Vavi's ex-lover demands R4m in defamation costs

Zwelinzima Vavi believes rape allegations against him are part of a ploy by his political opponents to discredit him. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Zwelinzima Vavi believes rape allegations against him are part of a ploy by his political opponents to discredit him. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

Jacqueline Phooko, the woman who accused Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi of rape, is demanding R4.1-million in defamation costs from Vavi, the trade union federation itself and its biggest affiliate.

In court papers filed at the Johannesburg high court last month, Phooko argues that statements by Vavi, Cosatu and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) dismissing her rape allegations have damaged her reputation and rendered her unemployable.

Vavi admitted that he had sex with Phooko in her office at Cosatu headquarters in Johannesburg in January last year, but that it was consensual.

Phooko is now demanding R600 000 from Vavi for saying that her sexual harassment case was a ploy to extort money from him and that she was being used by his political opponents in Cosatu to gain maximum advantage over him.

She is also suing Vavi for saying he did not know what he was doing with that ” nopatazana” (woman with loose morals) while addressing a rally in his home township of Sada, near Whittlesea in the Eastern Cape, in September last year.

Phooko is demanding R3-million from Cosatu for reputational damages after it carried Vavi’s statement on its website.

She is suing Numsa for R500 000 for a statement by its regional secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Mbuso Ngubane, claiming the union was aware that certain powerful leaders in and outside Cosatu coerced Phooko to falsify the rape claim in order to destroy Vavi’s political career.

Phooko argues that the statements against her were intended to paint her as a liar, an adulterer, a criminal, a dishonest employee, a manipulative wife, a political mole and a person without moral standing.

“The publication of the press statement [by Vavi on Cosatu’s website] was made with the intention to injure the plaintiff’s reputation,” her lawyer said. “The second defendant [Cosatu] has more than two million members and approximately 21 affiliate unions who use its website as a source of information.

“The purpose or implied purpose of publishing press statements on the website is to enable members of the press to get information about the second defendant’s official stance on certain issues. The statement was published as headline news by different newspapers [both print and online], different television news channels and radio stations.”

Phooko said her reputation suffered and estimated the damage at R1-million.

“As a result of the defamation the plaintiff has been rendered unemployable.
Alternatively, her future employment prospects have been severely minimised and the plaintiff will suffer loss of earnings in the amount of R2 000 000,” her lawyers said.

Job loss
She has since been axed from her administrative position in Cosatu. Vavi was reinstated after he was suspended on charges of serious misconduct for having sex with her in her office.

Cosatu’s 33-page charge sheet accuses Vavi, among other things, of flouting internal procedures when employing Phooko, having sex with her in the office, changing her employment contract from temporary to permanent and failing to supervise her properly.

Cosatu settled with Phooko in June this year after she challenged the federation at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for unfair dismissal.

Although Phooko has since withdrawn the sexual harassment grievance against Vavi, his political rivals in Cosatu believe he should still face the music for having sex with her in her Cosatu office.

The high court in Johannesburg set aside Vavi’s suspension after it found that Cosatu’s central executive committee failed to comply with the federation’s constitution when it suspended him. In August last year, Cosatu said Vavi had been put on special leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing relating to his affair with Phooko. Following Vavi’s suspension, Numsa, an ally of his, lodged an application in the high court challenging the decision. Vavi then lodged papers to be added as an applicant in Numsa’s challenge.

Party to an agenda
Approached by the Mail & Guardian for comment this week, Vavi said: “Cosatu and I will defend that [the defamation case brought by Phooko].”

In a statement last year, Vavi dismissed the rape allegations by Phooko and accused her of being party to an agenda to remove him from his powerful position in Cosatu.

“The truth is that, on that day, we kissed just as on other occasions. She [Phooko] does not reveal that the last time we kissed was the last time I saw her in my office, on June 2013. All our encounters were encounters between two consenting adults who clearly had feelings for one another.

“We had intimately kissed in my office on each of those occasions. Round about midday in her office, I also kissed her and that kissing eventually led to us making love. Brief intercourse took place whilst we were standing.

“The impression I gained is that she manipulated her husband into believing that she was a victim of rape and that because of my profile and standing I would be so scared of this matter being reported or publicised that I would pay an amount to beat the alleged offer of R1-million referred to in the text message dated 11 June 2013,” said Vavi.

‘Relevant matters’
Numsa’s general secretary Irvin Jim said: “We will oppose the claim, definitely. Although this matter is presently the subject of litigation and thus sub judice, we as Numsa wish to categorically state that we hold a duty to the workers of South Africa to monitor and fairly comment on relevant matters affecting workers and their rights.

“The outcome of the litigation will in due course determine what the truth behind this saga will be. However, Numsa will never sacrifice the plight of workers and their interests, for fear of litigation,” said Jim.

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said Phooko’s lawsuit had nothing to do with the organisation. “We should not be listed on that court action. It is not our responsibility.”

He said Cosatu had already instituted disciplinary charges against Vavi and Phooko regarding the matter.

Dlamini and Vavi do not see eye to eye politically and their tense relationship has almost torn the federation apart.

At the centre of their factional feud is the loyalty split regarding succession battles in the ANC, with Dlamini’s faction supporting President Jacob Zuma’s second term as ANC president. Vavi and his supporters, including Numsa, were opposed to Zuma returning as president when the ANC held its elective conference in Mangaung in 2012.

The ANC has tried unsuccessfully to mediate between the two when it was clear that the factional tensions would affect the ruling party’s electoral campaign.



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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