Vavi foe claims anti-ANC conspiracy

Zenzo Mahlangu says several union leaders now employ bodyguards. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Zenzo Mahlangu says several union leaders now employ bodyguards. (Paul Botes, M&G)

The battle for the control of Cosatu has turned even dirtier. The general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), Zenzo Mahlangu, told the Mail & Guardian this week that he feared for his life after receiving death threats.

In an interview, Mahlangu claimed to have evidence that some leaders in Cosatu were working with rival unions to "liquidate" the 2.1-million strong federation with the aim of toppling the ANC-led government in 2019. He said there were already  splinter groups shooting off from four Cosatu unions – the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (Satawu), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The splinter unions, according to Mahlangu, will soon form a new federation that will be opposed to the ANC and the tripartite alliance. He claimed the new federation would try to topple the ANC by organising a total shutdown in key sectors of the economy.

"We might go the Egypt-style route. They are planning an Arab Spring. They are talking to opposition parties. They are targeting 2019."

He believed the newly formed rival unions had identified him and other Cosatu leaders as an obstacle to achieving their goal of forming the new federation that would take on Cosatu and the ANC. He claimed these union leaders were using tactics such as leaking information to Corruption Watch and other law enforcement agencies to target opponents.

Mahlangu is out on bail after he was arrested earlier this year with two former national office bearers of Satawu, Ezrom Mabyana and Robert Mashego, on charges of theft and fraud amounting to R8-million. Corruption Watch has confirmed it investigated Mahlangu but has dropped the case since the Hawks began an investigation.

"To execute the plan, they must eliminate people who are standing between them and the workers," he said. "I am now being investigated. I had food poisoning in April last year. I have been followed more than five times. I no longer go home every day, for fear of being killed or attacked. In December, four gunmen ransacked my house. They questioned my uncle and the gardener, [asking] 'where is the ANC guy who lives here?'

Facilitation process
"We now move with bodyguards wherever we go because we are in danger. The reason we are targeted is because we are obstacles. Last week I was followed for an hour by an unknown assailant. I was forced to go and sleep at the hotel," he said.

Meanwhile, there are claims from within Satawu that Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was working with former Satawu president Ephraim Mphahlele to cast aspersions on the union's leaders. It is understood that Mphahlele, who has since formed a splinter union, the National Transport Movement, handed over a dossier implicating Mahlangu and others in corruption to Corruption Watch and the Hawks.

Mahlangu said Satawu was planning to raise their unhappiness about the conduct of "some Cosatu leaders" during the recently started "facilitation process" initiated by Cosatu to look at allegations made against Vavi.

Although Mahlangu refused to divulge details, the M&G understands that Satawu is expected to accuse Vavi of interfering in its internal affairs in its submission to the facilitation process. Leaders of the transport union claim that Vavi gatecrashed their meeting last year, at which they were discussing the future of 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.

Mahlangu said he and other leaders were currently visiting provinces to explain his arrest to ordinary members of the union. "A larger portion of Satawu leaders have questions [about the investigations]. There was supposed to be courtesy to say we [Corruption Watch] are investigating you. I expected them to say we must give a presentation. We are not afraid of being investigated."

Internal process
In a statement, Corruption Watch told the M&G that it did receive complaints regarding Satawu leaders but it had not pursued the case because the Hawks were now investigating financial irregularities within the transport union.

Asked to comment about the latest allegations made against him, Vavi said: "Allegations against the general secretary must be submitted to the Cosatu internal process. I don't want to even listen to the allegations in the media when there is an internal process."

Mphahlele, however, denied that he was working closely with Vavi to target Satawu's current senior leaders and leaking information to the Hawks and Corruption Watch. "I vehemently dispute that," he said. "It is a lie. Vavi has never been part of any investigation against Satawu. The information to Corruption Watch was sent by Satawu shop stewards based at SAA.

"With regard to the Hawks case, I was investigating financial irregularities at Satawu. I then hit a snag because I couldn't get the necessary financial information from Satawu leaders. That's when I reported the matter to the Hawks."

Mphahlele also denied that he was poaching Satawu's members, saying people abandoned Satawu because it was not properly servicing its members. He said his union joined the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) and that he was unaware of a new federation being formed.

"We're a proud affiliate of a federation, Nactu. I am a member of the ANC. I have never spoken to anyone from the DA. It is also a lie that I am close to the Cosatu general secretary. That's a lie. They are trying to vilify Vavi for malicious reasons but that has got nothing to do with me. I'm not close to him and I have never been close to him."



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.
  • Read more from ML
    • Charles Molele

      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).
    • Read more from Charles Molele
    • Client Media Releases

      Investing in cryptocurrencies
      Project ETA at Palletways
      Finalists for 2017 GAP Innovation Competition announced
      Pragma helps with Shoprite's water-saving initiative
      Road upgrade injects R30m in SME development