South Africa: Behind the suspension of COSATU leader Zwelinzima Vavi

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Statement of the Democractic Left Front, South Africa

August 15, 2013 -- As expected the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Central Executive Committee took a decision to suspend Zwelinzima Vavi, its general secretary. An internal probe will now sit and in all likelihood find him guilty of bringing COSATU into disrepute and he will be permanently removed from the leadership of COSATU. [Vavi admitted to having sex with a junior staff member at the federation’s headquarters in January.]

Abuse of women is a very serious offence. Abuse of power is very serious. No-one should be above the law. In this case Vavi’s guilt has not been established. And it is obvious that the rapid and determined way some in the CEC went about taking up this issue is part of the bigger campaign to rid COSATU of Vavi’s leadership. If Vavi, or any official is guilty of serious abuse, the workers’ movement must act principally.

However, COSATU has for a long time left the plane of principle and the defence of working-class political interests. In the 1990s the leadership of COSATU was captured by a political faction that has subordinated the independence of the labour movement to political interests of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). This faction has a name: the South African Communist Party (SACP). At the ANC’s Mangaung conference this faction ensured the ANC clinched tighter control of COSATU by ensuring senior leaders sitting in its national leadership were now in the ANC National Executive Committee. Thus reflecting a desperation and realisation that coopting worker leaders through giving them seats in parliament was not enough to ensure control. The politics of control of the SACP/ANC sacrificed working-class independence for an accommodation with capital and big business with disastrous results for workers.

As could have been expected, the transition from apartheid, where working-class independence was subordinated to the so-called national interest, the position of the working class and the poor has suffered. Unemployment has more than doubled, a large sector of the employed has been informalised and consequently the wage share in the national income has declined as against profits. South Africa has become one of the most unequal countries in the world.

This unprincipled politics took its worst form with COSATU liquidating itself into the campaign to have Jacob Zuma elected president of the ANC.

Vavi’s suspension comes after he, together with several principled leaders in COSATU and its affiliates, started to reposition COSATU to fight for workers against capital and the state. Since 2010 COSATU has made the “predatory elite” and the threat of the emergence of a “predatory state” a major target. Potentially powerful campaigns were launched against corruption, labour brokers, “the jobs blood baths” and e-tolls. Government policies such as the New Growth Path and National Development Plan were criticised. This was not just an attack against the ANC leadership but the leadership of the SACP that had liquidated itself into the Zuma-led state and now occupying major Cabinet positions and at every level of government. The turn away from Zuma was also a challenge to business unions inside COSATU, linked to the SACP/ANC faction trying to control COSATU, and engaging in shady BEE deals behind the backs of workers.

For this reason, even before, COSATU’s 2012 congress, the SACP/ANC faction in COSATU had run a campaign to get rid of Vavi. Now they may have succeeded.

However, the global crisis, the deepening crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality will force principled leadership in COSATU, such as that of National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) to continue the struggle and to continue to fight for COSATU’s independence and working-class independence -- with or without Vavi.

The crisis of many affiliates in COSATU in the form of corruption, sweetheart relations with management, lack of servicing of its members, bureaucratisation, etc. which Vavi was trying to arrest will inevitably lead to further splits and fragmentation of the labour movement.

Vavi’s suspension is not the end of the story. It will accelerate a process of re-organisation and re-alignment of the labour movement in South Africa. As the DLF, we expect to play a major role in assisting the renewal of militant anti-capitalist trade unionism. We call on workers to reclaim their unions from below through worker control and we call on NUMSA to convene its long-declared commitment to a Conference of the Left. Out of the wreckage will emerge a renewed labour movement capturing the spirit of principled trade unionism, namely of working class independence, solidarity and militant struggle.

Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi may very well be found playing a critical role in this renewal.

SAMWU: Stop trying to remove Vavi and start fighting for the working class and poor

Statement by the South African Municipal Workers Union, Eastern Cape

August 13, 2013 -- The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) in the Eastern Cape Province is disturbed by the continuous discrediting of the COSATU General Secretary in the media, and by other sources. There are individuals who are hell bent on tarnishing the reputation and image of the general secretary, Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi.

The agenda of the factionalists was defeated at the last COSATU congress, when the general secretary received overwhelming support. Now some of the same people are trying to remove the general secretary via the "back door". They started with corruption allegations, and have failed to prove anything. Then they tried to use rape accusations, which have now been withdrawn by the woman involved. Over the next period these forces will undoubtedly try other dirty tricks. Our view in the Eastern Cape expressed by our Provincial Executive Committee is that the COSATU CEC should constructively deal with the matter and act responsibly. Those who are trying to remove Comrade Vavi must look beyond their selfish interests and their future careers and instead address the challenges facing COSATU members and its affiliates and the broader working class.

Our people are suffering; the only crime that Comrade Vavi committed is he is prepared to tell the truth about the day to day reality of our people. Our people are facing challenges ranging from poverty to starvation and service delivery failures. The impact of corruption must also be addressed, not swept under the carpet and forgotten because they are politically embarrassing. The recent COSATU Collective and Organising Conference held earlier this year resolved to engage on the Living Wage Campaign, which will seek to set a decent minimum wage for workers of this country. This is the bigger picture that our Federation must address, and not be wasting time on issues that are not key or strategic but factional.

For how long must we witness high levels of unemployment, deepening poverty and ever increasing inequalities that confront all of us and our families and communities?

We are busy fighting each other instead of implementing last year's congress resolutions, especially on socio-economic issues, which appear to be the root cause of the current conflict. It is clear that some comrades for their own reasons do not want these sensitive issues to be raised. Comrade Vavi is following the mandate of the COSATU Congress, exactly what he is meant to be doing. Those who are trying to silence him are not doing as they ought to.

If this situation continues we will call for an early COSATU congress, campaign for Comrade Vavi's return to bring back stability in the Federation and deal with factionalism once and for all.