South Africa: 'Leadership faction wants COSATU to be a toothless giant', declare nine affiliates

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Statement by nine COSATU affiliates campaigning for the reinstatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary

February 15, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The outcome of the special central executive council (CEC) of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) that was shunned by those affiliates who had formally called for a Special National Congress has confirmed our worst fears.

The current leadership faction that currently controls the boardroom manipulated the quorum, the agenda and the discussion to reach outcomes that have nothing to do with protecting the rights of workers or their organisations. It is clear that this faction is prepared to sacrifice COSATU and turn it into a toothless giant in order to please its political masters. We cannot and will not allow this to happen without a determined struggle and we believe that we have the support of the majority of COSATU workers.

The unions stayed away from the Special CEC because they believed it was inappropriate to hold it when a scheduled CEC meeting was planned two weeks later. They were also deeply concerned about the way the CEC and other meetings and agendas are manipulated at the last minute in order to limit discussion and to bulldoze through decisions in a bureaucratic manner.

It should be stated from the outset however, that the collective purpose of all nine unions, as outlined at the press conference in February, is to revitalise and regenerate a strong, independent and democratic COSATU, capable of defending and improving the living standards of the working class and the poor. This remains our principle aim despite the divisive misinformation coming forth from COSATU House.

Refusing the call for a SNC: A blatant betrayal of the COSATU constitution

The wholly legitimate constitutional call for a Special National Conference has been denied. The reasons given are that it cannot be financed, and that it will distract from the ANC election campaign. The ruling faction of the current leadership have now been fully exposed. They are prepared to ride roughshod over the most important statute that governs COSATU, namely the COSATU constitution. If further evidence was needed of the paralysis of COSATU then this is it.

The nine unions have stated on several occasions that the cost of a Special National Congress is entirely manageable if stripped of unnecessary regalia, and held in a modest environment. The nine unions have even offered to assemble the resources themselves to allow the congress to take place, and are sure other affiliates would contribute if given the opportunity to do so.

COSATU members are right to ask why, if COSATU cannot afford a Special National Congress why it is prepared to allocate millions for senior counsel and forensic auditors to prosecute, demonise and attack Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, considered by millions of workers as the legitimate voice of the working class.

Our estimates so far are that the cost of the forensic investigations and legal representation has cost the federation around R10 million! We cannot state accurately what the figure is, because affiliates have not been told, and we demand that this figure be made available to all affiliates as a matter of urgency at the upcoming CEC.

To add that the SNC would interrupt or hamper the ANC election campaign is verging on the ridiculous. A paralysed COSATU cannot play any meaningful role in the politics of our country at this time and this is good news for the ruling class and its allies.

A paralysed COSATU will not advance a commitment for a second phase of a radical economic transformation. It will not fight to change current inappropriate macroeconomic policies. A paralysed COSATU will not fight for a new wage and incomes policy that will end runaway inequalities.

It will not win the fight for a wall to wall legalised, centralised bargaining system. It will not fight for a living wage and a 40-hour working week. A paralysed COSATU will not reverse the neoliberal agenda as enshrined in government economic policies that have lead to e-tolling for example. It will not hold leaders to account, and will certainly not ensure that workers' interests are prioritised and addressed. COSATU in its current state is incapable of mobilising support, especially in our poorer communities.

Only a SNC will unite COSATU, reinvigorate it and provide a leadership that can robustly defend workers' interests. The current leadership faction is running away from an SNC because they know that the vast majority of workers, including in their own unions, want a militant, democratic and fighting COSATU, with a leadership including Zwelinzima Vavi at the helm to fight for their interests. For these reasons, we will continue to campaign for a Special National Congress and we will use all constitutional and legal means to do so.

Demonising NUMSA and divide and rule tactics

Before, during and after the special CEC, attacks on NUMSA have been unrelenting and aimed at destabilising one of COSATU's most effective affiliates. The attacks on NUMSA from COSATU House have been nothing less than shameful.

