South Africa: Nine COSATU unions call for Zwelinzima Vavi's reinstatement

Zwelinzima Vavi.

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January 29, 2014 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This press conference has been called to explain why the nine Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) affiliated unions have taken the unprecedented step of coming together in an attempt to rescue and regenerate COSATU.

Our main and overriding purpose is to work openly towards freeing COSATU from its current state of organisational and political paralysis, for it to become once again a vibrant, independent, progressive worker-controlled federation. The working class at this critical time demands nothing less!

What crisis in COSATU?

We hold the view that COSATU is in deep crisis, and denying the scale and extent of the crisis makes matters worse. A review of what COSATU was supposed to implement following its 2012 congress reveals an organisation unable to move forward on any significant area, and especially in relation to economic and social matters. Meanwhile millions of our people continue to face unemployment, poverty and worsening inequality.

Within the [African National Congress-COSATU-South African Communist Party] Alliance, COSATU is increasingly marginalised and ignored. The fact that the government has been able to implement e-tolling, youth subsidies and to backslide on labour broking and on a progressive economic policy indicates how COSATU's paralysis and disarray is being wilfully exploited.

A recent example showing how COSATU structures and policies are consciously undermined is provided by the current COSATU leadership's virtually unqualified and uncritical endorsement of the 2014 ANC election manifesto. This took place without any significant mandating engagement with COSATU affiliates and despite the fact that the manifesto in certain respects either undermines or fails to take forward the organisation's demands.

We do recognise real gains that has been made over the last 20 years. However, this failure by the Alliance to engage COSATU and its affiliates is in blatant contradiction of COSATU's policy, most recently endorsed by our 2012 COSATU congress, that our support for the ANC must not be unconditional, but based on advancing demands which represent the interests of our members and the broader working class. Workers have never agreed that COSATU should give the ANC a blank cheque!

We believe this is a crisis that has its roots in class contestation, and between those who want to see COSATU tamed and compliant, and those who want to see it restored as a bastion of the working class. This crisis has been deliberately exacerbated by the unnecessary and prolonged suspension of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, and the unconstitutional refusal to call a special national congress (SNC) of the federation.

Undermining of constitutional norms becoming the norm!

In relation to both the holding of a SNC, and the continued suspension of Comrade Vavi, internal processes and constitutional structures meant to ensure fairness have been bypassed, undermined and short circuited for political and factional reasons. There is evidence suggesting that those within our movement who are hoping to appear on lists for political office in 2014 are at the forefront of the campaign to neutralise COSATU and turn it into a toothless giant.

The personal and political attacks on Comrade Vavi, and the blocking of the procedurally called SNC are clearly part of a broader campaign to undermine working-class power, and we believe that hundreds of thousands of workers within and beyond our own unions agree with us. This situation is further compounded by threats to the comrade's life and character assassination through bogus so-called intelligence reports, as well as the whole saga of the crime and intelligence chief claiming that there is a plot to assassinate comrade Vavi, yet refusing to disclose the sources of information. All this also has to be addressed as part of the process to break the paralysis and impasse in COSATU.

Attacks on other union leaders and in particular by Alliance partners and those who should know better have reinforced this view. Workers will never agree that COSATU be turned into a conveyor belt, or a toothless bulldog!

Against malicious anti-working class intent!

Factional and malevolent responses and malicious unattributed statements in the media must now stop, in favour of openness, a respect for the COSATU constitution and towards finding a constructive way forward. Our reasons for coming together are therefore clearly stated below for all to see:

To explicitly clarify what the progressive forces inside COSATU are campaigning for and what they are seeking to achieve.

To provide a clear set of demands to serve as the basis for mobilising a majority of workers in COSATU for a decisive break with class collusion and for trade union independence.

To regenerate a vibrant worker controlled organisational culture in COSATU with a leadership that is committed to the highest democratic and accountable processes.

To campaign for the reinstatement of the COSATU general secretary and the convening of a special congress as part of the transformation of COSATU and the broader trade union movement.

We have started the process of identifying our key demands and we urge all unions within COSATU to discuss them, and to engage in a constructive and open manner, with a view towards advancing a regenerated and representative COSATU. Now is the time when COSATU, first and foremost, must itself decide on its future and assert its right to do so.

With these concerns in mind we are advancing the following demands and will campaign for their implementation.

Key demands

1. Special delegate congress

The delegate congress of COSATU remains its highest authoritative structure. We call for the special delegate congress requested by the required number of unions in terms of the COSATU constitution, to be convened without delay to:

(a) Redirect COSATU towards becoming once again a defender of the working class and poor and progressive united force for change and

(b) To elect a new leadership to steer COSATU in the direction decided by the special delegate congress.

(c) If the special delegate congress is not called by the end of March, we will have no option other than to pursue the matter through the courts, and to mobilise our members to convene the special national delegate congress to defend our beloved federation.

2. End the suspension of the general secretary

The processes that were used to suspend, and to now "prosecute" Comrade Vavi are unconstitutional and grossly unfair. The constitutional structures of the federation have been bypassed in order to assemble a range of charges and by using the media to denigrate the character of the general secretary. We believe that the time frames associated with the suspension, and the terms of reference, have rendered the process grossly unfair. Coupled with the apologies, a publicly stated commitment to address certain outstanding issues in relation to personal behaviour is sufficient to end the matter and open the door for his immediate reinstatement. A failure to do so will continue to polarise and destabilise our movement.

3. Political regeneration

We call for the opening of a thorough, honest and constructive discussion on how COSATU relates to the Alliance and to government, which we believe is long overdue, with the purpose of ensuring that the voice of COSATU is the voice of the organised working class, free of factional and divisive considerations.

4. Organisational integrity and development

We call for a conscious campaign to address the decline of worker control in both the federation and its affiliates with a view towards rebuilding shop floor/workplace representation, leadership accountability, respect for constitutional provisions and a vibrant internal life.


We raise these issues in the knowledge that much needs to be done within our own unions to restore the power and mobilising capacity of COSATU, and that many painful decisions will have to be made to free COSATU from its state of paralysis.

However, the time for slandering of individuals and unions must be over. We intend to move forward and raise these matters throughout the federation. We believe that only open and honest engagements, free of factionalism and narrow self-interest can arrest the decline in COSATU's capacity to represent the working class and the poor. We intend to unleash a vigorous program of mobilisation through all of our structures for the convening of the special delegates conference.

We therefore, in the spirit of revolutionary unity, issue an appeal to all our sister unions in COSATU, and workers everywhere, to engage with these demands. We will tirelessly mobilise for them, and seek to ensure that we have the sort of federation capable of advancing our struggle for a socialist South Africa free of all forms of evil and oppression.


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