Hired guns aim for Numsa

With a spate of killings tormenting South Africa’s mining industry, metalworkers union Numsa has revealed that its members working in the North West have fallen under the scope of hired guns, who’ve warned the union’s recruitment officers to back off.

Numsa has emerged as the biggest benefactor of internal fighting that has seen members of the National Union of Mineworkers and its rival mining union Amcu, leave the unions to join the metalworkers’ ranks.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim this week told the Mail & Guardian that he could not divulge the details of the union’s membership growth in the mining industry because “bragging is a matter of life and death.”

“The situation has become bad for our members, there’s a lot of violence on the mines. It’s not wise to reveal our strategy,” Jim said.

“There have been reports from our organisers of intimidation. There was an incident involving one of our members who is recruiting at AngloGold Ashanti. She was sent an anonymous SMS where her mother was threatened. We’ve advised our members to be more vigilant,” Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi said.

Numsa’s decision to recruit in the mining sector put it in direct competition with NUM and is partly the reason why it was expelled from Cosatu in 2014.

The metalworkers union officially decided to start recruiting workers in the mining industry at the end of 2013, at its special national congress, despite still being within Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and allied to the NUM at the time.

The NUM then accused Numsa of violating Cosatu’s founding principle; one union one industry, arguing this should form the basis of the federation’s reasons for expelling it.

Now, four years after taking the decision to compete with the NUM, Jim said his union faces resistance from both the bosses and other unions.

“They [Numsa members] get harassed by the bosses and the traditional unions at the same time,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

“We have not been very vocal about recruiting in mining because it is a very contested space and not a very safe environment. Our recruitment has been covert, but quite successful,” Hlubi added.

In Marikana, Numsa pamphlets were distributed in the Wonderkop township as Amcu members were fired from their union last month.

The leaders of NUM and Amcu, however, believe their organisations are being undermined by rebels in their ranks, and the extent of poaching each other’s members has not been officially quantified.

“There is no challenge in the [North West] Matlosana region except… that there were people who were addressed somewhere by a former general secretary of Cosatu [Zwelinzima Vavi]. As I’m speaking to you, there are no figures as to how many people might have joined Numsa or whatever union,” NUM president Piet Matosa told the Mail & Guardian.

Hlubi said since Vavi’s address in Klerksdorp, Numsa has “seen collusion between the NUM and the department of mineral resources, where it seems as if NUM is on a campaign to try and get Numsa members dismissed.”

He said the union’s next leadership meeting would receive a more detailed report about disgruntled members at gold mines near Klerksdorp, but Numsa was not considered a serious threat.

“Numsa, like any other union, are looking for members. What we insist should be done is that our members must be given correct information about our leadership. I really don’t want to take them [Numsa] as a threat. They’ve never been a threat,” Matosa added

But Jim said he was encouraged by the number of workers joining Numsa. “We are there and we are growing, but I can’t give you the details as it is sensitive,” he told the M&G.

On the platinum belt, Matosa said he was aware of Amcu members that wanted to return to NUM after a spate of killings in Marikana. Amcu’s membership surged to over 100 000 after the 2012 Marikana massacre, where police shot and killed 34 mineworkers.

The massacre was preceded by an exodus of mineworkers from the NUM, over poor service.

But Amcu blamed the national intelligence agency and disgruntled members for claims that the union’s president Joseph Mathunjwa was suppressing democracy within the union. It said the union’s senior leadership had been dispatched to all branches to listen to complaints.

“It is common cause that Marikana remains an area of tension, suspicion and social deprivation. We strongly suspect that there are forces that would wish to see AMCU defeated and the old regime returned. We believe they will seek to use whatever opportunity to divide and weaken Amcu,” general secretary Jeff Mphahlele said in a statement.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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