Cosatu on Tuesday asked the National Union of Metalworkers of South African (Numsa) to write a letter giving reasons why it should not be suspended or expelled from the federation.
The central executive committee (CEC) of Cosatu shot down the request by nine of the federation's affiliates to hold a special national congress on Monday, a decision that was announced on Tuesday at a press briefing. This congress was meant to look at resolving divisions within the union as well as the suspension of its former general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
The CEC's decision did not enjoy the support of the nine affiliates who are thought to be in support of Vavi. The nine boycotted the Monday meeting, and only unions aligned to Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini attended.
Cosatu acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the federation was concerned about the resolutions taken by Numsa during its special congress in December, which he described as diametrically opposed to Cosatu policies. These include the call on Cosatu to break from the alliance as well as the plan to organise a march to Cosatu House, which will coincide with Cosatu central executive committee meeting on February 24. The other concern that the Cosatu national office bearers raised is Numsa's decision to neither endorse nor support the ANC during the 2014 elections.
Cosatu will also ask eight other pro-Vavi unions to clarify their views on Numsa's special congress declaration and resolutions.
At the briefing, Dlamini also said the audit into Vavi's conduct, done by Ntsaluba Gobodo Auditors, found irregularities in the sale and purchase of Cosatu houses, including the inflation of the price, Dlamini said.
Conflict of interest
The report also revealed there was a conflict of interest with regard to the business partnership between a company contracted by Cosatu and Vavi's wife and daughter.
The CEC's decision was in sharp contrast to the announcement by Dlamini in September last year that he would comply with Cosatu's constitution by convening the special congress as per the written requests submitted by the nine affiliates. Under the Cosatu constitution, its president has to call a special national congress if a third of the 19 affiliated unions call for one.
But a senior Cosatu leader who attended the meeting pointed out that if the president is unable to convene the special congress, he could refer the matter to the CEC.
He told the Mail & Guardian on Monday the decision to drop the special national congress was based on financial reasons.
"The unions don't have money to organise a special congress. Also, the CEC could not agree on the proposed agenda of the meeting by the pro-Vavi unions and matters raised by the Numsa [National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa] in its resolutions."
During its special congress held in December, Numsa resolved to withdraw its support of the ANC's election campaign and to convince Cosatu to consider breaking away from its alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party. The Vavi-aligned unions were also planning to use the special congress to oust Dlamini and the other top six officials of Cosatu and reinstate Vavi.
Numsa national treasurer Mpumzi Maqungo said he was shocked by the CEC's decision.
"Numsa was not part of the decision and I know eight other affiliates did not attend the meeting. We will take them [Dlamini's aligned unions] head on. They are hijacking the organisation. They are holding the federation to ransom.
"There is a provision in the constitution that says a special congress must take place if a third of the affiliates request for it," said Maqungo.
He said the nine affiliates would consider legal steps to force Cosatu to convene the special national congress.
A Cosatu leader aligned to Dlamini said the federation was prepared to fight any legal action in court.
"They [the pro-Vavi unions] say they have the right. Our belief is that decisions in Cosatu are not about two-thirds but about the majority. The majority of unions are on our side. Legally, they [the Vavi aligned unions] don't have a standing to win the case in court," said the Cosatu leader.
He added: "It was about time that Cosatu takes bold decisions because if we don’t do that we create confusion among our members. We are saying to our members that that special national congress they are looking for, the answer is no."