Numsa regions ready to defend leadership against Jo'burg rebels

This weekend’s Numsa congress could reflect whether the JC Bez rebels have enough momentum to unseat Irvin Jim, who has held the position since 2008. (Madelene Cronje)

This weekend’s Numsa congress could reflect whether the JC Bez rebels have enough momentum to unseat Irvin Jim, who has held the position since 2008. (Madelene Cronje)

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) regions say they are “combat ready” and will quash any moves by dissenting members to unseat the top leadership at the union’s national congress next month.

They are dismissive of reports of a “rebellion” by shop stewards and officials who claim they are being purged and that a leadership contest is being suppressed.

The “rebels”, who hail from the union’s Johannesburg-based Jack Charles Bezuidenhout region (JC Bez), are calling for general secretary Irvin Jim’s head. They want the national youth forum chairperson, Mpho Hlongwane, to take up the mantle.

The region will hold its own congress this weekend where the names of its candidates will be debated. But Hlongwane will not be eligible to stand.
He was suspended earlier this year for allegedly causing the dismissal of another Numsa member.

Isaac Ledwaba, a suspended official in the Tshwane region, claims that Hlongwane’s suspension was a strategic move to scupper plans to nominate him at the congress. “We want to nominate Mpho for a national position,” he said. “I think they suspended me because we have been agitating for him to contest against top leaders.”

Numsa is South Africa’s largest union, with about 370 000 members. It is set to hold its first congress since it broke ranks with the ANC-led tripartite alliance in 2013.

Members from JC Bez voiced their unhappiness over the leadership’s “obsession” with politics. They accuse Jim and Numsa president Andrew Chirwa of clinging to power.

“Numsa is not a political party, it’s a trade union,” said Ledwaba. “We should have used union money to support retrenched members. Instead leaders are flying to Brazil and Europe [to research launching a political party]. That’s our money,” he added.

A Numsa shop steward on Johannesburg’s West Rand, who spoke on condition of anonymity, corroborated Ledwaba’s claims. “They are trying by all means to suppress their competitors. Strategically, they are trying to sabotage us.”

This weekend’s congress could reflect whether the JC Bez rebels have enough momentum to unseat Jim, who has held the position since 2008.

The JC Bez region’s secretary, Sizwe Dlamini, whose relationship with the national leaders is believed to have soured, was not available to comment.

Other regions, including the Western Cape, Sedibeng and KwaZulu-Natal, accuse the JC Bez region of making a play for power and have promised to return the “most progressive leadership in the country” to power.

“There are desperate forces that want to be leadership; others are used from outside to destabilise us,” said Western Cape secretary Vuyo Lufele. “We are not blind to forces trying to capture us. We are … combat ready to confront those forces at congress,” he added.

“The JC Bez rebellion stands no chance at all. They are only raising nonsense,” the KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Mbuso Ngubane, concurred.

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