Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi purposely avoided a press conference that announced the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa)’s expulsion from Cosatu.
In a letter to Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini, all Cosatu affiliates general secretaries and provincial secretaries, Vavi said he would not defend Cosatu’s decision to expel Numsa. He said the decision undermines and contradicts working class unity.
“The magnitude of the decisions that was taken by the Special CEC (central executive committee meeting) is not only of historical importance but has momentous implications,” Vavi said.
Vavi added that the future of workers as a whole was at stake.
“I have to say that I view decisions that were taken as ones that could destroy what we have jointly built for so many years,” he wrote.
Vavi bemoaned the fact that Cosatu was going through “the most painful period in its entire life”.
He said the organisation was making headlines for all the wrong reasons and the leaders are being “lampooned by cartoonists”.
“These are the reasons why I have decided not to participate in the NOB press conference of this afternoon or to conduct interviews or participate in any activity that will exacerbate division further, or will further jeopardise any chance of the federations committing suicide by jumping off the cliff,” Vavi wrote concluding his letter.
He added that there had to be an alternate to this.
Formal letter sent to Numsa
Moments before the conference, Numsa received a formal letter officially informing them of its expulsion.
It was almost three and a half days after a vote had the union expelled and the letter was not signed by Vavi – as per the federation’s norm.
When the national leaders converged on a podium of the first floor of Cosatu’s headquarters, Vavi was ostensibly absent.
His deputy, Bheki Ntshalintshali, who was tasked with reading the statement following the special central executive committee meeting which expelled Numsa, said Vavi was “signing papers”.
Later in the briefing, Dlamini said he was dealing with lawyers on a court case involving Vavi and Cosatu being sued by the subordinate Vavi had an affair with.
When probed so as to who signed the letter which officially confirmed Numsa’s expulsion, Dlamini rubbished it as a non-issue. But Vavi remained the elephant in the room throughout the two hour presser.
Vavi was quick to express his outrage over Numsa’s expulsion and somewhat distanced himself from the decision. He also confirmed that he was in consultation over what decision he would have to take as to his own fate.
And according to two Cosatu sources, when Cosatu’s six national leaders met on Monday, Vavi did not hide his emotions. Again on Monday, when they met, he expressed his dissatisfaction, and then declined to sign the letter that officially expelled Numsa.
The letter, which the Mail & Guardian is in possession of, was addressed to Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim and signed by Ntshalintshali.
“The reasons for the decision was those previously given to Numsa as the basis for consideration of the issue at the meeting of 7 November, which were subject to further deliberation at the CEC meeting after Numsa has presented its case to the meeting. As you are aware, the decision was then taken by ballot,” the letter reads.
It added that Numsa had the right to appeal against the decision.
Dlamini to former Cosatu leaders: stay away
The five Cosatu leaders, sans Vavi, were adamant that Numsa’s expulsion stands, with Ntshalintshali saying it was a “painful experience”.
“The trade unions were not convinced by Numsa’s explanation,” Ntshalintshali said.
Apart from communicating what led to Numsa’s expulsion and clarifying questions from journalists, Dlamini and his close ally in the Cosatu leadership, second deputy president Zingiswa Losi, appeared emboldened and spared no punches.
Losi went to great lengths to prove that Numsa’s expulsion was constitutional and cited from Cosatu’s Constitution while Dlamini took a brazen hit at former Cosatu leaders who have criticised the decision to expel Numsa.
He focused on the views expressed by former Cosatu general secretaries Mbhazima Shilowa and Jay Naidoo. “All we can say is get off Cosatu. Stay away from Cosatu,” Dlamini said.
He rubbished Naidoo’s public statements that Numsa’s expulsion was an end of an era. “He has the guts to come back and tell us of an era that has to come an end. Maybe an era has come to an end. Maybe a new era is beginning,” Dlamini said.
The Cosatu president further dismissed as lies the statements made by Numsa and seven of its allies that he refused to convene a special national congress to deal with the paralyses in Cosatu. “It is not true that the president of Cosatu refused to convene a special national congress,” Dlamini said.
Numsa has 30 days since Saturday to appeal its expulsion. Its case will only be heard at Cosatu’s next congress in September 2015.
In the meantime, Vavi’s fate, a decision on whether Losi can sit in her leadership position considering she jumped ship from one union to another, and the discussion on the special national congress, has been adjourned to another meeting due to take place next week.