Vavi fight gets vicious: Cosatu leadership battle heats up

Never before has the ­battle for control of Cosatu been so vicious. And it is about to get uglier. The Mail & Guardian can reveal that Corruption Watch is investigating leaders of at least four Cosatu affiliates for alleged corruption related to their union members' investment money.

The union leaders being investigated include the general secretary of transport union Satawu, Zenzo Mahlangu; the general secretary of the chemical workers' union Ceppwawu, Simon Mofokeng; and several leaders of the police union, Popcru, according to two Cosatu sources.

These investigations come as Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi continues to fight off attempts to oust him from the federation's top leadership. Vavi is under investigation by Cosatu top brass and is likely to be removed from his position at next month's central executive committee meeting.

A number of union leaders currently being investigated for alleged corruption have blamed Vavi for their woes, according to two M&G sources who preferred to remain anonymous because they are also implicated in alleged corruption.

Fuelling the allegations that Vavi influenced the Corruption Watch investigation is the fact that those being probed are seen as supportive of the plan to sack the general secretary. Vavi is also a founding board member of Corruption Watch.

The government's national development plan has also been used by Cosatu comrades against each other and Vavi is perceived as a leader at the forefront of the attack on the plan. Metalworkers' union Numsa, Vavi's staunch supporter among Cosatu affiliates, has been the most outspoken in criticising the plan. But some Cosatu leaders sympathetic to the ANC national executive committee, which has already adopted the plan, are displeased that Vavi and Numsa have rejected it.

Corruption Watch said it had received 13 reports of alleged corruption and mismanagement involving trade unions.

"Five Cosatu affiliates were implicated in eight of these reports: Satawu, Popcru, Saccawu, Pawusa and Ceppwawu," said Corruption Watch's executive director, David Lewis. "We conducted a preliminary investigation into one of these, namely a report alleging corruption at Satawu. However, when we read media reports to the effect that formal charges had been levelled against certain Satawu officials, we decided not to proceed with our investigation on the grounds that we were unlikely to add value to the police investigation."

Lewis said "in several other instances where the complaints submitted to us had been previously reported to the public protector, we passed on the information that we received to the public protector".

In February, former Satawu leader Ezrom Mabyana; the union's current general secretary, Mahlangu; and Ekurhuleni metro chief whip Robert Mashego appeared in court on charges of theft and fraud amounting to about R8-million.

That followed an investigation into missing Satawu funds when the three were the union's office bearers.

Some Cosatu affiliates have accused Vavi of selling the old Cosatu House building in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, for R10-million, far less than its market value. They also accuse him of awarding a contract to a company that allegedly employs his daughter.

On Thursday, however, Vavi appeared unfazed by the allegations against him, including claims from alliance leaders that he was too critical of the ANC-led government of Jacob Zuma.

Addressing 400 delegates at the Numsa bargaining conference in Pretoria, Vavi lambasted some union leaders for making allegations against him in the media.

"The newspapers' 'sources', who we now can say without any fear of contradiction are a few senior leaders of our affiliated unions at the level of the presidents and general secretaries, are the new enemies of the working class," Vavi told delegates.

"They have been given a mandate to destroy Cosatu, or at best create so much division that the federation can no longer be an independent movement capable of fighting for the interests of members. The mandate of the sources is very clear: target the general secretary [Vavi] and smear him continuously in the newspapers until workers lose trust in him. After all, they know the only way to kill a snake is to smash its head," said Vavi to loud applause.

"Where have you seen a federation at the level of presidents and general secretaries operating like this? Every time there is a meeting, we say [to the public] 'there is no investigation'. [But] the sources say 'we are turning the screws on that man. He is a goner.' The sources have failed to provide evidence [to back up their allegations]."

Despite the attacks on Vavi, he received a rapturous reception on Thursday, with delegates urging Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini in song to provide answers as to why their general secretary is being persecuted and investigated.

Vavi also attacked the ANC and warned its leaders that workers were getting impatient with empty promises for a better life, saying it would make it impossible to campaign during next year's elections.

"It is going to be extremely difficult to campaign among workers. It will be difficult to tell them decent work has been achieved. They will ask, 'Where is decent work?' Five years ago, you [the ANC] said there will be decent work. Where is it? We have to make sure that this is put to rest in time. The leadership must help us," said Vavi.

Last month, Cosatu established a commission of inquiry to probe a range of issues that were "weakening the federation", including organisational and political matters and the allegations made against Vavi.

The M&G has learnt that various unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM); health workers' union Nehawu; Satawu; Popcru; and Ceppwawu would submit their testimonies against Vavi on Friday.

The affiliates' general secretaries and presidents are also expected to agree with the facilitators about the terms of reference.

A union leader who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to the M&G that they would be making presentations to respected labour lawyer Charles Nupen.

Anti-Vavi group
"On Friday, we will be looking at all issues raised. Facilitators must also brief Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo (the forensic auditors). They must do an investigation and present their findings before the next central executive committee meeting in May," said the leader.

