Editorial: Cosatu must look deep inside itself
- Cosatu's Vavi condemns national development plan
- Cosatu calls for increase to minimum wage
- Cosatu building bears scars of Vavi’s labour
It would also be dangerous.
There is a clear and deep-rooted division running through Cosatu, as reflected in ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe's warning this week that the federation could implode if it continues to be split between those who support its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and those who support president Sdumo Dlamini.
The allegations against Vavi include claims of questionable financial transactions, but the widespread suspicion is that this assault on him has more to do with the feeling that he is too critical of the government and that he is guilty of hobnobbing with the opposition.
Some union leaders, such as Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), believe Vavi is being targeted because he speaks out against corruption. His opponents within the union federation, however, insist he has a case to answer on the charge that there was something iffy about his sale of Cosatu's old building in Johannesburg. And Cosatu is taking the allegations seriously enough for a full investigation to be commissioned: our information is that it will be three-pronged, probing all the political, administrative and turf-related aspects of the matter.
Part of this process allows Vavi to answer the allegations against him and we certainly support such a process. As an avowed corruption fighter, Vavi should be the first to say (as he has done): "Go ahead and investigate. I am happy to co-operate; to help clarify whatever misconceptions have been turned into accusations." We hope that the investigation proceeds in an orderly and transparent fashion.
Yet this process of inward reflection should not be focused purely on one individual. Cosatu should also use it to probe the tensions between affiliates within its embrace. In particular, Cosatu needs to understand the rivalry between two of its biggest unions, Numsa and the National Union of Mineworkers. There is some history here, going back a long way, but this is not just a historical issue: inter-union tensions have been central to some big conflicts in the mining industry and they could contribute to more conflict.
All unions ostensibly share the goal of representing workers' interests. Yet rivalries between unions have often caused more problems than employers have.
The whole truth about Marikana is still being told, but part of it will undoubtedly be about turf wars between unions (in this case Cosatu-affiliated and independent) and workers' conflicts over who best represents them. General instability in the workplace is the result, and not one we want.
Cosatu itself, at its congress last year, reflected that there was a strong feeling that shop stewards, its key organisers, were losing touch with ordinary members. This is what the federation should be trying to understand, instead of jostling by its leaders about who gets to please the ANC most. And, in that light, Cosatu must also assess whether its members taking up leadership positions in the ANC is good for the federation – or not.