Cosatu sets auditors on Vavi
It is also an indication of how seriously they are treating the allegations against Cosatu's general secretary.
Three independent investigations will be conducted simultaneously. One will probe how the organisation is run, another will examine how the curent state of politics is affecting Cosatu. Forensic auditors SizweNtsalubaGobodo will examine administrative issues, including claims of financial mismanagement by Vavi.
The Mail & Guardian revealed that Vavi came under attack from his comrades during Cosatu's central executive committee meeting two weeks ago, where he was accused of, among other things, collaborating with opposition parties and rival unions to destabilise the ANC.
They also alleged that Vavi sold Cosatu's old building in Johannesburg for R10-million less than its market value and that he had awarded a tender to a company at which his stepdaughter was employed. And Vavi was lambasted for publicly calling for an investigation into the multimillion-rand upgrade of President Jacob Zuma's rural home in Nkandla without the federation's authority.
Affiliate leaders decided to appoint the commissions after meeting on Monday. The political commission is expected to be headed by respected labour lawyer Charles Nupen, while Petrus Mashishi, the former president of the South African Municipal Workers' Union, will probe "organisational matters". SizweNtsalubaGobodo will look at the administration of the union, including alleged financial impropriety by Vavi. All three commissions are expected to report back in two months, just in time for Cosatu's next central executive committee meeting in May.
Vavi, also at the meeting on Monday, said he supported the decision to appoint the commissions.
He believed they would clear his name, said a Cosatu insider.
Vavi allegedly proposed that Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel and ANC veteran Pallo Jordan be included as commissioners, a proposal rejected by the majority of leaders. "Both names were thrown out. He argued they were neutral. He said Patel understood the organisation while Jordan was neutral prior to the ANC conference in Mangaung in December," said a Cosatu leader who was not authorised to comment officially.
In recent months, Cosatu has been plagued by infighting, deep division and a wave of smear campaigns among senior leaders.
The election of senior Cosatu leaders onto the South African Communist Party's central committee and the ANC's national executive committee appears to have heightened divisions with the federation. SACP and ANC leaders have expressed their unhappiness about Cosatu's criticism of President Jacob Zuma's administration.
This week, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe lashed out at Cosatu leaders for failing to defend the ANC against the "liberal offensive".
Addressing union leaders at Cosatu's four-day collective bargaining conference in Benoni, Mantashe said the federation must defend the ANC. "On a daily basis in radio, the ANC is being attacked by a neoliberal agenda and we hear nothing from you. Society will take a view that is biased against you if you don't defend the movement.
"You must also work with the ANC. But the ANC is a multiclass organisation. Sometimes it will take positions that you don't like, but it is all about managing differences. I have experience in managing contesting classes. I'm the secretary general of the ANC and often work with various people with different class perspectives … I do it very well. Don't expect us to be shop stewards."
Mantashe also warned that anarchy was taking root within Cosatu and that the federation was losing its status as a collective bargaining trailblazer.
"My conclusion is that Cosatu is on a dangerous downward slope. Unions are under siege and less equipped to deal with the difficult situation they face," said Mantashe.
"Unions are fast replacing solid organisation with anarchy and therefore fast blunting this important tool of bargaining and striking. The federation is not only divided, but it is saying so itself and thus weakening itself in the public eye. When you become unruly and rough, you keep everyone at bay so that they don't come close to you to discover what you don't know. There are strong signs of this developing, with leaders of unions not relaxed when engaging."
A senior Cosatu leader who did not want to be identified said Mantashe's comments were ironic in that his own party was at the centre of divisions in Cosatu.
"He [Mantashe] is saying Cosatu is on a downward slope, as if the ANC was on an upward slope. The ANC is responsible for the divisions in Cosatu, but it won't own up. It's a pity that Vavi and other Cosatu leaders can't tell them [the ANC] that they are responsible.
"All this [the allegations against Vavi] is a smoke screen. The main cause of division in Cosatu is ANC and SACP politics. The two organisations are trying hard to capture Cosatu, but Vavi is the obstacle. He is the only one prepared to defend the interest of workers. Dealing with him will ensure that they capture the federation. They wanted him out during Cosatu's last conference, but they failed because the rank and file are behind him.
"Most leaders at central executive committee level do not represent the views of the workers. His [Vavi] strength lies in addressing worker issues. Most key leaders of the federation are in the politburo. They are there to mortgage the federation. They are not in the executive committee to represent the workers, but the interests of the SACP. What made matters worse was the election of key Cosatu leaders on to the ANC national executive committee," said the Cosatu leader.
Independent political analyst David Monyae said that on the face of it, unionists' differences were not ideological. "The tensions are mainly based on individual group preferences. The lines are also blurred. The federation's affiliates are involved in business and government and worker issues have taken a back seat. It is going to get worse.
"Cosatu needs to go back to basics and start asking hard questions about its core mandate. Failure to do so will make it irrelevant like the National Union Mineworkers is becoming in the mines.
Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven refused to comment, saying the Monday meeting was private.