Cosatu's president has been thrust into the spotlight since Zwelinzima Vavi's much publicised struggle at the federation. So who is Sdumo Dlamini?
As president of trade union federation Cosatu, Sdumo Dlamini (47) has managed to remain under the political radar since taking over from shamed Willy Madisha in 2008. That is until he was accused of leading an ongoing campaign to oust popular trade unionist and the federation's general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, leading to Vavi's suspension last week over a sex scandal.
Dlamini has publicly denied playing a hand in the demise of Vavi, claiming that they have worked together for seven years and there has never been conflict or personal grievances. But a few of Cosatu’s affiliates and Vavi supporters are adamant that he is working tirelessly to get Vavi out and turn the federation into the government’s labour desk.
Although he does not exude as much charisma as his so-called nemesis, Dlamini is said to have a paralegal background and is a strong negotiator with developed conflict management skills combined with dispute resolution. As a leader of a federation movement with 2.2-million members that is in turmoil, he will need these skills and attributes to stabilise the federation in time for the 2014 elections.
Following the unceremonious ousting of Madisha, the federation's central executive committee elected Dlamini unanimously as president. Dlamini was Cosatu's deputy president at the time. He was only meant to hold this position until the tenth national congress, where members would decide whether to retain him or not.
He was elected unopposed at the 10th and 11th congresses. But this could change if Cosatu convenes the special congress that some of its affiliates are demanding to topple Dlamini from his position.
Dlamini, a trained nurse and midwife, is a Swaziland native who moved to South Africa with his aunt at a young age. Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have accused him of never being an integral member of the struggle for freedom, but Dlamini has had his fair share of struggles.
'My life was a struggle'
Dlamini said experienced a great deal of hardship owing to the fact that he was separated from his parents as a result of a custody battle. "My life was a struggle, I learned at an early age to work for schooling and a plate of food. I had to look after cattle and plough mealies," he once said.
In the 1980s, Dlamini enrolled for a diploma in nursing and practised at a hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, where he joined the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) following an illegal strike in 1990. He was elected as a shop steward and led six major strikes at that institution. He had already been a member of the ANC at the time.
The father of three cemented his role as a leader at Nehawu when he was elected chairperson at regional and provincial levels. He began his journey with Cosatu in 2000 as provincial chairperson. He served three terms and became the first deputy president at the ninth national congress. During this time he served as a member of the South African Communist Party – an ally of Cosatu and the ANC.
Dlamini, a Karl Marx enthusiast, considers himself a loyal member of the ANC since 1990. He emphasises that as a trade unionist he is not a friend of the ANC, but rather that he shares the same struggles as the ANC.
Dlamini has been outspoken about the need to fight for the unity of Cosatu and the alliance, saying that speculations are merely a distraction that he will not allow. He has aspirations of leading Cosatu and its members forward, despite the call for his removal.
"We are not working to divide or to split. Why spend time on fear? Why do you not spend time building Cosatu," he said on Wednesday.