Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini was forced to leave the federation's Gauteng shopsteward council before he finished his speech on Friday, after hundreds of workers from different Cosatu affiliates disrupted him with pro-Zwelinzima Vavi songs.
The shopsteward council, which was held at City Hall in Johannesburg, was organised by the Cosatu provincial leaders to mobilise support for the ANC ahead of the May 7 general elections. Dlamini, together with ANC provincial deputy chairperson in Gauteng Gwen Ramokgopa, was invited to address the workers.
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) local secretary at the Wits Central branch, John Manana, who attended the event, told the Mail & Guardian on Friday that Dlamini left the meeting after workers disrupted his speech.
"He was not afforded space to present his speech. He was subjected to booing and all sorts of things. The meeting was rendered ineffective," said Manana.
A briefing note written to Numsa national office bearers by the union's regional secretary in Gauteng, Sizwe Dlamini, also confirmed the incident.
"We wish to brief you [Numsa national leaders] as follows. When Cosatu president took to the podium to address the PSSC, Numsa delegates went into song asking Sdumo why he has dismissed the Cosatu GS [general secretary] [Vavi]. The song continued non-stop. Sdumo tried to shut the workers by singing another song himself but he failed as his forces were too weak. Numsa forces followed by Fawu [Food and Allied Workers Union], Saccawu [South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union] and all other forces for socialism in the Gauteng province joined the song.
"I must mention that the NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] delegates were singing voluntarily with Numsa forces in unsettling Sdumo," reads Sizwe Dlamini's briefing note.
The NUM's national leaders, including its general secretary Frans Baleni, are close allies of the Cosatu president.
Gauteng Cosatu chairperson Putas Tseki tried to calm the delegates but was unsuccessful. The meeting was called off immediately, said Sizwe Dlamini.
Approached for comment, Cosatu Gauteng secretary Dumisani Dakile denied that the Cosatu president was forced to leave after workers disrupted his speech.
“The president [Sdumo Dlamini] spoke from the beginning to the end. He had to attend to another meeting – that's why he left early. There is no one who disrupted his speech. Everything went well. It is unfortunate that he had to leave early. He was rushing to attend the central committee meeting of the SACP [South African Communist Party]," said Dakile.
This incident was not the first to happen to Dlamini. He was previously booed in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape by Cosatu members who are unhappy with the federation's decision to suspend Vavi.
Cosatu acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali told journalists in Johannesburg on Thursday, the federation's central executive committee meeting this week discussed disruptive and disrespectful activities by members of various affiliates of Cosatu.
"It was agreed that Cosatu NOBs and leaders of the affiliates involved must speak to their provincial leaders and members to explain what their role is – that Cosatu is not a federal structure and that national policy decisions are binding on all provincial, regional and local structures," said Ntshalintshali.
Sdumo Dlamini refused to comment when approached by the M&G on Friday. But during the press briefing on Thursday, he said he was not worried about the attacks directed at him by some Cosatu members.
"Cosatu is a huge elephant and from time to time it will have ticks that keeps on biting it. But it moves forward. We are working hard to unite the federation," he said.