After the special CEC NUMSA is now being asked to give reasons why it should not be expelled or suspended from COSATU. The same question could be posed to the faction that is currently leading COSATU! The fact of the matter is that NUMSA, through a profoundly democratic and worker-controlled process, has arrived at certain political positions. NUMSA is fully aware that where there are existing COSATU policies in conflict with its [national congress] resolutions it will have to lobby and convince the rest of affiliates to adopt its positions in an open and honest debate.

This is a practice that is as old as COSATU itself. Since when do we expel unions who take "wrong decisions at their congresses" instead of engaging with them? Every union that truly practices the worker-control principle has an alienable right to meet, debate and take decisions as mandated by members. In debates there are no holy cows as long as we have said the leadership understands they have to lobby other unions to adopt their positions. This is a fundamental right of all COSATU affiliates, who align themselves with a worker-control ethos. How could it be otherwise?

If the workers in a union decide to elaborate or change existing policy, surely they cannot be restricted because it might be different from an existing COSATU policy? How would a COSATU policy ever change if this was outlawed? This is how COSATU became a vibrant worker-controlled federation nearly 30 years ago. If COSATU is to regain its vibrancy, it must allow workers, through their affiliates, to define and articulate policy, even if that policy embraces radical alternatives.

The faction that currently leads COSATU clearly believes that all affiliates, including NUMSA, must be governed in a top-down manner and not the other way round. This is the model that has dismally failed in both capitalist and communist countries throughout the Cold War period and after, with only a few notable exceptions. The current leadership faction has quoted a policy that was agreed in the 1990s to justify isolating, denigrating and possibly expelling NUMSA. In a blatant and crude attempt to divide the group of nine unions, they have also asked what the reaction of the other eight unions is to NUMSA's policy developments.

There are countless examples, including from those who support the current leadership faction, to show that affiliates inevitably go beyond existing COSATU policy when circumstances demand it. We have assembled irrefutable evidence to show this. One recent example is the decision of a group of unions to affiliate to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). Affiliation to the WFTU was not COSATU policy when NEHAWU, POPCRU, CEPPWAWU and NUMSA decided to affiliate to it. Why were these unions not asked to motivate why they should not be expelled for undermining COSATU policies?

NUMSA is also being attacked for saying openly that it is reviewing its organising scope, because it is being approached by workers from a broader spectrum seeking representation. The leadership faction is calling this poaching, and accusing NUMSA of breaking existing policy that has been in place for many years. The fact of the matter is that a very large number of unions, if not all of them, have recruited members that are outside of their original scope, and its not hard to work out why.

The shape and scale of the South African economy has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Multinational companies have spread their exploitative supply chains across our economy and they span different organising sectors. Even the public sector has changed over the last 20 years, and there has been a realignment of public services at all levels.

What this means is that there are very large overlaps in every sector, and this is why COSATU affiliates need to review their scope and find ways of organising workers in the most effective manner.

Instead of attacking NUMSA why is the current leadership faction unable to look forwards, and think about how to recruit the more than 70% of workers in our country who are not organised by any union! That would be a progressive response. Victimising affiliates is not.

What NUMSA is accused of is what has become the practice in a majority of unions, and so why are they being singled out? Because they have dared to challenge the leadership faction.

Rather than seek to split the federation, why have the current leadership faction not asked for a review of these policies? The truth is that there is one approach for their friends, and another approach for those they regard as their enemies.

The attacks on NUMSA are designed to isolate an affiliate that has questioned a number of fundamental policies and entrench an unambiguous class orientation, and is prepared to challenge the thinking of the ruling class. This is NUMSA's crime. Even where NUMSA has followed COSATU policy on electricity price hikes, for example, it is criticised by the current leadership.

NUMSA is being targeted precisely because it is not prepared to kowtow to the current leadership faction, or those within the leadership of [ANC-SACP-COSATU] Alliance structures that support them.

Let it be said, loud and clear, NUMSA has endorsed the position shared by all the nine COSATU affiliates who remain wholly committed to building a democratic, worker-controlled and independent COSATU. Those who are suggesting otherwise are being devious and mischievous and are seeking to divide the workers' movement for their own factional ends.

