Q&A: Numsa's Irvin Jim speaks to M&G

Irvin Jim (M&G)

Irvin Jim (M&G)

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa [Numsa], which is Cosatu’s second largest affiliate, this week took radical resolutions, including nationalisation of mines, the Reserve Bank, other key sectors of the economy and ANC leadership. Irvin Jim has been re-elected for another three-year term.

You took a resolution to convince Cosatu to discuss the names of leaders who should be elected into key positions of the ANC. Would you push for the re-election of President Jacob Zuma?
The national congress has taken a decision that Cosatu must participate in the process of influencing leadership decisions of the ANC.
That’s not new. We have always, as components of the alliance, influenced each other. As things stand, Numsa will have to discuss internally and do a proper assessment of people who need to be elected. There is no specific name that we can talk about now. Remember this is an issue we still have to win within the federation [Cosatu].

Numsa has been particularly vocal in expressing its unhappiness with the government and the ANC under Zuma’s leadership to make radical policy changes. Do you regret supporting him at the Polokwane conference in 2007?
No. We never singled out individuals. We elected a collective leadership. We think that on the issues that related to macro-economic framework, Polokwane said there is a need to ensure that all fiscal and monetary policy be reviewed so that we champion manufacturing and industrialisation to create decent jobs. This is one thing that we have not moved on under the ANC leadership that was elected in Polokwane. It’s an important issue to Numsa in relation to the creation of jobs. Decent jobs to us include banning labour brokers. Treasury has been a stumbling block in maintaining a particular macro-economic framework. It’s a problem. We think there is a need to shift the current macro-economic framework.
We will have to convince the upcoming ANC policy conference to ensure that we take decisive measures on macro-economic framework so that we create jobs. The new growth path is buried within the macro-economic framework. One of the sad things is that, unlike in 1996 with regard to GEAR, we did not see this thing coming. Gear as we speak has failed to meet all its targets and there has been nobody from the Treasury in particular that has taken ownership of the crisis of unemployment and inequalities.

For a long time now you have been raising concerns about the Treasury. Are you proposing that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan step down?
We have had painful experiences with both the previous minister and the current minister. We had terrible experience in sorting out simple issues of procurement. The fact that even if you appoint a Minister of Economic Development, macro-economic framework continues to be in that particular department. We think that there is a challenge there of bureaucracy that continues to ensure that the macro-economic policy favours capital, not manufacturing, not industrialisation. We came out publicly to say the youth wage subsidy was rejected by the ANC in 2005. Then it unilaterally comes from this department and the next thing you get the DA marching against us. We think the ANC should be able to help us and give us a minister who will help us appreciate that we can’t continue with the current framework where everything else is done in the interests of finance capital, not the interests of ensuring that the country is put on a complete new trajectory to create jobs. We can’t continue to target inflation. This matter must be addressed. People need to accept that this country needs to make decisive changes. The issue of the land has not been addressed. We still have about 87% of land in the hands of white people. The policy of willing buyer and willing seller did not work. We need to revisit the sunset clause. The gap between workers and the executives is huge.

Do you think is proper to expropriate land without compensation as you have suggested, given the possible legal implications?
If we are to succeed in dealing with the dominance of white monopoly capital, which we think we must do in the interests of both black and white, we need to be decisive in dealing with the issue of the property clause.
This country needs to be decisive in dealing with the property clause. That’s crucial. Unless land is brought to the people as a whole, you can’t change power relations. Unless key strategic sectors of the economy are in the hands of both blacks and whites, with equal access, it means we will continue to have an island of a particular population that is swimming in wealth. When we raise this people say you are racist. The level of arrogance from the white population in this country is frightening. You get called names in various ways. But what is the percentage of people who are not working in this country?
These people are talking and there is no nationalisation that has taken place. The Freedom Charter needs to be implemented and you can’t do that without nationalisation. The Constitution must be reviewed. Those who owned the country’s economy have been exploiting African labourers for years.

Some say nationalisation of mines will lead to job losses.  What’s your view on this?
They say nationalisation will lead to job loses, but we is losing jobs as we speak. We don’t have jobs as we speak. We are getting told by those who are looting those minerals for themselves, those who maximise profit on our own minerals and they tell us we are fools. We are not saying these minerals must be destroyed. We are saying they must be utilised in the interests of everybody, both black and white. We have steel in this country, but that steel is basically charging us parity pricing. The steel is here with us. There is no extra cost, but we are getting that steel as if we are buying it from Europe. Government now is even thinking of introducing an alternative steel plant. We do not agree. We think that this is arrogance. We think we are being blackmailed by people who are pretending to be human and democratic when they are not. When we want shares in our own minerals those people have the guards to tell you that you cannot think. On what basis? I don’t understand.

Don’t you think the call for nationalisation of mines and other key sectors of the economy without compensation is reckless?
From where we stand, we are quite clear that Codesa was a particular epoch in our country. We never struggled for compromise. For the past 18 years now, they have been given a chance to do this miracle of owning the economy for themselves alone and at the same time ensure that they deliver to the majority of the people of this country. I’m saying we are 18 years in a democracy. They have not delivered. Instead of us taking a radical approach, we have people who are talking big English that we don’t understand. They say socialisation of mines. As workers, from were we stand, the production process is a social process. From where we stand the kind of nationalisation we are talking about is about ownership and control of the means of production. Those who produce particular workers must be at the centre of this particular process. Nationalisation can always be hijacked in the interests of a particular elite. We are very clear. We are talking about ownership and control in the interests of championing manufacturing. How can this be reckless when you have finished 18 years and all that you are experiencing every day is growing levels of inequality. South Africa is the most unequal country in the world.

