Irvin Jim moves to push Zwelinzima Vavi out of SAFTU

Vavi has brought NUMSA “into disrepute”, according to letter

By James Stent

8 March 2023

NUMSA national executive committee says it intends to recall Zwelinzima Vavi from his position as general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, of which NUMSA is an affiliate. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Irvin Jim, general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), South Africa’s biggest trade union, has given Zwelinzima Vavi notice that NUMSA intends to recall Vavi from his role as general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU, the union federation in which NUMSA is the majority member).

According to a 28 February letter from Jim, Vavi was elected SAFTU general secretary as an official of NUMSA, and following a meeting of the NUMSA national executive committee, NUMSA has decided that Vavi’s conduct “does not serve the best interests of NUMSA’s members and the working class in general”.

The letter says the SAFTU constitution stipulates that a SAFTU office-bearer can be recalled by the affiliate which provided the office-bearer “if the member violates the constitution of the affiliate, or brings it into disrepute, or if the affiliate considers that the person failed to represent the best interests of the union’s members and the working class in general”.

Jim writes that Vavi’s “conduct over a protracted period of time has plainly brought NUMSA as an organisation in disrepute”. Jim then gives examples of the conduct that NUMSA’s NEC considers disreputable, beginning on 18 March 2022.

On 1 March 2022, GroundUp broke a story that Irvin Jim’s birthday party had been paid for by 3Sixty Life, an insurer owned by NUMSA and servicing its members. This was the first of a series of stories about the apparent mismanagement of 3Sixty Life and the involvement of NUMSA, its ultimate owner.

Jim refers to media interviews given by Vavi in which he discussed the growing disagreement between Vavi and Jim, including discussion of NUMSA’s threats to suspend him.

Jim also claims that during NUMSA’s turbulent elective conference, Vavi attacked “NUMSA and/or its national leadership stating, or alternatively implying, that there is a corrupt relationship between NUMSA’s national leadership or persons within the national leadership and NUMSA’s Investment Company.”

Jim lists other instances in which Vavi “attacked” NUMSA, claiming it was captured by “business unionism”, and accused him of “running a campaign to swell divisions and to liquidate the union’s unity”.

Jim demands that Vavi give written reasons by Thursday 9 March why NUMSA should not recall him from his position at SAFTU, and hints that NUMSA may initiate disciplinary action against Vavi.

Trevor Shaku, SAFTU spokesperson, said, “We are not issuing a public response or comment”.

Groundup asked NUMSA spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.