/ 20 November 2013

Cosatu special conference: We need to talk about Vavi

Cosatu Special Conference: We Need To Talk About Vavi

Suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi's supporters scored a temporary victory after its central executive committee on Tuesday agreed to hold a special congress as requested by nine out of 19 Cosatu affiliates. But the opposing faction – led by the union federation's president Sdumo Dlamini – is confident the issue of Vavi's suspension would not form part of the agenda for the special congress, which is planned to take place after next year's general elections. The meeting's agenda will be decided by vote on Wednesday. 

The Dlamini faction is planning to use its majority in the central executive committee (CEC) to shoot down any suggestion to include the Vavi issue on the agenda.

But the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and eight other affiliates, including the South African Municipal Workers' Union and the Food and Allied Workers' Union, want to use the special congress to remove Dlamini and reinstate Vavi because they believe the embattled leader is being targeted for his critical views of the ANC and government.

In August, Cosatu said Vavi had been put on special leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing relating to his affair with a junior employee. In July, the employee accused him of rape, while he said they had an affair. The woman subsequently withdrew a sexual harassment complaint against him.

"We have agreed on the issue of the special conference. We are now on the issue of the agenda. But we are not going to allow a situation where the suspension of the general secretary is discussed at the congress. Obviously, they [Vavi supporters] won't win the votes. In 2009, we said no congress matter should be overturned by a special congress. You need a normal congress to discuss Vavi's suspension. Constitutionally, his suspension cannot be decided by a special congress. Former Cosatu president Willie Madisha was expelled by a CEC," said a Cosatu leader aligned to Dlamini. 

He said the committee also took a resolution to investigate Numsa's conduct over the past few months, alluding to its public criticism of Dlamini and continued recruitment in the mining industry where the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is organising.

'No radicalism'
A Numsa leader, who also asked that his name not be mentioned, warned that the plan to expel Numsa from Cosatu would have dire implications for Cosatu – financially and otherwise.

"What will Cosatu be without Numsa? There would be no radicalism. You will be left with sycophants," said a Cosatu leader.

Another federation head sympathetic to Vavi said that blaming Numsa for Dlamini's unpopularity was not accurate.

"They [Dlamini's supporters] are accusing us of being responsible for the booing of Dlamini in provinces, organising NUM members in mining and being close to [the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union]. We responded to all these allegations during the facilitated process. What more do they want? They must bring more evidence that we are working with Amcu.

"We never saw Amcu president [Joseph] Mathunjwa. What we know is he was a shop steward of the NUM. They complained Dlamini was booed by Numsa members during Cosatu shop steward councils in different provinces, including Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. But the reality of the matter is that we are not even in the majority in those regions.

"The booing was done by many affiliates of Cosatu, not only Numsa. This shows you that ordinary members on the ground are unhappy with the way Dlamini is handling the issue of Vavi. In Gauteng, he was booed by the PWV [Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging] region of the NUM. In the Eastern Cape, the provincial leaders of Cosatu took a resolution demanding the immediate reinstatement of Vavi. All Cosatu affiliates in that province want Vavi back. Dlamini and his supporters are well aware of this, but they are blaming Numsa."