The bitter battle over the future of suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi will intensify this week, not only in court, but in the trade union federation’s boardrooms.
Vavi’s supporters are now accusing his opponents in Cosatu’s leadership of selective morality by hiding “worse” sexual indiscretions of their own, including fathering children out of wedlock with junior staff.
Vavi’s allies are expected to raise these potentially explosive allegations against at least two prominent unionists at Cosatu’s central executive meeting next week, which was supposed to be used to avoid a messy court battle between the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and other affiliates, a battle that began and was then postponed on Tuesday.
Vavi is this week launching a separate urgent court application in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to have his suspension lifted.
The pro-Vavi Numsa went to court this week to have him reinstated after his suspension at a special Cosatu leadership meeting on August 14.
Vavi was suspended after admitting that he had had a sexual relationship with a 26-year-old colleague.
Vavi’s allies are planning to use the central executive meeting starting on Monday, and the court proceedings, to argue that he was victimised by his political enemies within the federation.
Other senior Cosatu leaders allegedly involved in office romances with junior staff include Fikile Majola, ANC national executive committee member and general secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), and another senior union office bearer.
The Mail & Guardian has the latter official’s name and that of the junior official he allegedly impregnated, but decided not publish it as he had not responded to requests for comment on the allegation at the time of going to press.
Public sector union Nehawu’s leadership consists of some of Vavi’s staunchest opponents in Cosatu.
Majola has allegedly sired three children with two different junior officials within Nehawu’s Gauteng and Western Cape offices. The M&G understands the Western Cape official obtained a garnishee order against Majola to support her two children.
Approached by the M&G for comment, Majola admitted to fathering only one child with the Western Cape junior staffer.
“I don’t care about who I sleep with,” said Majola. “But the fact is I don’t mix [office romance] with my union work.
“I don’t have two kids with her [the Western Cape staffer]. She fell pregnant and told me about it. After some time, I accepted one child. I don’t know who the father of the other is, but I am looking after my own. I can’t disown my child. I am taking responsibility.”
Majola also admitted that he got romantically involved with his wife while she was a shop steward in Mpumalanga. At the time, Majola was Nehawu deputy general secretary.
Majola said he had since stopped paying maintenance after reaching an agreement with the Western Cape Nehawu official.
“I pay no maintenance. The child I have with her stays with us [Majola and his current wife]. Whoever told you about the R1000 [garnishee order] has old information. You can check this at Nehawu,” said Majola, who was in China this week.
He continued: “Attempts to pre-empt next week’s Cosatu CEC [central executive committee] by spreading allegations about other unaffected leaders of Cosatu won’t work. It’s too late.”
The M&G also understand that Vavi is planning to take the federation to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to contest the suspension.
A senior Cosatu leader who asked not to be named said the federation needed to be consistent in dealing with issues of sexual harassment and relationships between leaders and their subordinates.
“If they are going to target Vavi, they must also deal with others who are guilty of the same things he did, or worse,” said the leader.
“Many Cosatu leaders are guilty of the same conduct [sleeping with juniors]. All the general secretaries are running the unions like their spaza shops. What did Vavi do that they did not do? What Vavi did is like a picnic compared to others.
“Most of the union leaders see gender as secondary. In many unions, women leaders get into leadership by sleeping with male leaders.”
The application by Numsa, with the Food and Allied Workers’ Union and the South African Football Players Union, to have Vavi’s suspension overturned was postponed in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg after an application by opposing unions to intervene was allowed.
Unions opposing Numsa’s application to have the special central executive committee meeting that suspended Vavi declared invalid include the National Union of Mineworkers, the National Education, Health and Workers Union, the South African Democratic Teachers Union, the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union and the finance union South African Society for Bank Association. Vavi will challenge the decision to suspend him on the basis that Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini allegedly prejudiced himself because he circulated the supposedly fabricated intelligence report intended to smear Vavi’s name.
Vavi will argue that a number of affiliate leaders prejudiced themselves in that they were clearly influenced by the intelligence report allegedly circulated by Dlamini.
He will also argue that Dlamini chaired the special CEC that suspended him, even though he publicly found him guilty of bringing the federation into disrepute.
In its answering affidavit, Cosatu argues that Vavi’s reinstatement would jeopardise the investigation against him and the junior employee he admitted to having had sex with in her office.