New Cosatu leaders by year end?

Cosatu is considering further charges against Zwelinzima Vavi. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Cosatu is considering further charges against Zwelinzima Vavi. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Supporters of suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi are planning to push for the removal of the union federation's three top leaders at a special congress expected to take place before the end of the year.

The leaders in question are Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini; Vavi's deputy, Bheki Ntshalintshali; and Cosatu's second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi. They are seen by the pro-Vavi faction as lackeys of ANC leaders such as President Jacob Zuma, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and ANC national executive committee member and South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande.

Ntshalintshali confirmed on Thursday at a press briefing after Cosatu's central executive committee (CEC) meeting this week that nine Cosatu unions have written letters to the federation requesting a special congress.

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"The president must call a special national congress if … not less than a third of the affiliates in good standing submit a written request to the general secretary for the attention of the president calling for the meeting. The president must then deal with the practicalities, such as costs and timing of the congress, and the state of the affiliate.

"A report on progress will then be given to the November CEC," Ntshalintshali said.

But the anti-Vavi faction is threatening to boycott the special congress in the hope that it will fail to reach the two-thirds majority required to hold elections.

Special congress
Losi, a close ally of Dlamini, told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that the issue of elections might not be included on the agenda for the special congress.

"The agenda of the special congress must be agreed by the CEC," he said. "If there are those who believe they are going there to remove us, surely the congress is not for them. It [plans to remove senior leaders] does not worry me. The issue of elections will have to be in the agenda. I was elected uncontested and I am carrying the mandate given by the workers at the 11th national congress. I will not be disturbed by people making noise in the periphery," Losi said.

Speaking to the M&G, Dlamini lambasted his detractors for selective criticism - claiming that he, Losi and Ntshalintshali had failed to implement resolutions of Cosatu taken at the last congress.

"If there is a failure on the implementation of Cosatu resolutions, programmes and campaigns, it binds all of us, including Vavi," he said. "There was no determination in the CEC that we have failed. It is a lie. It is devoid of truth. It seeks to say Vavi was the only one implementing Cosatu programmes.

"Now that we took a decision to suspend Vavi, people are saying we want to get rid of him. That's factional in itself."

He brushed aside suggestions that he did not enjoy the support of the majority of ordinary workers.

"It is not true that I don't enjoy majority support. I would not have been re-elected as president last year," he said. "People now believe they can believe in the rank-and-file members when they lose debates at CEC level. They exploit the fact that the rank-and-file members are not aware of what is discussed at the CEC level. It's an abuse of members."

Selling out Vavi
Vavi supporters want Dlamini to be replaced by the suspended president of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union, Thobile Ntola, or the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) president, Cedric Gina.

The group will also push for the removal of Ntshalintshali, who they accuse of selling out Vavi because he submitted an answering affidavit to the high court in Johannesburg opposing Numsa's application to overturn Vavi's suspension. In the affidavit, Ntshalintshali alleges that Vavi failed to call the junior Cosatu official he had sex with to account after she failed to answer for more than R1-million of the labour federation's funds.

Vavi is reportedly accused of benefiting from her alleged financial misconduct but he has denied it.

A Cosatu leader sympathetic to Vavi said: "Bheki [Ntshalintshali] has allowed himself to be used by these guys [the Dlamini faction]. As Vavi's deputy, he is supposed to be working together with him. He compromised himself.

"If we go to the special congress, he will go. Unfortunately his union, Ceppawu [Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union] is in turmoil with allegations of corruption against its general secretary. He [Ntshalintshali] miscalculated."

Another Cosatu leader has accused the Dlamini-aligned group of failing to implement Cosatu resolutions because they wanted to please the ANC and Zuma.

"Everyone knows that these guys want to further their careers more than serving the interests of the working class," said a pro-Vavi leader. "There are some things in the National Development Plan [NDP] that adversely affect public sector unions, yet leaders in those unions are supporting the plan. It is clear that people are interested in their own careers. The biggest threat to the unity of Cosatu is patronage dispensed by the Zuma administration.

"They wanted to deliver Cosatu to the ANC in the same way that Nzimande delivered the SACP to Mahlamba Ndlopfu [the president's official residence in Pretoria].

Vavi rapped over the knuckles
"For some in the ANC, a united Cosatu must be without Vavi so that it is reduced to a labour desk. The tables have turned now. They thought the issue of the special congress will not fly."

Losi rejected suggestions that they were lackeys of the ANC leaders and that they wanted to turn Cosatu into a sweetheart union.

"There is no such thing that we want to turn Cosatu into a sweetheart union. We have an alliance with the ANC and we continue to engage with the party. We continue to raise matters with the ANC in the alliance," he said. "We are an independent and auto­nomous. If that was not the case, we would not have taken to the streets to protest against e-tolling. We would not have said ban labour brokers.

"If we want to influence ANC policies, we have to work with them. We must continue to contest for our space in the alliance."

Meanwhile, the CEC took a decision to investigate other charges made against Vavi after he addressed workers in the Eastern Cape and Numsa's political school in Benoni. The CEC also rapped Vavi over the knuckles for referring to the junior official he had sex with as nopatazana (a party girl with loose morals).

"The meeting condemned in the strongest terms possible the use of pejorative and degrading language towards women comrades, such as the derogatory term used by the general secretary about a Cosatu employee. Such comments portray women as sex objects or imply that they achieve their successes in life only through providing sexual favours to men," Cosatu said in a statement.

Vavi's spokesperson, John Dludlu, said on Thursday he was not aware of any additional charges.

Vavi released his suspension letter to prove that there was nothing barring him from addressing workers in his personal capacity.

Charles Molele


Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003, focussing on politics and labour, and collaborated with the M&G's centre for investigations, amaBhungane, from time to time.In 2011, Matuma won the South African Journalist of the Year Award and was also the winner in the investigative journalism category in the same year.In 2004, he won the CNN African Journalist of the Year prize – the MKO Abiola Print Journalism Award. Matuma was also a joint category winner of the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the year Award in 2008. In 2013, he was a finalist for Wits University's Taco Kuiper Award.
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    • Charles Molele

      Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012).
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