We are more than ever convinced that a Special National Congress is the only way to resolve the current impasse, and that we have the support of the overwhelming number of organised workers. How else can you explain the refusal of the current leadership faction to call a Special National Congress?

AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL -- A DISMISSAL OF ONE IS A DISMISSAL OF ALL has been our guiding international worker slogan. We are not prepared to let this motto die!

The attacks on Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi: The poisoners poison themselves!

Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi has been subjected to the worst campaign of slander, disinformation and unfair practices and procedures endured by anyone in South Africa in recent times. Not only has he been subjected to trial by media, there have been appalling attacks on his integrity, his family, his comrades and friends, by those who claim to be progressive and on the side of the working class.

The most recent example is the refusal of the current leadership faction at the special CEC to follow the rules of natural justice, enshrined in our national constitution, to provide for his legal costs so that he can effectively defend himself against the trumped up charges. The leadership faction on the other hand have employed prestigious and expensive counsel, estimated at a cost of a minimum of R30,000 per day to represent their interests at the upcoming disciplinary procedure. This decision will not go unchallenged.

The completely irresponsible manner in which the current leadership faction has manipulated processes deserves special attention by all those who are committed to a strong and democratic federation. Time frames have been extended, malicious leaks in the media have been sanctioned and allowed to stand uncontested, access to information has been denied, and the very basic requirements of natural justice have been ignored.

Even the way in which the most recent forensic report was presented by the current leadership faction was manipulative and sought to give the impression that all of the misgivings that had taken place were the responsibility of the general secretary. In fact a reading of the report in full when it is properly released will reveal that other national office bearers of COSATU were responsible for the administration and management of the organisation. Are they not to be held to account?

Attacks on family members of Comrade Zwelinzima have been shown to be at best minor infringements, and at worst deliberate attempts to find anything on which to hang a charge on him. The fact that the findings of the report were given to the special CEC and not to Comrade Zwelinzima is yet another example of where due process has been chronically undermined.

It is unlawful for any forensic auditing firm to refuse the persons they have adverse findings against a constitutionally guaranteed right to be heard. It is completely unethical and runs counter to professional standards to present a final report that contains negative findings against anyone without offering the affected persons a right to engage and/or dispute those findings. If this happens, it is not an audit but a witch-hunt and a denial of justice.

What this has confirmed is that Comrade Zwelinzima is being attacked as part of a deeper undermining of the federation, and that we now have to escalate our activity to ensure that a SNC takes place in the near future, and that we have a general secretary that takes a mandate from the working class, not those who try to undermine it.

Actions speak louder than words

In the next few days, the nine affiliates will be releasing details of their Action Plan but we have already noted that on March 17 and 18 Comrade Zwelinzima will be in court to challenge his suspension, and the shabby way he has been treated.

We are calling for a massive mobilisation of support for Comrade Zwelinzima and to demand:

Hands off Comrade Zweli! Reinstate hm now!

Hands off NUMSA! End victimisations! Say no to divide and rule!

Special National Congress now! Rebuild COSATU to defend twhe Working class!


Communication Workers Union

Democratic Nurses Union of South Africa

Food and Allied Workers Union

National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa

Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa

South African Commercial and Catering Workers Union

South African Football Players Union

South African Municipal Workers Union

South African State and Allied Workers Union


By Terry Bell

February 23, 2014 -- Another Cosatu union has broken ranks, but not quite fully, with the ANC-led tripartite alliance. After a three-day special congress in Cape Town, the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) resolved not to insist that its members vote for the ANC. However, although Fawu members may decide which political party to support, the union leadership will still encourage a vote for the ANC.

“We have done so in the absence of any alternative, so as to deny the opportunistic and right-wing parties from gaining strength,” says Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola. However, the union’s congress also supported the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) claim that the tripartite alliance was now “non-functional” and that the unions were being used merely as “election fodder”.

Fawu is now demanding that COSATU must fight for a “re-configured Alliance arrangement”. And Masemola points out that future support for the ANC will depend on the party supporting “working class interests”.