/ 9 October 2013

Cosatu’s Dlamini bows to calls for special congress

Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini.
Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini. (Gallo)

A special national congress for labour federation Cosatu might finally be on the cards – at the latest early next year.

This emerged from a letter written by Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini to all affiliates and the federation's provincial structures this week.

The surprise move was contrary to reports that Dlamini and his supporters were planning to derail the convening of the special national congress, which will among other things discuss the suspension of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the failure by the leadership to implement some of the radical policies adopted at the 11th Cosatu congress last September.

"It has been almost three weeks since the September 2013 Cosatu central executive committee [CEC] received a report on the request for a special national congress. As Cosatu president, I want to place on record that the Cosatu constitution is very clear on what is expected of the Cosatu president in executing his duties in terms of clause 3.3.2 of the constitution.

"I want to emphasise my commitment to respect and uphold the Cosatu constitution at all times. I understand the mandate that I was given at the previous CEC and I am committed to convene the special national congress as directed to do so.

"Since that CEC I have engaged the national treasurer comrade Freda Oosthuysen to determine the available resources to take this work forward. I have also approached a few people for possible funding of the special congress.

"In a few days time, I will be in a position to assess the nature of our resources and the need and extent for additional funding for the convening of a special national congress," said Dlamini in a letter dated October 8 2013.

He has instructed the secretariat to enquire about the availability of venues that are capable of accommodating the number of delegates that normally attend a Cosatu congress, possible dates, and the number of days needed to hold such an event.

"I am expecting to receive such information within the next few days," said Dlamini.

Dlamini was asked by nine of the 19 Cosatu affiliates last month to urgently convene a special national congress to resolve deepening divisions in Cosatu. The divisions in Cosatu are mainly between those who want the federation to take a softer stance on the ANC and the government (Dlamini’s supporters) and those who want Cosatu to be critical of the ruling party and push for radical policy changes (Vavi's supporters).

The Mail & Guardian last month reported that Vavi's supporters were planning to use the special congress to push for the removal of Dlamini, Vavi's deputy Bheki Ntshalintshali and Cosatu's second deputy president Zingiswa Losi. The three leaders are seen by the pro-Vavi faction as lackeys of ANC leaders, including party president Jacob Zuma, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and ANC national executive committee member and South African Communist Party boss Blade Nzimande.

Vavi supporters want Dlamini to be replaced by the suspended president of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union Thobile Ntola or Numsa president Cedric Gina.

The group will also push for the removal of Ntshalintshali, whom they accuse of selling out Vavi after he submitted an answering affidavit at the high court in Johannesburg opposing Numsa's application to overturn Vavi's suspension. In the affidavit, Ntshalintshali alleges that Vavi has failed to call the junior official he had sex with to account after she failed to account for more than R1-million of the labour federation’s fund. Vavi is reportedly accused of benefiting from her alleged financial misconduct. However, Vavi has denied the allegations.

The M&G understands some of Dlamini's supporters were planning to boycott the special congress.

Dlamini said it was not for the first time Cosatu convened a special congress.

"There are issues that have to be considered when such a meeting has to be convened. The September 2013 CEC highlighted some of them.

"When a president issues a notice for such a congress, the notice must have an agenda, and deal with issues like the venue, times, dates etc. As you may be aware, the unions that have requested a special congress have advanced different reasons for their requests and in the circumstances a process must be undertaken to assess whether the relevant unions and all other unions can reach agreement on a common agenda for the congress.

"More importantly, I want to stress and assure all that as the Cosatu president, I have no intention or interest to delay convening a special national congress. I have seen some media reports that have accused me of being reluctant to carry out this task. I have decided not to respond to anonymous allegations and sources in line with the decision of the provious CEC.

"Finally, in the next few weeks, I will update you on any relevant information that I would have gathered. I will also be asking the unions for relevant information relating to their readiness for the special national congress in line with our standard past practive in preparation for a national congress and as per the directive of the special September 2013 CEC.

"I am looking forward to working with all of you in preparation for the special congress," said Dlamini.