Cosatu building bears scars of Vavi’s labour
Cosatu’s old building in Braamfontein, which has been used as a crucial pawn in the game plan to unseat general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, now shelters the homeless.
The federation’s old home was sold to Ebrahim Joosub for R10-million – allegedly about half its actual value. Joosub then sold the federation its plush new headquarters on Jorissen Street for R50-million. According to a report in the Citizen, he bought Cosatu’s new building for R33-million.
While Vavi battles his foes in the unions, the building he and his comrades called home for years has been quietly turned into a shelter by the lumpenproletariat.
On the Biccard Street end of the edifice, the eaves of the building are a refuge for the homeless.
Using makeshift windbreaks, they spend the night huddled in filthy blankets.
The building looks derelict and abandoned: sections of the façade are broken, windows hang open and all manner of junk lies strewn about its fenced vicinity.
The only signs of life are the sand heaps and stacked bricks — suggesting the early stages of a renovation process. At night, you see a lit, watchtower-like room at the top of the building.
Early on Wednesday morning I went to speak to one of the homeless people there – a greying man, perhaps in his early 60s.
He woke up in a temper when I told him the reason for my visit.
“I don’t want to tell you my story. It’s a story I have told to many people who said they wanted to help me. Even the churches came and didn’t help me. It’s better you leave me alone,” the man said in Xhosa-accented isiZulu.
But the more he spoke, the more a rage against life in general seemed to possess him.
Valley of troubles
“When people see me like this they think I am mad. It’s rough here, cops burn our blankets or chase us away; tsotsis also steal from us.
“It’s almost like I am a foreigner. Last week a kind woman bought me a blanket; they stole it from me. It would be better if a car hit me.”
The thin film of tears in his eyes turned into a trickle and then a stream. The more he spoke, the more worked up he got, and the more worked up he got, the deeper he dredged the valley of his troubles.
Between muffled sobs, the rumble of the early morning traffic and the footfalls of those walking to work, he told me that he used to work for what is now Aveng Grinaker-LTA, an engineering firm.
While working on a project at the Sun City resort in the 1980s, his head and legs were injured in an accident involving concrete.
He showed me a calloused foot; it was ashen, thin and long, as if a plaster cast had just been removed. “I hit my head against a concrete [post]. My feet swell when I stand for too long.”
Attempts to get compensation seem to have ended in a tangled bureaucratic knot he seems unable to untie.
He has paid people to help him to get access to this money, without success.
At some point, a bureaucrat told him the money had remained unclaimed for so long that he had forfeited it.
“But money doesn’t rot,” he said. “They won’t employ me now; they say I am too old.” He collects plastic bottles for recycling to generate a small income.
As Vavi fights to survive for the survival of the worker, his old home collects the detritus of labour – people for whom the modern economy has no need.