Cosatu may still pursue rape case against Vavi

Despite the fact that the accuser dropped her grievance on Monday, the federation could choose to still proceed with the charge of alleged rape, misconduct for not following the correct procedure in hiring the employee, as well as having sexual relations with her on the federation's work premises. However, Coastu's vague policies on sexual harassment and gender will make its task nearly impossible.

Vavi said in his statement that he met the woman at the South African Airways (SAA) offices late last year. He argued she was so efficient in the manner in which she handled his query that he decided to recruit her. However, there was no post advertised and there was no interview process that was carried out. He has admitted that at the time of her employment, he had been having an intimate relationship with her, which continued once he had employed her.

"An independent chairperson that sat through the first day of the inquiry is yet to submit a report that will give us an indication of whether to continue with the inquiry or abort it," said Vusumuzi Bhengu, acting spokesperson for Cosatu. 

However, in the event that the inquiry continues it is unclear which guidelines Cosatu will use as it is yet to show evidence of an existing sexual harassment policy and a finalised gender policy. The only clear document that Cosatu could produce to the Mail & Guardian is a four-page staff and leadership code of conduct and a draft gender policy.

The biggest labour federation in South Africa claims to have a finalised gender policy, but its whereabouts are unknown. Bhengu insisted there was a finalised gender policy, but his attempts to find it proved fruitless. 

All other Cosatu policies are available on their website, except for this one. According to the department of labour, "the condition for any policy is that it must be made available to all those that are affected by it," said Page Boikanyo, spokesperson for the department.

'Hidden problem'
According to draft gender policies of 2003 and 2008: "Sexual harassment has been a hidden problem within Cosatu. Women constitute about 37% of Cosatu members, leadership structure are predominantly male from shop floor to national levels. Many women are completely discouraged from union activity since they are immediately 'approached' by male comrades and feel that they are not treated as comrades but as sex objects." 

Under the title "Sexual Harassment", the policy speaks on the plan to develop a strategy and campaign to implement the National Economic Development and Labour Council's (Nedlac) code of good practice on sexual harassment. "The Cosatu code of conduct on sexual harassment must be popularised and implemented throughout the federation. This includes education and awareness raising, training of sexual harassment officers and the development of proper procedures," it states.

Nedlac describes what they call "quid pro quo harassment" which occurs where an owner, employer, supervisor, member of management or co-employee, undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal, salary increment or other benefit of an employee or job applicant, in exchange for sexual favours. 

Official spokesperson for Cosatu Patrick Craven said the trade union federation was not willing to comment on the matter, and making the gender policy available would have a bearing on how the media reports on the matter.

The code of conduct may be the only guideline that will assist, should the inquiry proceed. It categorically states that, "a leader will not behave in a manner that brings the federation or its structures into disrepute or which manifests a flagrant violation of the moral integrity expected of a leader".

It also speaks on duty of honesty, loyalty and accountability. "A leader shall not engage in any business or transaction or have financial or other personal interest that is incompatible with the interests of the federation."

Vavi personally made sure that the woman joined Cosatu as a permanent employee a few months after he met her. During her first week at Cosatu, she wrote on Facebook: "Got my company phone today, getting my laptop next week. I went to the new building today with my boss, it's stunning. I hope I get that corner office Vavi (smiley face) … loving my new job."

As part of his evidence, Vavi submitted a document with more than 300 text messages between him and the accuser, where she expresses discomfort over events that happened on the day she claims he raped her. The 25-page document provides more evidence of communication between the two that could assist in taking the case forward.

Cosatu refused to answer questions on how the woman was able to gain full employment and benefits without the organisation's approval and proper procedures followed. They were also unwilling to give an indication of what their next move will be until they have received and studied the report on this matter.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) in the Western Cape claims that the charge of bringing the federation into disrepute is the last resort for his political assassins.

"This will also not succeed. History is littered with examples of many falsely accused of rape, but they were never charged of bringing the organisation into disrepute. We must be consistent and principled, and we should not be selective," said its secretary Luvuyo Lufele.

He called on Cosatu leadership to respect the withdrawal and accept that knives which were drawn to stab Vavi in the back had bent in the hands of the enemies.

Meanwhile, Sonke Gender Justice Network said Cosatu should not have released the name of the woman who accused Vavi of rape.

"We urge the union to redact her name from the organisation's website," the organisation said in a statement.

"[Although] the name of [the] Cosatu employee alleging rape is already in the public domain, we think this important symbolic gesture would demonstrate the union's commitment to fighting gender-based violence."

Sonke said it was also concerning that some media outlets had identified the woman, despite the fact that it was not permissible in terms of the South African National Editors' Forum's media ethics code.

"We are also mindful that the issues reported in the media cannot provide the basis for any conclusions about the guilt or innocence of any party," it said.

"As an organisation committed to gender justice, we call for the speedy and fair resolution of this matter, and an appropriate handling of the case by Cosatu, the media, and the police."

Vavi admitted to having an extramarital affair with a married woman who worked for the Cosatu. He claimed she later tried to extort R2-million from him. – Additional reporting by Sapa

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Khuthala Nandipha
Khuthala Nandipha is a journalist for the Mail & Guardian. This involves writing about various social issues that develop and change on an hourly basis. Her interests are, in a nutshell, how South Africa and the world’s revolution affect the person on the street: “the forgotten voting citizens”, as she calls them. She loves writing, and taking photos as a way to complement her stories. She grew up on the south-east coast of East London in the Eastern Cape. She studied journalism at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. She is not new to Jo’burg, having spent the first eight years of her journalism career working for various newspapers and magazines there.

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