'What Freedom Charter are they reading?' asks Irvin Jim

New faces of militancy in Cosatu have emerged following the expulsion of Willie Madisha from Cosatu, the quiet retreat of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi from the forefront, and the changing nature of the relationship between trade union federation and Cosatu.

Irvin Jim is one of these faces. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s (Numsa) general secretary is a hardcore communist who took over as Numsa boss last year.

Jim has been a driving force in pushing for radical policy changes in the ANC, something that has earned him respect among his peers in the labour movement; while some ANC leaders see him as a thorn in the side of the alliance.

But, unlike his predecessor Silumko Nondwangu, who was more amenable to the ANC, Jim is proving a hard nut to crack.

Under Thabo Mbeki’s leadership, many in the ANC and government saw Numsa as one of the more pliable trade unions within Cosatu.

Not long after he took over, Jim launched a scathing attack on Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel and former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni for their conservative economic policies.

And earlier this month, Numsa stepped up its campaign for policy changes when it called for the nationalisation of the personal wealth of ANC BEE tycoons Tokyo Sexwale and Patrice Motsepe.

In a similar vein of defiance, when Cosatu as a federation supported former Eskom chairperson Bobby Godsell over former CEO Jacob Maroga, Numsa as an affiliate dissented and weighed in on Maroga side.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian recently, Jim lashed out at senior ANC leaders, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC secretary general and treasurer general Gwede Mantashe and Mathews Phosa for saying nationalisation was not ANC policy.

“I don’t know what Freedom Charter people are reading and which conference of the ANC has changed it,” he said. “The Freedom Charter we know says the people shall share in the country’s wealth. The national wealth, the heritage of our country shall be restored to our people. The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industries shall be transferred to the hands of the people. All other industries and trade shall be transferred to assist the wellbeing of our people.

“In a country where unemployment is so high, you must tamper with the current macroeconomic policies. The government must ensure that the Freedom Charter is executed,” argues Jim.

He says unless the government puts nationalisation at the centre of its policy, service delivery will remain a pipe dream for the poor.

“We support service delivery, but we think we are setting the movement for failure with absolutely no vibrant programme, especially in conditions of inequality.

“Political power without economic power is a shell. There must be a sense of urgency and political will to begin to say something has to be done to change the structure of accumulation in South Africa, which benefit a tiny minority and maybe few black individuals who are part of that particular discourse.”

This week, Jim slammed newly appointed Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus after her decision to keep interest rates unchanged.

“This conservative interest rates policy stance constitutes a wrong premise for [Marcus] particularly when in its own statement the [South African Reserve Bank’s monetary policy committee] stated that economic growth is expected to remain below potential for some time.”

Jim said Numsa would lobby the government to cut interest rates by 5% and to weaken the currency to boost struggling sectors and economic growth in the country.
“If you go to the United States, you will see interest rates are almost zero percent. We are a developing country, but we continue to have high interest rates.”

Read Matuma Letsoalo’s interview with ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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