Numsa’s general secretary Irvin Jim is the latest political leader to claim to have received death threats, and his comrades have asked journalists to play nicely because they’re scared. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
There seem to be an awful lot of people running around with firearms nowadays, gunning for the big shots. The fact that all three of the ruling alliance partners are having their elective congresses next year, of course, has everything to do with this.
Earlier this week ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema claimed some murderous right-wing anti-nationalisation anti-shoot-the-Boer-song capitalist had approached a Luthuli House employee two weeks ago and put a R1 million price on his head. In April last year, soon after the Dubula song, an SMS promised R2 million to the person who took Malema out.
The Nyalas armoured vehicles permanently parked in front of the ANC’s headquarters in Joburg’s CBD indicate others in the revolutionary house also fear for their lives, while the ever-growing phalanx of bodyguards around President Jacob Zuma speaks volumes about his security level.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has at least twice in the past year or two claimed to have received letters saying there are bullets with his name on them.
Whether the number of death threats alleged says more about the state of our democracy or the state of paranoia of our comrades (the struggle has forever etched many a soul) is difficult to tell. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Or maybe it’s a tool for attracting sympathy.
On Friday the metalworkers union Numsa, which has recently also made its contribution to the strike season, called a press conference in which its vocal boss Irvin Jim was expected to set the record straight about some political facts reported on him. But he didn’t come, instead sending his president Cedric Gina.
It has been reported that Vavi wants Jim to succeed him, but this may or may not be true as nobody is confirming anything. In fact, Gina has asked that people please stop talking about the succession debate (where have we heard this before? Polokwane 2007?) and that “persistent negative-class media coverage” should stop because Jim “runs the risk of being assassinated”.
In short: Journalists should watch what they write because the pen is mighty and might incite fellow unionists or devious capitalists – such as the type that would have read the “moronic” arguments of veteran reporter Jan de Lange in Fin24 in July or the “false media stories in the Mail&Guardian or Sam Mkokeli’s analysis in the Business Day.
Numsa is expected to have its own elective congress in Durban in June next year, three months before Cosatu’s congress in September. The trade union may or may not decide to “release” some of its leaders to enable them to stand for their mother body Cosatu’s leadership positions, Gina said.
Asked about the substance of the threats, Gina said: “Last year we had things that were said to the extent that Jim should be removed. Those things were said in social circles and it(sic) got to us. It could have been about next year’s Numsa conference, or it could have been about his life. We didn’t want to waste time to find out what it was about.”
Maybe if Gina read more spy novels, he might have known that the general term used by assassins is “remove permanently”.
The second threat came when a suspicious-looking journalist – who nobody knew – attended one of their press conferences on foot. Apparently he had told security guards at the gate that he was a Numsa member, but then came to the press conference saying it was good that Numsa’s strike had ended “so that our sister’s cars will not be damaged”. Scary stuff.
These incidents have not been reported to police, but Gina was hoping to meet with police minister Nathi Mthethwa if and when the minister can make time in his busy schedule, what with acting like a cooperative governance minister too.
“We had a phone conversation two days ago, also about other things,” Gina said hopefully.
The union has organised Jim some bodyguards in the meantime.
They speculate that people want Jim dead because he articulated union opinions not always liked by business bosses, and also because of the union’s fierce anti-corruption stance, which might get up some noses.
It is unclear why the union chose this week to reveal the death threat stuff.
Some would say it’s good to go public with such threats, as it might hamper the plans of the bad guys.
The strikes have passed so they don’t need a bargaining chip and next year’s conferences are still some months away.
It could be, as often happens, that a weekend paper has posed some difficult questions and that the leadership had decided the best way to kill the story was to pre-emptively go public with it. Who knows? DM
Photo: Workers take part in a march in the city of Johannesburg July 4, 2011. The National Union of Metal workers of South Africa (NUMSA) announced on Sunday a country-wide strike that could see more than 300,000 workers down their tools. With more than 263,000 members, NUMSA is demanding wage increases of 13 percent from the metal and engineering industries, down from an initial demand of 20 percent. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.
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