Embattled Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi has been stripped of a host of employee benefits and perks, including his credit card, iPad, cellphone allowance and company car, following the federation’s decision to put him on special leave on Wednesday night.
Zenzo Mahlangu, the general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that the special central executive committee (CEC) decided that Vavi must return all assets belonging to Cosatu pending the outcome of his disciplinary hearing scheduled for mid-September.
The junior staff member who lodged and later withdrew a grievance against Vavi has also been put on special leave. Both she and Vavi will face disciplinary hearings to be headed by an independent person.
Mahlangu said Vavi was also barred from talking to the media on behalf of Cosatu while on special leave, adding that he may not interfere with anyone at Cosatu who is privy to the details of the sexual harassment case, including the employee with whom he had sex.
Another condition is that Vavi may not go to the office without first notifying Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini or acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali.
“We decided that he must bring all the assets, including the keys, credit card, the iPad and the laptop,” said Mahlangu. “Everything that belongs to the federation must be brought back. Some of the benefits he enjoyed helped him to perform the duties of Cosatu. Now he is no longer performing those duties … If I were him I would resign and save face. I wonder how he will come back.”
Mahlangu said Satawu was the first union to table the motion that Vavi must be suspended.
“We raised the motion first because we believed he must go through the disciplinary process to clear his name,” said Mahlangu.
“There is no decision taken whether he is guilty or not. We said there must be an investigation and the [onus] is upon the person who is appointed to head the disciplinary process to recommend the way forward. The constitution of Cosatu allows the CEC to dismiss anyone, but we thought he should be subjected to a fair process. The presidents and secretaries will meet [soon] to decide the terms of reference for the disciplinary process.”
In a dramatic week, Thobile Ntola, Vavi’s close ally and president of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, was suspended from his union for allowing Vavi to address union members in the Eastern Cape.
In addition, attempts by Vavi’s supporters, including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), to cancel the CEC were rejected.
Although the special CEC dismissed the argument put forward by the two unions that the meeting was unconstitutional, the M&G understands that Numsa is considering legal action to declare the committee meeting invalid.
Earlier on Wednesday, Vavi’s lawyers wrote a letter to Cosatu officials in an attempt to challenge the special CEC. However, the letter was ignored as it also raised issues of the facilitated process and was unrelated to the sexual harassment case.
Mahlangu also told the M&G that Numsa tried unsuccessfully to interdict the special CEC from sitting.
Ahead of the meeting, there was growing speculation that Cosatu is headed for a split. This was given credence by Numsa’s announcement that it will convene a special congress in December to decide on its future. At a media briefing in Johannesburg this week, Numsa president Cedric Gina accused Dlamini of being a factionalist, being reckless with the future of the federation and fuelling divisions.
Numsa believes the anti-Vavi group is using the sex scandal to kick him out of Cosatu after failing to provide evidence to back allegations of corruption against him.
Gina said he believed that the deepening divisions in Cosatu were a result of differences between those who want to pursue a radical policy approach and those who are pushing for a softer stance towards the ANC and government.
“It is evidently clear that those within Cosatu that have been advocating the idea of a rupture in Cosatu might be correct,” Gina said.
“From Numsa’s perspective, this rupture in Cosatu is between forces of capitalism and forces of socialism. We make this bold statement because we have seen how in the CEC some argued why we should not campaign against e-tolling, and why we must not honour and execute the Cosatu resolution and policy of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the South African economy. Those who want comrade Vavi out of Cosatu want a Cosatu which will be a toy telephone, a labour desk, a pro-capitalist Cosatu, and those who are defending him want a revolutionary, socialist, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist Cosatu.”
In his submission to Cosatu, Vavi warned of a possible split in the union federation if the divisions continue.
“There is little doubt that the federation has already been weakened and almost paralysed by the divisions. Our house, indeed, is on fire on too many fronts. The question we should ask is: What is the end game of this toxic warfare in the federation? The route we are travelling is taking us straight towards an implosion, which may lead to the split of every union and the federation itself,” said Vavi.
Mahlangu said the possibility of a split in Cosatu has long been in the offing. “Unions like Numsa and Fawu said they reserved their right [to break away]. Some of them said they will find it difficult to campaign for the ANC. It is clear they have their plan,” he said.
Dlamini insisted on Thursday that there are no divisions within Cosatu and rejected suggestions that the decision to suspend Vavi is part of a political conspiracy.
He said Cosatu will continue to push for the abolition of labour brokers and the scrapping of e-tolls, and will campaign for a national minimum wage and the protection of vulnerable workers.
“Our focus is to ensure there is no implosion in Cosatu. Those who are doomsayers will repeat this and make sure Cosatu is weakened. It makes them happy. Our focus is to make sure there is no split. That is critical. We will not spend time on whether Cosatu will split or not,” Dlamini told journalists.
Political analyst and University of the Witwatersrand professor William Mervyn Gumede said the possible implosion of Cosatu is the result of the federation’s decision to back President Jacob Zuma during the ANC’s elective conference in Polokwane in 2007.
“The decision has come back to haunt them,” said Gumede.
“This infighting we are seeing within the federation is the ripple effect of the decisions they made to support JZ and involve the trade union movement in the ANC’s internal battles in the period leading to Polokwane.
“They thought protesting against [Thabo] Mbeki would lead to change, but the fundamental issues have not changed as yet. The economy is still not working and things have become worse. This means that, indeed, we might see a splinter or the total break-up of the trade union movement.”