Vavi accused of attacking ANC alliance
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A week ago, Vavi's political career looked uncertain as his detractors ran a fierce campaign to topple him, but he came out of this week's Cosatu congress emboldened.
It will not be plain sailing, however, a fact made clear by the fierce criticism he was subjected to for his brutally honest political report delivered on Tuesday, particularly from the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Although Vavi will remain in office, it looks as though his critics want to rein him in, raising concern that he may be a lame-duck general secretary.
The plan to oust Vavi, mostly sponsored by President Jacob Zuma's supporters in Cosatu, crumbled after Vavi was re-elected.
Cosatu's other leaders in the top five: president S'dumo Dlamini, first deputy president Tyotyo James, second deputy president Zingiswa Losi, deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali and treasurer Freda Oosthuizen, were also re-elected.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Vavi hit back, saying he would not back down in the face of a crisis. "We must not be in denial," he said. "The ANC says unemployment is a challenge. We say it is a crisis. The figures are there. We are using statistics from Stats SA."
Vavi's detractors have accused him of being individualistic, obsessed with the media and of attacking ANC and government leaders in public instead of addressing his concerns internally and within alliance structures.
Responding to his report, Vavi's critics, including ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila and Police and Prison Civil Rights Union president Zamela Cebekhulu, castigated him for acting as if he was not part of the alliance.
"The political report seeks to locate the federation outside of the movement that is in 'crisis'," Mantashe told the congress. "It focuses on weaknesses. There are attempts out there to delegitimise the ruling party. The media, the judiciary, the opposition are the same. Once a section of the alliance begins to join them, then we must be worried. To find Cosatu agreeing with these forces and come back saying 'we are in an alliance with you' is a problem.
"We must not try to delegitimise the state by distorting the facts. You can't have a Cosatu that talks like a bourgeoisie media."
Said Mapaila: "The characterisation of Cosatu as outside the alliance falsifies the relationship between the party and Cosatu," he said. "The party joined forces with Cosatu on several marches in Durban and Johannesburg, but this is not reflected in the report. It creates an impression that the party is not active."
National Union of Mineworkers general secretary Frans Baleni joined in the attacks. "We have seen barbaric attacks using media, the abuse of power, [people] talking left but acting right and people choosing to embark on character assassinations when it suits them," said Baleni. "We should not treat our leaders as if they were taken from the shebeens when it was us who elected them. We need to unite the federation, but also the alliance. We have not run out of enemies."
Unemployment and inequality
But Vavi remained firm in his criticism, telling the M&G: "The auditor general says only 8% of national departments received clean audits, and 5% of local government received clean audits. The ANC secretary general [Mantashe] wants us to believe that this is an improvement.
"Sorry, but from where we are sitting, this is a crisis. We are sitting on a crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality."
Vavi said he was humbled by his re-election and called on those who opposed him to drop "the baggage" of the past and move on.
South African Democratic Teachers' Union president Thobile Ntola dismissed the allegations that Vavi was conducting himself outside the collective.
"It depends where one stands," said Ntola. "His view is [that he is] ensuring that the alliance is united. It was clear that he would be re-elected by the workers. This is the parliament of workers."
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa president Cedric Gina defended Vavi, describing him as an independent thinker.
"The mistake many make in this country is that they think that if you want unity, you must not criticise," said Gina. "In the past three years, Numsa has been known to be critical of President Zuma's administration and some of its decisions. People started saying we were anti-JZ, we were anti-alliance, anti-unity. That is wrong."