"We don't want them to put forward recommendations. Our interest is that this man [Vavi] must leave."

The anti-Vavi group plans to use next month's central executive committee to remove the general secretary and get his deputy, Bheki Ntshalintshali, to act in his stead, while preparing for current Cosatu KwaZulu-Natal secretary Zet Luzipho to take the reins.

In its submission, Satawu is expected to accuse Vavi of interfering in its internal affairs. Leaders of the transport union claim that Vavi gatecrashed their meeting last year where they were discussing the future of former Satawu president Ephraim Mphahlele with the intention of saving him from being sacked.  

The union will also accuse Vavi of providing Corruption Watch with information that seeks to implicate Mahlangu in alleged corruption.  

In its submission, the union is expected to claim that Numsa is funding rival unions such as the fledgling Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which has been challenging the anti-Vavi NUM, especially in the country's platinum belt in North West. Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim dismissed the allegation.

Popcru will apparently testify about the circumstances regarding the transaction to sell the Cosatu building in Johannesburg.

Political rupture
The union claims it offered to buy the building for R15-million, but Vavi allegedly turned the offer down and sold it for R10-million to a company allegedly linked to his relative.

Nehawu's testimony will focus on the political rupture between Cosatu, the South African Communist Party and the ANC.

The union is expected to accuse Vavi of failing to articulate Cosatu's resolution to support Zuma for a second term in the run-up to the ANC's Mangaung national conference last December.

"That will be the centre of the political component of the investigation," said a senior Cosatu leader. "There were a number of twitter messages by Vavi contradicting Cosatu's position on Mangaung. Sadtu will support Nehawu on this."

Vavi's supporters have vowed to fight to the bitter end to save his political career.

The fight-back strategy will include lobby unions pushing for a special congress and visiting all provinces to address ordinary members on the ground.

Numsa is expected to adopt a resolution at the end of its bargaining conference to support calls for a special congress, initially made by the Food and Allied Workers' Union. The M&G understands that this week's bargaining conference was scheduled in time to create a platform to defend Vavi. Some leaders sympathetic to Vavi have already visited provinces to brief members on the ground.

"The president [Dlamini] is seen as working against Vavi," said a senior Cosatu leader who attended caucus meetings by the anti-Vavi grouping.

The informal caucus consist of senior leaders from Nehawu, the NUM, Popcru, Sadtu, Cepawu, the SACP and the ANC.

Vavi lashes ANC for asking workers to co-operate in their own 'oppression'

Despite indications that some Cosatu-affiliated unions were ready to endorse the national development plan (NDP), the federation’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, suggested that the federation should reject it in his address to delegates at metalworkers’ union Numsa’s national ­bargaining conference.

The NDP, which was endorsed by the ANC national executive committee in December, has so far been rejected by Numsa and farmworkers union Fawu because they say it is a carbon copy of the opposition Democratic Alliance’s policies. Public-sector union Nehawu has also raised concerns about the plan.

On Thursday, Vavi said Cosatu rejected the NDP’s economic and labour-market proposals, which contradicted other progressive ­government programmes.

“The NDP’s economic and labour-market proposals constitute a serious assault on workers. Cosatu will not support them and, in fact, the very campaign we have launched to engineer our own Lula moment [referring to a radical shift during former Brazilian president Luiz Lula da Silva’s second term in office] from below is actually a struggle against the current inappropriate growth path that reproduces unemployment, poverty and inequality. Implementation of those proposals now or in the future will constitute the biggest setback to our struggle for a better life for all.

“It is simply unfair for anyone, in particular our ally the ANC, to ask us to co-operate with our own oppression and exploitation, which is what the NDP’s major proposals are. The NDP represents a typical example of the chicken and a pig partnership in which the chicken offers to lay eggs for breakfast, but asks the pig to donate bacon.”

A senior Cosatu leader who has attended a recent informal anti-Vavi caucus, said those involved,  including senior leaders from health workers’ union Nehawu, the National Union of Mineworkers, police union Popcru, teachers’ union Sadtu, printing union Ceppwawu, the South African Communist Party and the ANC, were planning to endorse the NDP as a government working document.

“Affiliates will distance themselves from Numsa’s position,” the leader said. “Rejection of the NDP will damage the ANC going into the national elections.” 


Last week, in an article detailing fresh developments in the campaign to oust Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi from his post, wereported on complaints by union leaders that Corruption Watch, an organization Vavi helped to found, was investigating Cosatu affiliate unions.

That report requires clarification and correction.

It is true that union leaders opposed to Vavi are complaining both privately and in public about what they believe are Corruption Watch investigations into them.

And it is true that a series of anonymous allegations against Satawu, Ceppawu, Popcru leaders, among others, were submitted to the organization.

However, we misinterpreted Corruption Watch’s own explanation of the situation, which we quoted in the story.

Corruption Watch has made it clear that while it did receive these complaints, it decided for various reasons not to pursue them.

We regret the error.

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Matuma Letsoala
Guest Author
Charles Molele
Guest Author
Mmanaledi Mataboge
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