Unions offer to bankroll Cosatu's Vavi congress

Unions such as Numsa accuse Cosatu of trying to delay the Vavi debate. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Unions such as Numsa accuse Cosatu of trying to delay the Vavi debate. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Unions supporting ­Zwelinzima Vavi, the suspended boss of trade union federation Cosatu, have offered to ­bankroll a special Cosatu congress to discuss, among other things, his suspension and the federation's failure to implement "radical" resolutions adopted during a congress in ­September last year.

This comes after the nine unions that asked Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini to convene a special congress two months ago complained that there were deliberate attempts by the anti-Vavi group, led by Dlamini, to delay the special conference.

The move appears intended to sidestep Dlamini's excuse that the federation has no funds to convene the special congress.

In interviews this week National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim and Food and Allied Workers' Union (Fawu) general secretary Katishi Masemola confirmed the decision by the affiliates to support the federation financially so that the congress could be convened.

The pro-Vavi unions include Numsa, Fawu, the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu), the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers' Union (Saccawu), the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), Communications Workers Union (CWU), Public and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa (Pawusa), South African Football Players Union, (Sapfu) and the finance union, Sasbo.

Said Jim: "There was a decision to write a letter to the president [Dlamini] to make an offer to fund the special congress. He indicated before that [that] Cosatu might not have enough money to convene [the] special congress. Our offer is to finance some logistics of the conference.
Where it [Cosatu] can't afford it, we will subsidise it and Cosatu can pay us back later. There is no reason to delay the congress."

Subsidise the congress
Dlamini said he had yet to receive a letter from the unions offering to subsidise the congress.

"That will be interesting. It has never happened before that one union can offer to pay for the special conference of Cosatu. It will be strange. We are talking about members subscription fees here. We can't sell Cosatu. I am waiting for those affiliates to respond to the letter I wrote to them in preparation for the special congress. To date I have not received a single response."

Samwu general secretary Walter Theledi said there was nothing new in Cosatu affiliates paying for conferences.

"There is nothing illegal about it. Even the money donated to the ANC is from affiliates and is paid through members' subscription fees. We think there is no urgency on the part of the president [Dlamini] to convene a special congress. Why does he need to go to the central executive committee [CEC] before he convenes the special congress?" asked Theledi.

Masemola said the affiliates that wanted the special congress to take place did not believe that Cosatu could not afford to hold it.

"If Cosatu says it doesn't have the money, it means it can't pay for anything. We think it's not true," he said. "If anything, it must be affiliates who say [that] we have not budgeted for this."

Masemola said the pro-Vavi unions expected resistance from their opponents:  "Some of the affiliates might make this an excuse with the sole intention of frustrating the convening of the special congress."

"But we didn't budget for this," he said. "We might enter into discussions with our regular service providers and arrange that we pay later."

Masemola estimated that for any conference it would cost Fawu between R650 000 and R750 000 to send delegates, an amount which would cover transport, accommodation and breakfast.  

Irked by the slow progress in organising the congress, pro-Vavi unions are planning to push for the appointment of a convener to do the organisation instead of Dlamini, who, they believe, is stalling the process.

"If at the next CEC there is no progress on convening the congress, at that meeting we will invoke the process of appointing a convener, in line with Cosatu's constitution," Masemola said.

Should the funding offer and the proposition of the appointment of a convener fail, Masemola said pro-Vavi unions would "go back to the drawing board" and decide on the next action to take.

"We'll definitely not throw our hands up in the air. We might do something drastic."

Meanwhile, Dlamini has accused some senior Cosatu leaders of orchestrating the booing by Vavi supporters of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana, Cosatu acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali and the Cosatu president in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo this week.

"If people are misled and act on misinformation you can't blame them," said Dlamini. "They are conducted to do certain things to their leaders. The interaction of Zokwana, who was speaking in the Eastern Cape on behalf of the ANC, was unfortunate.

"It is done by people who don't even know that he is the president of the NUM. When the truth comes out, they shall regret [the fact that] they chased their own leader.

"I am not surprised by [my] booing [in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo]. Numsa says it does not have confidence in me, but 18 other Cosatu affiliates do. I am not fazed about what they [Numsa's members] are doing. It is a foreign tendency. It is not done in Cosatu.  I will continue to lead Cosatu and not follow those who walk in the shadows. Not all Numsa members are unhappy with me," said Dlamini.



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.
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