Confused delegates idle outside NUMSA congress
“We don’t know what we are going to do here”
NUMSA delegates from across the country arrived at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Monday for the start of their national congress.
An urgent interdict restrained the congress from proceeding, so delegates were left without guidance on what would happen next.
Delegates were concerned about the legitimacy of the conference and the waste of workers’ money.
Scores of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) delegates from across South Africa waited patiently outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Monday morning. They were unsure what to do, after their elective national congress, set to begin on Monday, was stopped from going ahead by Judge Graham Moshoana in the Johannesburg Labour Court on Saturday.
According to reliable sources, NUMSA’s leadership will be convening a special meeting of their central committee tomorrow morning to determine the path ahead and whether the congress will proceed in defiance of the interdict.
GroundUp was told by delegates that NUMSA’s leadership had not communicated to them what would happen after the interdict was handed down on Saturday. Some delegates spent the morning outside, savouring a sunny winter morning in Cape Town. At about 12:30pm, delegates were called into the convention centre to be addressed by NUMSA’s national office bearers.
GroundUp understands that inside, NUMSA President Andrew Chirwa railed against the Labour Court judgment and Judge Moshoana.
“We don’t know what we are going to do here. The national leadership didn’t provide delegates with guidance after the conference had been interdicted,” said one delegate.
Serema Totsetsi, from Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, is a motor bargaining representative who said he was suspended after he was accused of picketing outside NUMSA national offices in Gauteng. Following the judgment on Saturday, his suspension was lifted.
“If the conference goes ahead, we would be in contempt of court,” he told GroundUp. “There are a number of issues that have yet to be resolved. For instance, there are suspended delegates who are here to attend the conference.”
GroundUp was told that there were no delegates from Mpumalanga, the union’s largest region, after NUMSA’s central committee put that region under administration. The Labour Court ruling found that this was unconstitutional, as the central committee did not have the authority to place the region under administration. Judge Graham Moshoana ruled that the conference may not proceed until NUMSA complies with its constitution.
Many delegates continued to wait outside even while others conferred with the national office bearers inside the conference centre.
“Wasted workers’ money”
GroundUp spoke to some delegates, who did not want to be named, who were concerned about the legitimacy of the conference and the waste of workers’ money.
One delegate said, “There is an interdict against the conference, so its outcomes may not be legitimate if we go ahead with it.”
Another delegate said he was worried about the money NUMSA used to send delegates from across the country to an interdicted conference.
“NUMSA has wasted workers’ money on transporting delegates from other provinces to a conference that has been interdicted,” said the delegate.
A letter from NUMSA’s second deputy president Ruth Ntlokotse, one of the formerly suspended members, to Irvin Jim, NUMSA’s general secretary, warned Jim that opening the congress would be unconstitutional, and that attempting to do so would force Ntlokotse to approach the court for a contempt order, and a declaration rendering any decision at the congress “null and void”.
By 4pm, despite numerous attempts to reach NUMSA’s spokesperson, GroundUp could not establish whether the conference was to proceed.
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