The trade union federation's boss, S'dumo Dlamini, has told President Jacob Zuma that processes are in place to deal with troublemakers.
Cosatu president S'dumo Dlamini has assured the ANC's top leadership that he will work to prevent further criticism of the ruling party and government by wayward members of the trade union federation, according to members of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC).
Dlamini's assurances, made during the NEC meeting last month, came after President Jacob Zuma raised serious concern in his political overview at the meeting about elements in the tripartite alliance, particularly in Cosatu, who took a populist stance and regularly attacked ANC and government leaders.
Although Zuma did not mention Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi by name, ANC NEC members who spoke to the Mail & Guardian and attended the meeting believed the ANC president was referring to Vavi and his supporters.
ANC leaders, including secretary general Gwede Mantashe, have previously expressed unhappiness about the position taken by Vavi and other Cosatu leaders, such as the general secretary of Cosatu's metalworkers union [Numsa], Irvin Jim.
Dlamini and Fikile Majola, the general secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), who are both on the ANC's NEC, told fellow committee members that there was a process under way to deal with bad apples in the federation.
Vavi's supporters allege that some leaders in Cosatu are levelling unsubstantiated allegations against him with the aim of kicking him out of the federation as he is seen as an obstacle by those close to Zuma.
Although Cosatu leaders have consistently denied that an investigation is being lodged against Vavi, the senior leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers (the NUM) have confirmed it publicly. The investigation against Vavi or "facilitation process", as Cosatu calls it, is seen as part of a broader agenda driven by some in the ANC, the South African Communist party and Cosatu to remove Vavi as general secretary.
Although Dlamini refused to comment, four ANC national executive committee members confirmed his remarks made during the NEC meeting. They did not want to be named.
One ANC NEC member said Dlamini had vowed to deal with those who continued to take a populist stance against the ANC.
"The president complained that some in Cosatu continued to attack the ANC and the government," the member said. "He [Zuma] said that [tendency] must be nipped in the bud." After Zuma delivered his report, Dlamini said a process was in place to deal with those who caused problems, the NEC member said.
A Cosatu leader who was briefed about Dlamini's remarks said it was clear that the Cosatu president wanted to deliver the federation to the ANC.
"He was saying to the ANC NEC, there are problems in Cosatu and that he will sort out those problems," said the Cosatu leader, who is aligned to Vavi. "This is what they are doing with Vavi now. Cosatu was under attack, but he [Dlamini] failed to defend it. We expect that when Cosatu is under attack, he should be the one who explains to the ANC and gives context to our issues."
Another ANC NEC member said Zuma had also raised concern about repeated attacks on the national development plan by some Cosatu leaders.
"S'dumo said the federation's leadership was in the process of resolving the squabbles through an internal process under way at the moment," said the ANC NEC member. "He also agreed with the ANC that we needed to have an alliance summit in order to resolve these issues."
The NEC member added: "It is a sad moment in the history of the federation. In the past, it was the apartheid security [apparatus] dividing us, but now it is self-induced division. They went to congress last year and came up with a formula to uphold unity and reached an agreement that they shouldn't contest each other. They elected this leadership by consensus. But it now seems that it was not a correct formula, because certain unions had different positions on who should lead the ANC between Jacob Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe."
The member also lashed out at Vavi for being too critical of the ANC and the government, saying his actions were foreign to the alliance.
"Vavi has been on a crusade against the ANC," he said. "He is not even prepared to meet as union leaders normally do when they have a problem with the ANC.
"That is why people are [asking]: what is influencing him? Whose agenda is he serving? Is he part of those who want a Cosatu without an ANC, or to form a workers' party? What we are beginning to see in South African politics is a left that feels that the ANC is no longer that left, [it is] more at the centre.
"The only way is to break away and form this workers' or left party. However, they still don't have the numbers to break away. These people are tearing the union federation and the alliance apart. We need to act fast because we need a strong Cosatu and strong alliance."
Another NEC member sympathetic to Dlamini said the Cosatu president was "not necessarily promising to deliver Cosatu to the ANC, but was merely giving his input after Zuma had delivered his political overview".
"He [Dlamini] said the ANC, as an alliance leader, had the right to talk to Cosatu about its problems and give advice on solutions," said the NEC member. "[Dlamini] also said of ANC intervention [in Cosatu's internal affairs]: 'Don't fear that we'll ignore you. We'll welcome you because you made us what we are today'. He said the ANC and alliance leaders should not be afraid to criticise Cosatu because at Cosatu meetings, they were not afraid to criticise the ANC."
Dlamini's apparent assurances to the ANC NEC might put him at odds with radicals in the federation who believe that Cosatu leaders elected to the ANC NEC are selling the federation out. Already there are visible signs that some ordinary members of Cosatu are unhappy with Dlamini, who is seen as leading a powerful faction that wants to remove Vavi.
This week, irate South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) members disrupted Dlamini's speech by chanting Vavi's name while the former was addressing them at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Sadtu's leadership is opposed to Vavi, but some ordinary members support him. Last week, delegates attending Numsa's bargaining conference in Pretoria urged Dlamini in song to provide answers as to why Vavi was being persecuted and investigated. Numsa president Cedric Gina defended the union's leadership for not calling members to order, saying there was nothing wrong with them singing anti-Dlamini songs.
"This song was sung even when Thabo Mbeki was president and there was no crisis," he said. "Comrade S'dumo raised the matter with members in the Eastern Cape about why they were singing the song. The members said they were singing about Vavi because they thought he was being attacked."
Dlamini said: "Workers are being given poison so they will say these things. If they're being fed lies by people, they'll act in a certain way, which is why I was warning those workers in East London to wait for [Cosatu's] internal process to finish before they come to conclusions."
Asked to clarify whether Cosatu was investigating Vavi, Dlamini said he would not comment on what some leaders said outside of Cosatu structures. "There is a process led by Charles Nupen and Petrus Mashishi to facilitate a discussion on issues that arose from the central executive committee meeting," he said.