Cosatu faces ultimatum from nine unions

One of the demands from the affiliates is that Cosatu reinstate suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. (Gallo)

One of the demands from the affiliates is that Cosatu reinstate suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. (Gallo)

Cosatu affiliates have given the trade union federation an ultimatum to convene a special congress by the end of March or face "extraordinary measures", including a court action. Top of the unions' demands is the reinstatement of suspended Cosatu general secretary ZwelinzimaVavi, but it also wants the special congress to discuss the state of the federation.

In their first show of force since Vavi was suspended last February, the nine affiliates said their defence of Vavi is based on saving Cosatu from being watered down into an ineffective workers' organisation.

"Cosatu is in deep crisis," said the nine unions in a statement read by Samwu's general secretary Walter Theledi.

"And denying the scale and extent of the crisis makes matters worse."

The nine unions are National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the Communication Workers' Union, Democratic Nurses Union of South Africa, the Food and Allied Workers' Union, Public and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa, South African Commercial and Catering Workers' Union, South African Football Players' Union, South African Municipal Workers' Union and the South African State and Allied Workers Union.

The ANC's invitation to Vavi to serve as its member of Parliament was part of evidence of some "underhanded tactics" to polarise the workers' federation, said Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim.

Numsa has assumed the leadership of the disgruntled Cosatu affiliates, who believe the ruling party has got a hand in weakening Cosatu.

"It should not happen that the leader of an alliance [ANC] could announce the deployment of a Cosatu general secretary without consulting the federation," Jim said.

'Something weird'
Jim said, "something weird happened at the funeral in the Eastern Cape", in reference to the funeral for ANC MP and South African Communist Party member Crosby Moni in Eastern Cape.

"The list conference is currently happening but Vavi is the only one who was deployed at the funeral. The minute he turns that privileged offer down, immediately the following week he's followed by charges."

The unions also accused the ANC-led alliance of increasingly marginalising and ignoring Cosatu. "The fact that the government has been able to implement e-tolling, youth subsidies and to backslide on labour brokering and on a progressive economic policy indicates how Cosatu's paralysis and disarray is being willfully exploited."

Cosatu campaigned unsuccessfully against all three these issues, and its leaders elected to the ANC national executive committee have been blamed for taking part in anti-worker decisions.

The nine unions said there is "evidence suggesting that those within our movement who are hoping to appear on lists for political office are at the forefront of the campaign to neutralise Cosatu, and turn it into a toothless giant".

Cosatu's endorsement of the ANC's election manifesto released earlier this month also irked these affiliates.

"This took place without any significant mandating engagement with Cosatu affiliates and despite the fact that the manifesto in certain respects, either undermines, or fails to take forward the organisation's demands we do recognise real gains that has been made over the last twenty years."

The unions want the special congress to elect a new leadership to "steer Cosatu in the direction".

"If the special delegate congress is not called by the end of March, we will have no option other than to pursue the matter through the courts, and to mobilise our members to convene the special national delegate congress to defend our beloved federation," the group's statement said. 

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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