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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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