/ 15 July 2012

Irvin Jim ‘assassination plot’ sparks conspiracy speculation

The alleged targeting of NUM secretary general has raised questions about political rifts within the tripartite alliance.
Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

Claims of political conspiracy and alleged abuses of power continue to shroud the "alleged assassination" of National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) secretary general Irvin Jim.

Numsa claimed Jim was followed by a car with false number plates after leaving the South African Communist Party's (SACP) 13th National Congress at the University of Zululand last Thursday.

When confronted, the occupants produced a false photocopied police ID and claimed to have mistaken him for someone else they were meant to be protecting.

It was also said that they were heavily armed and Numsa reportedly opened a case of intimidation with the police in KwaZulu-Natal.

"We find this disturbing but for now there is nothing more we can do.

"We have reported the matter to the relevant authorities and await the outcome of their investigations. We fear that comrade Jim is being targeted for his political opinions," said Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese.

'Nefarious tactics'
Jim has been a staunch proponent of the controversial call for mine nationalisation in South Africa.

Ngobese said there was a worry that "nefarious tactics" were being used to "suppress opposing views".

The purported incident follows hot on the heels of the alleged murder of ANC Hibiscus Coast chief whip Wandile Mkhize shortly after the fractious ANC policy conference in Midrand last month.

Mkhize and fellow councillor Nhlakanipho Ntshangase were walking along a road in Margate when they were shot at in early July.

Mkhize died at the scene while Ntshangase sustained critical injuries.

Mkhize's death was the latest in a spate of killings involving ANC leaders in what appeared to be politically-motivated murders linked to infighting over positions and access to state resources.

Ruffled feathers
Recent killings include that of eThekwini regional secretary Sbu Sibiya and ANC eThekwini regional executive committee member Wiseman Mshibe.

ANC sources recently told the Mail & Guardian that Mkhize had apparently broken ranks at the policy conference with his province's stance on nationalisation, which the province opposes.

Mkhize argued in favour of nationalisation which ruffled the feathers of many fellow KwaZulu-Natal delegates.

In response to the incident, the SACP's Blade Nizmande – fresh from his uncontested re-election as party secretary general – rubbished claims that Jim was in any danger.

"No one's life was under threat. The media ran with this issue and it was an honest mistake. There was no threat to Jim's life. We are not manufacturing martyrs," Nzimande told reporters at the conference.

Nzimande also slammed the media for sensationalising the incident and portraying KwaZulu-Natal as a "killing ground".

The incident has also been labelled an "honest mistake" by the office of eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo.

"Those guards who followed Mr Jim were assigned to both the mayor and deputy mayor," Nxumalo's spokesperson Thabo Mofokeng told the South African Press Association.

Muted response
Numsa are not accepting this explanation though.

"It can’t be true that this is a mistake. How can professional bodyguards not know who their principal is or which car they are driving? It makes no sense at all," Ngobese said.

Ngobese also criticised Nzimande for playing down the incident.

"We find it strange the SACP needs to respond to this in such a way.

"Why don’t they just back off and let the police do their work," Ngobese added.

Numsa have received support in their calls for this to be investigated from their mother body – and member of the tripartite alliance – the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

"There are still many unanswered questions. To call this a mere mistake is unconvincing," Cosatu national spokesperson Patrick Craven told the M&G.

'Attempted assassination'
The ANC offered a muted response to the incident.

"We would generally be concerned if anyone’s life is being threatened. If indeed there was an attempt on anyone’s life, then it must be dealt with by the SAPS and thoroughly investigated," Keith Khoza said.

However, the ANC Youth League – another staunch supporter of nationalisation – went so far as to label the incident an "attempted assassination" of Jim and accordingly called for a independent commission of enquiry into the spate of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal.

"This type of incident overwhelmingly creates the perception there is ill-intent in the offing. We can’t mask these incidents as they come at a time of politically motivated killings and intimidation," league spokesperson Magdalene Moonsamy told the M&G.

Moonsamy added that incidents such as the one involving Jim are too serious to be ignored.

"If you start connecting the dots you will soon see the need to raise the alarm, society needs to demand that this be resolved," she said.

As of Sunday, police in KwaZulu-Natal were yet to investigate the incident.

"We are not disputing it may have happened or not, but until someone comes forward with proof of a case being opened, we will not be commenting further," Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge, spokesperson for the SAPS in KwaZulu-Natal told the M&G.