Cosatu’s boss loses favour to his deputy

Union federation Cosatu’s president S’dumo Dlamini’s time is up as leader of the federation and his own union is lobbying for him to be replaced by his deputy, Zingiswa Losi.

Nominations for Cosatu leadership open on Monday and it will become clearer how much support Losi has among the federation’s 17 affiliates, which together represent about 1.7-million workers.

The leadership of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) called in Dlamini in July to ask him not to contest the position of Cosatu president at the federation’s elective congress next month, a senior official in the federation said anonymously this week.

“Since the removal of [former president] JZ [Jacob Zuma] there was trouble between him and affiliates,” the official said. “The mood was not right at the last central committee and, to be honest, ever since he went to his [Zuma’s 70th birthday] party, the relationship was never right.”

But Dlamini said: “I have never addressed the media about that matter of whether I’m available or not because I respect the members who elected me at the congress.”

Dlamini and Losi appear to be the front runners for the position of president, as other candidates have not yet started lobbying for positions, senior Cosatu insiders said this week.

Nehawu general secretary Zola Saphetha said Losi’s lack of support was not because of her gender but because of her capacity to lead.

“We don’t look at sexual orientation of the leader;we are looking at the capacity of the leadership. We regard this as a period of renewal for our organisation [Cosatu] and we need to keep this in mind.”

Losi declined to comment on her campaign because nominations had not yet been officially opened.

The move to persuade Dlamini not to contest the position happened as the lobby to elect Losi as Cosatu’s first female leader grew among the federation’s biggest affiliates. By this week, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Nehawu, the Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (Popcru), the Democratic Nurses’ Organisation of South Africa and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union had all come on board, according to Losi’s supporters.

“She’s the only option that we have. That’s why as young workers we are lobbying other affiliates and we have been finding a lot of support,” NUM Youth secretary Bonginkosi Mrasi said.

The NUM and Nehawu are understood to be leading Losi’s campaign and have invited her to deliver the keynote address at their centenary celebrations for Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu this week.

But Losi’s tenure in Cosatu’s leadership was clouded by the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), to which she formerly belonged.In 2014, Numsa suspended Losi as a shop steward at an company in Port Elizabeth and demanded she resign as Cosatu’s deputy president because she no longer had a constituency.

The suspension came after Losi backed Cosatu’s central executive committee decision to expel Numsa and form a new metalworkers’ union but Losi took up membership with Popcru and remained in office.

At the 2015 special Cosatu congress, she was re-elected unopposed despite protests from the Food and Allied Workers’ Union, which would later join Numsa in establishing the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

Three years later, Losi is the favourite to replace Dlamini, and her move to take over from him was bolstered by her election to the ANC’s national executive committee in December, Mrasi said.

Popcru deputy president Nkosinathi Mabhida would not discuss Losi’s support.

Bheki Ntshalintshali’s position as Cosatu general secretary could be contested if the smaller unions manage to convince his deputy, Solly Phetoe, to run against him.

“But it will be a similar situation of Blade [Nzimande] and Solly [Mapaila] in the [South African Communist] party. So I don’t think Solly will contest his close comrade,” the leader of one of Cosatu’s smaller affiliates said.

Mapaila declined to go up against Nzimande at the SACP conference last year, saying the move would fracture the party.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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