Andrew Chirwa. Picture: THE HERALD
Andrew Chirwa. Picture: THE HERALD

A national minimum wage of R3,500 is an insult to SA’s working class, says National Union of Metalworkers of SA president Andrew Chirwa.

Numsa, which was the largest affiliate of ANC-aligned union federation Cosatu in terms of membership before it was expelled, opened its 10th national congress in Cape Town on Monday.

According to Numsa, the congress had 1,077 voting delegates representing 346,870 members of Numsa nationally.

Chirwa’s address to the delegates was emotionally charged with multiple mentions of the Marikana shooting of 2012, where dozens of striking workers at Lonmin were shot dead by police.

They were demanding a R12,500 salary.

The national minimum wage is on Numsa’s agenda for its congress, where it will deliberate the issue and make a formal declaration.

"The R3,500 national minimum wage pronounced by (Deputy President Cyril) Ramaphosa and the ANC government is an insult to the working class. The workers of Marikana who died for R12,500 per month were earning R4,500. Would that not be a decent place to start talking about a decent national minimum wage?" Chirwa asked.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was scheduled to address the congress on Monday afternoon. However, Chirwa said this invitation should not be taken as a show of camaraderie with Gordhan, a member of the ANC national executive committee.

"We want Gordhan to come here and tell us what is happening on the economic front. We want him to tell us how he is going to prioritise the creation of jobs. We also want him to tell us what the Guptas are doing to continue looting the nation," Chirwa said.

There was no shortage of barbs aimed at Ramaphosa. Chirwa said President Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa were "two sides of the same coin".

Numsa was expelled from Cosatu and the alliance over its discontent with Zuma.

"Pravin Gordhan is the same as his colleagues in Cabinet and the ANC. And, by the way, there is no difference between Zuma and Ramaphosa. They are two sides of one coin. One is captured by the Ruperts and the other is captured by the Guptas," he said.

Chirwa read SACP secretary-general Blade Nzimande’s recent criticism of Zuma as opportunistic. Nzimande, who is also higher education and training minister, recently told the SACP that a president who could be bought did not deserve to lead the ANC or the country.

"It’s a bit too late now. We hear Nzimande’s crocodile tears. They want us to believe that they are a communist party that can lead the masses and emancipate the working class. It’s too late for the South African Communist Party," said Chirwa.

He said Nzimande spoke out against Zuma only because other groups within the ANC alliance had won the favour of Zuma’s faction in the party.

Former Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi are also expected to address the congress on Monday.

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