Reinstated Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is damned if he supports the ANC and damned if he doesn't.
After a deal was brokered between Cosatu and the ANC, embattled trade union federation general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi could face the wrath of his supporters who have warned him that if he campaigns for the ruling party it will be "at his own peril".
The strong warning came from Irvin Jim, his long-time ally and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary.
It places Vavi in a dilemma, trapped between embracing the ruling party and being dropped by his supporters, who seem to be in no mood for reconciliation.
Numsa members directed their anger at Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini on Wednesday at the federation's shop steward council meeting in Johannesburg. They demanded to know about the timing of the intervention by the ANC's top brass, led by party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday, which led to an apparent pre-election truce.
The move was aimed at averting Vavi being suspended again by his comrades in Cosatu and to prevent the expulsion of Numsa from the federation.
Vavi, who was suspended from his post for eight months, was reinstated last week after the Johannesburg high court found that his suspension was invalid.
The Mail & Guardian can reveal that Numsa's top brass also advised Vavi several months ago to step down as general secretary to avoid being pushed out by Dlamini's supporters at a central executive committee (CEC) meeting.
The Johannesburg high court has overturned Vavi's suspension, but a deal cut with
Cosatu and the ANC has left him out of step with his supporters. (Gallo)
Numsa, a staunch supporter of Vavi, and eight other Cosatu affiliates challenged the decision to suspend Vavi in court.
The divisions in Cosatu have negatively affected the election campaign of its alliance partner, the ANC. Numsa, the largest Cosatu affiliate with more than 300 000 members, resolved in December last year not to campaign for the ANC. The party's last-minute intervention is seen as a desperate attempt to get workers behind it for the general elections on May 7.
Vavi apparently met with several ANC leaders before Tuesday's special Cosatu CEC.
To be discussed
The National Union of Mineworkers general secretary, Frans Baleni, said the CEC has instructed Cosatu office bearers to reconvene the central executive committee meeting within 14 days to discuss outstanding items on the agenda, including the Vavi judgment and Numsa's suspension.
A senior Cosatu leader sympathetic to Dlamini said there was nothing to prevent Cosatu from acting against Vavi again.
"You can deal with unity on the side. You can't surrender your constitution to others [the ANC]. The ANC understands Cosatu is an autonomous organisation and is capable [of taking] its own decisions. Our constitution remains intact. We welcome the ANC's intervention, but we must discuss the matter."
Although some of Vavi's supporters are unhappy with the ANC's intervention, senior party leaders this week told the M&G they expected Vavi, who is popular with the masses, to join the ANC on its campaign trail.
In an interview, Jim said the ANC only wants to use Vavi to gain support before the elections.
"They are doing it for elections," he said. "I see some people are saying we have smoked a peace pipe, but we know these fellows are coming back [to get rid of Numsa and Vavi]. It's a temporary delay. They will be coming back very shrewd. They can't tolerate Vavi.
"He [Vavi] must wake up. He has not crossed the Rubicon … to see that nothing will change under the ANC. They will continue to mess him up."
Jim said he does not see how the ANC's intervention will help to resolve the tensions in Cosatu because the real issues that divide the federation have not been discussed.
"All that the ANC has done was to say we must postpone the discussion. It is misleading that Cyril has succeeded [in making] the unions smoke a peace pipe. There are no real issues that have been dealt with. The issue is about the revolution that has gone wrong. This is about South Africa's revolution. The revolution can't be facilitated," Jim said.
Numsa is also not happy about Ramaphosa and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe being members of the ANC task team. Jim said Mantashe has long taken sides with the Dlamini-led faction, and Ramaphosa is not trusted because of his involvement in Lonmin, a company whose striking miners were killed in Marikana.
Ramaphosa has since denied any involvement.
Numsa, which has openly announced its intension to form a labour party to contest the next elections, apparently tried to persuade Vavi to step down from Cosatu and join the union as head of special projects. It also wanted him to be part of the leadership of the new party.
But the M&G understands that some in Numsa do not want Vavi to be the face of the new labour party as they believe he does not share the same ideological views of most of the activists behind the proposed party.
"Ideologically, he is a problem," said one of them. "He is just wobbling. It is tough to lead a socialist party. But he can be part of the leadership collective."
Approached by the M&G this week, Vavi refused to comment on Jim's remarks and would not say whether he will campaign for the ANC.
"Why must I answer that?" he asked.
He laughed when asked about the position offered to him by Numsa.
Vavi denied that he met ANC leaders before the Cosatu special CEC.
He said the intervention by the ANC was a good thing that everyone must commit to and honour.
Vavi told delegates at the Daily Maverick dialogue on Thursday that most divisions in the ANC-led alliance are not ideological but rather attempts by various factions to push one another from the "dinner table".
"The poor can see that the national democratic revolution is continuing to produce billionaires while they are still living in squalor," he said. "This is what is causing the divisions. The task of the revolution is to fight this." – Additional reporting by Verashni Pillay