There would be no democracy without Zwelinzima Vavi
- Vavi: I know who is out to get me
- Why Zwelinzima Vavi is under attack
- Vavi denies Cosatu investigation into financial impropriety
South Africa would be the biggest casualty if Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was pushed out of the tripartite alliance.
Last week the Mail & Guardian reported how Vavi stood falsely accused of malfeasance by detractors within Cosatu in the hopes that he would lose his position within the labour federation.
It was largely interpreted as Vavi’s comeuppance for not actively seeking the re-election of President Jacob Zuma at the ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung this past December.
Although the Cosatu leader once vowed “to kill for” Zuma, he fell out with the man he helped bring to power and those aligned to the president are mobilising to have him axed.
Vavi decided he would not be anybody’s lapdog – something he would pay the price for if he were to be removed from his position as it would effectively end his political career.
The popular leader never did command a solid constituency within the ANC even though he was nominated to serve on its national executive committee in December – a position he declined.
The greatest political downfalls
It would not be unthinkable that Vavi did something wrong and Cosatu’s investigation could reveal some truth to the allegations so many members of the tripartite alliance face on almost a weekly basis.
But with his track record as a principled leader who has gone out of his way to expose corruption in all its forms and ensure the voice of his primary constituency – poor workers – is not silenced, it would mark one of the greatest political downfalls in the country’s history.
Vavi’s economic views might be dubious to some high flyers within the tripartite alliance but unlike many members of its members, his morals and ethics never gave cause to be called into question.
Moving away from speculation over his guilt or innocence, it would be a fair assumption – if not a foregone conclusion – that South African politics would suffer if Vavi were to be excommunicated.
History dictated that once members of the tripartite alliance were earmarked for quasi-expulsion, they were not a part of it for very long.
Willie Madisha was president of Cosatu and a member of the South African Communist Party’s central executive committee when he was bundled out of the alliance amid allegations he was accepting black bags full of cash in return for political favours.
Ironically, Madisha’s fate was sealed only after he suggested Vavi was guilty of unsolicited spending on his Cosatu credit card.
The now redundant and irrelevant Julius Malema should be a further warning to Vavi.
The precision with which Malema's expulsion from the ANC was executed could be a more recent example of what could happen to popular alliance politicians should they fall out of line with the mainstream.
With Malema selling cabbages in Limpopo and Madisha an MP for the Congress of the People, Vavi must be perturbed by the moves to unseat him.
Lifestyle audits among SA’s political elite
As a fervent campaigner against corruption at all levels of South African society Vavi did not make many friends within the upper echelons of the ruling party since Zuma was elected president in 2009.
His 2010 calls for lifestyle audits among South Africa’s political elite were deeply unpopular within the ANC-led government and raised the ire of the ruling party and state alike.
But in the face of antagonism, Vavi stood firm and continued to dispense his self-styled critique of the ANC’s governance. He lead protests against the state's implementation of e-tolling on Gauteng’s highways and, more recently, claimed the contentious Protection of State Information Bill would be a serious attack on every South African’s constitutional rights if it were passed in its current form.
Perhaps the greatest example of his fearless stance on fighting corruption was in November when he urged the ANC to move away from being a party that stood for "absolutely no consequences" and regained its identity lest it became a "basket case" amid "another failed revolution".
A divisive politician
In this context, Vavi was painted by the ANC as a divisive politician but his actions and words enriched the South African political debate and were an important attempt at keeping greed and corruption in check within the ruling party.
Were Vavi to be removed from the alliance, the country would lose a voice that called the ANC out on its shortcomings. South Africa would be robbed of an individual who – although a part of the political establishment – was unafraid to speak to truth to their power.
Should his head to roll, it would mark a massive leap towards a political system that was intolerant of dissenting voices.
Without voices that go against the grain, can South Africa really call itself a democracy?.