The National Union of Mineworkers [NUM] says it supports the proposed 50% super tax by the ANC’s research team.
From where we stand all ANC structures agree that there was a consensus on nationalisation during the ANC national general council. We think it’s a pity that the research team, instead of going to look at models of nationalisation, went out to research reasons why there should not be nationalisation. It’s sad. Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has done it and there is no haven that has collapsed. We are not looking for unnecessary tension with NUM. We don’t want to engage NUM over the media. We have made a call on nationalisation and it cut across, its mines and all keys sectors of the economy. Its sectors where we are in and sectors where we are. If they differ with us, we don’t want to differ with them through the media. It is both in the interests of their constituency and our constituency not to have contradictions that are strategic.

The SACP says the call for nationalisation is intended at bailing out struggling BEE mining companies. Do you think this is the case?
Both Cosatu and the SACP have a policy on nationalisation. We don’t think that in the face of the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality, our own programmes or nationalisation could be seen in the same light because they are people that talk the same language. We do not agree with those people. We think with the high level of unemployment and poverty it is important to take a fundamental programme forward to alter the structure of the South African economy. We have to reverse the role of the market in the economy and the moment is now. In our view that [what the SACP is saying] is just a red herring. We must have faith in the working class. The SACP, Cosatu and the ANC cannot be fooled by a group of individuals, who could steal such a revolutionary agenda purely for themselves. We are not just calling for a particular rescue, we are calling for nationalization of the key commanding heights of the economy and in that we are talking about ownership and control. We want to deploy power in the hands of the state so that the state can use those particular minerals to champion manufacturing and industrialisation.

Some in the ANC believe the Freedom Charter is no longer relevant now, but you have taken a resolution this week that it should be made the policy of the ANC and structures of the alliance.
This is one point that Numsa has been very clear about and we are making no apology to any one. We believe that the Freedom Charter is the property of the people of this country and when the people have spoken, God has spoken. The people of this country assembled in 1955. After that the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter as policy. The Freedom Charter belongs to the people of this country. We can’t be sidetracked by individuals who want to rewrite the history of our revolution. We are calling anybody who has a problem with the Freedom Charter to convince the ANC conference that it is not the policy of ANC. As long as the Freedom Charter is the policy of the ANC we will continue to call for it to be implemented. From where we sit the Freedom Charter constitutes the agenda of the National Democratic Revolution.

You also took the resolution to swell the rank of the ANC NEC
We have taken a resolution to swell the ranks of the ANC at all levels. There is no national or provincial. All we are saying is that the working class must swell the ranks of the ANC in all levels. The call that President Jacob Zuma made [that Numsa members should be in the NEC] is being reinforced. But also what we are saying is that it is important to build the alliance and you don’t need to swell the ranks of the ANC to build the alliance.

Some in the SACP have described you as a demagogue and workerist. What’s your reaction?
I would not want to send any message that would appear as if we are on the war path with the SACP. Part of what we have called for as Numsa has been to unite the liberation forces. We do see the importance of Numsa and the party coming together to push the revolution. All of us must be big enough to allow dialogue on issues and we must be tolerant of views.

Do you see yourself as the future leader of Cosatu?
No. Look, I think I happen to be very ill-treated by this question. There has never been a debate about it, but it continues to be thrown out there. The bottom line is that there is no succession debate in the federation and there is no reason to see myself in different ways. Cosatu will sort out the issue of leadership at congress. I have never been a person of position. Ours is to contribute and we have done that.

What role would you want to see Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi play in the ANC after the end of his term at Cosatu?
Vavi as things stand is our general secretary and he has said openly that he is available for re-election. The likelihood is that he will stand and if he stands I see nobody who can make an issue about his continuation as leader of the federation because he has served workers with distinction. He is committed and loyal to class. Something that has got nothing to do with Vavi that we are raising is that in the coming conference of the ANC in Mangaung and beyond, we must have working class leadership that is consistent and revolutionary. There has been no debate, in the federation, not as yet, about the succession debate in the ANC.

In your political report, you came out very strongly in defence of Numsa’s support for the ANC Youth League. Do you think the league has been unfairly treated?
I think we must appreciate that young people are not a class, they are a strata in society and we must win them over. We can’t characterise them in ways that we now want to present them as a class. I think part of what we should appreciate on the issue of nationalisation, as a working class is that we must raise the level of consciousness and give the context and if we do that we will lead young people. I admire the guards of the ANCYL who demand nationalisation of mines and key sectors of the economy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the stance they have taken. Instead it is them [ANCYL] who are being failed by capitalism in this country. About 72% of the population in this country are young people. They can’t find jobs, but their country is rich. I think they are very brave. They have been very decisive. They inspire hope in young people. We need to close the gap between the working class and the youth. When Jacob Zuma was under attack in this country, it was the working class and the youth that defended JZ. I want to argue that even now he is under attack openly by the DA and he needs the workers and the youth to defend him.

ML

ML

Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award. Read more from ML

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