/ 14 July 2015

Delegates show strength in numbers at Cosatu congress

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.
Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.

It was a simple but sensitive plan. The eight Cosatu unions, who have been loyal to expelled general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and metalworkers union Numsa, would not allow the first order of business at the Cosatu special national congress to go according to plan. 

But things didn’t quite work out that way. And while the other Cosatu factions loyal to Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini claimed a victory on day one of conference, it is the Cosatu collective leadership who have lost all and any credibility.  

The passing of credentials are a constitutional and administrative function of a conference – a precursor to more important things. 

But if credentials, which is a list approving that every congress delegate who is present, ought to be there and has the power to vote on organisational matters, are not passed, the conference cannot proceed. 

In the absence of the media, who were thrown out in the cold, the conference was opened by Cosatu’s first deputy president Tyotyo James, the South African anthem was sung and then the credentials process began. 

The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) raised an objection to the credentials; they did not want Zingiswa Losi – Cosatu’s second deputy president – and Numsa’s replacement union Limusa there. 

The removal of Losi has been the project of these rebel unions who claim that she cannot remain in her position because she resigned from her position as a Numsa shop steward – the position that got her elected into the top leadership. 

The rebel unions are Fawu; SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union; Public and Allied Workers Union of SA; SA State and Allied Workers Union; Communication Workers Union; SA Football Players Union; Democratic Nursing Union and some members of the SA Municipal Workers Union.

There was a lot of back and forth with heckling, some people barred from the conference and a public order policing waiting to pounce. The eight unions were not a cohesive force, speaking in a coherent voice. 

Ultimate test of numbers
Dlamini tried to assert his authority by saying the Cosatu central executive committee had already decided that Losi can remain in her position and that same executive structure confirmed Limusa’s entrance to Cosatu. 

There was citing of the Cosatu Constitution and counter-citing. Eventually, the impasse would be solved by a vote that ironically led to another impasse; a vote by a show of hands or a vote by secret ballot. 

Dlamini got his way despite protest. It would be a vote by a show of hand. 

He then came out and briefed the media saying that if the majority of delegates did not vote in favour of the credentials, the conference would collapse. Delegates who voted yes totalled 1 752, in favour of the credentials to be adopted, with 253 voting no and 226 abstaining.

This was the ultimate test of numbers. Those loyal to Vavi and Numsa had been defeated in round one. And by the large parity between yes and no, they knew it was time to throw in the towel. 

Then came sparring round two; the agenda of the conference. Those loyal to Vavi and Numsa wanted the agenda to be debated and discuss Vavi and Numsa’s return to the conference, as well as an election of leadership. 

This was disputed. The other side wanted the agenda to remain as it was; a discussion on unity and cohesion and a discussion on leadership without any election. 

This was put to a vote. But the majority of the delegates from four unions – Fawu, Saccawu, Sasabo and Sapfu – had walked out already. 

“Ag no. We are tired and those leaders are undemocratic,” one delegate summed it up. 

It was past 10pm when the agenda for the conference was adopted and the conference could formally begin – 11 hours late. 

Dlamini gave a brief opening address where he made it known that there was “no blood on the floor”. 

“The winner of the vote was Cosatu,” he said. 

But at that point, delegates did not seem convinced – even those loyal to his faction. 

The congress will continue on Tuesday.