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The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has promised to defend the “decisions of the congress, legal status and standing of the congress with all our might and if necessary we will go to the constitutional court”. This comes after a Johannesburg labour court order that refused the union’s leave to appeal an interdict against the congress, granted to its second deputy president, Ruth Ntlokotse, and other officials and members who were suspended and barred them from attending the 11th National Congress that ended on Thursday. The union went ahead with the congress while applying for leave to appeal.

Delivering his judgement, Judge Graham Moshoana said that he now must deal with a “disturbing revelation that was made during the virtual briefing that despite this court’s earlier order, Numsa has proceeded and is proceeding with the conference without full compliance of its own constitution”.

Moshoana described the move as being “unguided and unwise”. The union, however, says that it would appeal the denial of its application to appeal. Speaking to journalists at the Cape Town ICC, Andrew Chirwa who retained his position as president in Wednesday’s election, said that they want the “law to remain on our side” to avert further crises. Chirwa took a swipe at Numsa detractors and called them hostile elements. “We are dealing with elements that have ulterior motives, so we don’t know what they are going to do. Our strategy will be guided by the next step of these forces that are hostile to Numsa and want to use Numsa to pursue other agendas,” he said.

“There is convergence of those who are with the bossess; some are with organisations, others in the NGO sector and some are even in unions but they don’t like the Numsa we have that is militant. Some even have launched a paper titled ‘The Numsa we want’. At the right time we will provide you with a list of these people.” Chirwa also pointed fingers at the Saftu leadership as being behind the crisis that Numsa is in.

Mpumalanga region and future of ‘suspended’ leaders

The Numsa president says that one of the reasons the union will appeal the ruling of the labour court is that the court based its judgement on false information. According to Chirwa, the Mpumalanga region is not a region in good standing because it failed to have a regional congress and elect office bearers.

“The judge misinterpreted our constitution. The judge thinks that this is a conference of locals. This is a conference of regions and our constitution is clear that once two-thirds of your regions have gone to congress and elected their leaders, then the union can go ahead with the national congress. Moshoana wants us to have an illegal conference because he wants everyone to come and be part of the congress.”

On the future of the leaders who were suspended, Chirwa said that they are not going be vengeful and pursue the members. “Our policies and constitution will deal with that. We are not angry and we think we must have a continuous engagement because we are a union,” he said.

Accusations and counter accusations

JC Bezuidenhout regional secretary, Mncedisi Skwababa, told Elitsha that the delegates that staged a walkout on Wednesday are merely being used by leaders who are manipulating the situation. “The majority of those who walked out are what we call members of members. If they were genuine members, they would have stayed and contest ideas at the congress. It’s all being done in the name of political mobility,” he said.

Skwababa took a direct swipe at the Western Cape regional secretary, Vuyo Lufele, calling him a “drunkard and having no content”. “Vuyo has no content, he is not a leader. They didn’t even try to persuade us using superior logic. They just want to coerce us. We must hate the people they hate,” he said. Skwababa is adamant that it is the leaders who are divided, not the union. “I lead one of the most formidable regions; we debate and discuss issues, even the NIC [Numsa Investment Company) issue, and we call NIC to come and explain and we move forward. These ones [who staged the walkout] you can see they don’t read.”

Western Cape and Ekurhuleni delegates stormed out of the congress on Wednesday citing that the congress is in contempt of court.

Western Cape regional secretary, Vuyo Lufele called Chirwa’s allegations “cheap politics and propaganda that is meant to isolate him from the workers”. The leadership of Numsa, he said, “allowed the organisation to be stolen by Khandani Msibi [CEO of NIC] using his money to bribe the leadership.

“These delegates from the Western Cape are clear on what is happening with Numsa Investment Company. They are clear that the Numsa leadership has failed to intervene in the crisis at NIC and in the Trust. What we are doing here is to rescue the organisation from the hands of the Group CEO of Numsa Investment Company,” he said.

On the allegation of collapsing the congress, Lufele said that they were not going to allow the congress to proceed until it complied fully with the union’s constitution.