared for affiliates of Saftu and Saftu itself. Saftu leadership must swiftly put its house in order. Vavi must address the situation presented to him like the mature trade unionist he is expected to be. Cooking up a political cover for organisational and administrative weaknesses and challenges on his part will not do. The decent thing to do is to confront the issues presented to him head on, and resolve them.

Question: Where to from here for Saftu?

Jim: While it is perfectly expected that processes leading to elective congresses produce a silly season in which all sorts of bad things are said about individuals and unions, we think that we are passing through a unique historic period and what must be foremost in our minds is putting all our organisations on a war footing to do battle with the bosses, rather than pretend that one can become a leader by character assassination of others. We appeal to all affiliates of Saftu to allow Saftu leadership space to resolve its challenges, and that includes not adopting populist posturing as an answer to administrative questions posed by democratically elected leadership.


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.