Paranoid Cosatu fears disruption

Strong showing: Numsa was Cosatu's largest affiliate and enjoys the support of eight other rebel unions. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Strong showing: Numsa was Cosatu's largest affiliate and enjoys the support of eight other rebel unions. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Cosatu has beefed up security for its special national congress next week because of fears that those sympathising with the expelled general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and what was the federation’s largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), could try to disrupt the gathering if they don’t get their way.

Cosatu’s leaders, including its president, Sdumo Dlamini, cite a leaked document to back up their suspicions that pro-Vavi and Numsa delegates could disrupt the two-day congress to be held in Johannesburg on Monday and Tuesday.

  The document, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, shows that eight rebel unions who sympathise with Numsa and Vavi are working with the two to try to force a discussion about the transformation of Cosatu on to the congress’s agenda. There is no explicit plan or anything else to support Cosatu’s fears of a disruption.

The document consists mainly of a meeting agenda from May and details of discussions that took place at a June meeting of the rebel unions. The document details a two-pronged approach: to use the eight affiliates that are still part of Cosatu to fight the battle from within, and to try to get more allies from affiliates such as the National Union of Mineworkers to side with the rebels. If that strategy fails, the plan is to launch an alternative federation.

Dlamini said he knew about the dossier: “I have seen the document, which suggest they are planning to disrupt the congress. The document also shows that they are planning to start a new federation. This confirms what we have been suspecting for a long time. Their plans will not succeed.

‘Agenda of Americans’
“The agenda of Americans will not succeed,” he added, implying that the rebel affiliates were being backed by funders based in the United States. Dlamini confirmed that security for the congress would be much tighter, but refused to discuss details.

He said the rebel group had budgeted more than R500 000 to disrupt the conference. “I don’t know if they want to buy alcohol or drugs for the delegates to disrupt the special national congress or what,” he said.

Responding to Dlamini’s allegation that alcohol and drugs could be used to buy delegates to support the congress disruption, Katishi Masemola, the general secretary of the Food and Allied Workers’ Union, one of the rebel unions, said: “If R250 000, as alleged, is meant to buy booze for delegates and buy their votes, then this means less than R10 a delegate for booze or support. We do not need to use financial resources to buy votes or to get delegates drunk and drugged in disrupting the congress as we have good names to protect and preserve.”

Masemola said that the document came from the group, but added that “it’s not for the purpose of disrupting the congress. It may well be confidential, but it is not a dangerous thing.”

In the document, R500 000 is budgeted for legal costs to continue fighting the appointment of the former Numsa shop steward, Zingiswa Losi, as Cosatu’s second deputy president.

Masemola said: “Financial resources [mentioned in the document], whatever the figure, is for legal challenges and provincial shop stewards we have been having and still have, such as in Port Elizabeth [on Friday] and Gauteng on Saturday.

“We cannot call for a special national congress and disrupt it, but yes we are not going to be passive and we will certainly be robust in the debates during the congress proceedings. We hope to be eloquent in our articulations and very engaging in our arguments.”

He confirmed that the main aim of raising their concerns at the special congress is to “win the effort to get Vavi and Numsa back. We will use the Constitution, procedures and practices to realise this set of goals”. 

“Because we are on the right side of reason and want to gain traction of the rank-and-file delegates of the unions on the other side of the current divide, it is only a good and well-behaved conduct that will make us find resonance with those people. It is debates that will win us this support and it is this support that will make us win the objectives, we want to believe, of the return of Vavi and re-admission of Numsa.

Part of the rebel unions’ plan is to hold workers’ assemblies in all the provinces, which will culminate in a national assembly later this year. In this way, they are hoping to lobby other members of Cosatu-affiliated trade unions and “clearly explain to workers the importance of worker control and how the appointment of Losi undermines this”.

According to the document, the unions also discussed ways to establish and fund an operational centre that would co-ordinate their programme of action to remain relevant, and ultimately to launch a new federation to rival Cosatu, should they fail to get the Dlamini-led faction to see reason. Vavi would head the centre, supported by a few staff.

The unions’ meeting in June discussed possible funders and said two trade union federations in Belgium, a metalworkers’ union in Turkey and a Swedish union federation were interested in providing assistance. Several progressive international nongovernmental organisations were also said to be willing to support “structured programmes for affiliates” in the medium term.

One of Dlamini’s allies, the deputy general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, Nicholas Maziya, said he found the document disturbing. “We know that they are planning to visit delegates in hotels to lobby them to disrupt the congress.”

He said he was shocked that the rebels had dedicated half-a-million rands to a court case to unseat Losi. “They put a lot of resources to campaign against Losi. It is disturbing. Whatever happens at the conference, people must know it’s Numsa.”

Maziya claimed that the Vavi-supporting faction planned to launch a new federation on the day of Cosatu’s special national congress. “They are looking for public sympathy. They already budgeted to pay for new offices,” he said.

‘They aim to destroy Cosatu and then ANC’
“It’s unfortunate that their funders are playing part in causing divisions in the country. We must ask what their intentions are. Their aim is to destroy Cosatu and thereafter go and destroy the ANC.”

The rebel unions had drawn up an alternative to the Cosatu “unity and cohesion” document, which would be used by those attending the congress to “advance our view”, and to “critique/counterpose” the Cosatu document. “This document is to be used to mobilise workers and serve as input from the floor at the congress,” the rebel unions’ meeting heard.

Masemola said: “Some people will quote it as if it’s a secret mission, but it’s an honest project. If they misinterpret our robustness for a plot to disrupt the congress, unfortunately we are not going to be blackmailed.”

He denied there were plans to launch a new federation next week, but confirmed the matter was still up for discussion.

Dlamini would not discuss anything that was not on the agenda, or anything to do with leadership, the removal of Losi, or the reinstatement of Vavi and Numsa.

Vavi said the document did not address the issue of an alternative federation. “It’s the invention of Maziya who [is] in a drive to discredit the nine plus [the nine unions plus others that might join].”

The R500 000 mentioned in the document “was for legal challenge not disruption”. The alleged planned disruption was “their invention again”, he said.

“There is no plan to hold any parallel congress. Unions announced last week that they will attend and exercise their right to amend the agenda from the floor. This is what Dlamini is calling a disruption. Their enemy is democracy.”

Mmanaledi Mataboge


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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    • Mmanaledi Mataboge

      Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice.
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