South Africa: Pro-government faction attacks COSATU's Zwelinzima Vavi

Zwelinzima Vavi is under attack for being too critical and independent of the ANC government.

By Benjamin Fogel

April 12, 2013 -- Amandla!, posted at Links International Journal of Socialst Renewal with the author's permission -- the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is in the midst of the biggest crisis in its 27-year history. This crisis has arisen from a South African Communist Party (SACP)-driven attempt to oust democratically elected COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, under the guise of corruption charges. The conflict's roots are in longstanding political contradictions and ideological tensions between COSATU and its Alliance partners – the ruling African National Congress and the SACP. At stake is not only the leadership of COSATU, but its political and moral direction.

COSATU sources reveal that the anti-Vavi faction is an alliance between the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and elements of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). COSATU president Sidomu Dlamini leads this faction, which is in all likelihood driven by SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe.

Vavi's allies are in the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the Food and Allied Workers Union, the South African Commercial and Catering and Allied Workers Union, the Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa, the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union and some smaller affiliates. He is also supported by neutral unions wanting to resist measures that might lead to a split. Most importantly, the majority of shop stewards in the federation largely oppose moves to oust him.

Another battle is ongoing between COSATU's two most sizable affiliates, NUM and NUMSA, who represent opposing political and union traditions. NUM represents a COSATU tradition focused on securing a closer working relationship with the ANC. NUMSA is the descendent of COSATU's "workerist" tendencies , focused on building democratic workers' power on the shopfloor and critical of aligning unions too closely with the ANC. The tension between NUM and NUMSA has intensified as NUM's popularity has reached an all-time low.

The anti-Vavi campaign

Vavi has been perhaps the most consistent and incisive critic of the ANC administration's political trajectory within the Alliance. His condemnation of a "predatory elite", criticism of the Nkandla project, attacks on the SACP's decay and his own anti-corruption initiatives have not made him popular among the Alliance's new paranoid and patronage-ridden ruling faction, which views his open debate and critical analysis as tantamount to rejection of the Alliance.

The weapon used by the campaign against Vavi has been leaks to the media, including allegations that he sold COSATU's old building in Johannesburg for R10-million less than its market value and awarded a tender to a company that employed his step-daughter. No proof has been produced, yet journalists have become complicit in factional politics by uncritically publishing "stories" based on anonymous allegations.

A three-pronged inquiry into Vavi's affairs has been set up: labour lawyer Charles Nupen heads up a political commission, former South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) president Petrus Mashishi will look into "organisational matters" and Sizwe Ntsaluba-Gobodo will assess COSATU's administration and finances. The inquiry will report back before the next central executive committee (CEC) meeting in May.

Tellingly, the anti-Vavi campaign has so far been conducted behind closed doors, in typical SACP manner. Vavi's power, on the other hand, relies on his ability to appeal directly to rank-and-file COSATU members. His greatest defence against the political witch-hunt lies in his capacity to mobilise workers and shop stewards.

Ironically, it is Vavi's former allies in the 2008 deal to bring Jacob Zuma to power who have turned against him. The deal was designed to "overturn the 1996 class project" – the ANC's lusty embrace of neoliberal macroeconomic policy. Although, without COSATU, Zuma might be sitting in a prison cell instead of the Union Buildings, COSATU has lost almost all the significant battles it has engaged in since Zuma's 2009 election (from the youth wage subsidy to e-tolling and the attempt to ban labour brokering).


Veteran trade unionist Dirk Hartford told Amandla! that the crisis is rooted in the SACP's longstanding desire to control the trade union movement by deploying its cadres in leading positions, thus centralising power in the hands of party leadership. This battle between the dominant Stalinist current in the SACP and diverse independent political currents has been ongoing since the 1980s.

The balance of forces in the COSATU leadership and CEC now favours the anti-Vavi, pro-SACP faction, despite the lack of popularity of COSATU president Dlamini and NUM general-secretary Frans Baleni among most COSATU workers. Vavi, on the other hand, retains mass support and is perceived as being willing to speak out of turn and put his neck on the line to defend workers' interests.

The SACP leadership spends much of its time protecting Zuma's image and his government's policies from perceived enemies of the party, rather than acting on behalf of the working class. Vavi and NUMSA's Irvin Jim's critiques of these failures have earned them the wrath of Nzimande and Mantashe. The SACP receives a significant proportion of its funding from COSATU affiliates: for example, a few years back, NEHAWU was alleged to have used R20 million from membership dues to pay SACP salaries and hire venues for their events.

Many workers criticise developments like this, as this shop steward's comments indicate:

The role of the SACP has gone down. It is compromised by having members in parliament. There is that reactionary clause 4.6 in the SACP that ensures this – which says if an SACP member is deployed by another organisation they are bound by the commands of that organisation. The SACP is in parliament because the ANC deployed them. If the ANC takes a reactionary position like supporting the Youth Wage Subsidy are you then bound by that?

Context of the crisis

This crisis also reflects structural economic shifts that have led to changes in the composition of the working class. Resulting challenges include difficulties of unionising the informal sector and the growth of precarious labour to the unions' detriment. Furthermore, unions have failed to respond to the intensification of class struggle, particularly in mining and agriculture, often siding with employers rather than workers.

COSATU's ability to protect workers' interests has been called into question. As a SADTU shop steward put it, "COSATU is seriously lacking in dealing with issues facing workers. In the current conjuncture, COSATU is not being militant but serving as a policy advisor of the state. Leaders are no longer articulating the voice of members, but their own selfish, material voice."

He added, "The likelihood is that those divisions are linked to groups with material interests. Underneath all this is a politics of accumulation. Our leaders have joined their government. Where is [Sydney] Mufamadi? Where is [Jay] Naidoo? Where is [Cyril] Ramaphosa? Where was he when Marikana [massacre] happened? They are sitting on the other side of the fence."

Driven by workers, in 2010 the largest public sector strikes in South African history forced direct confrontation between the ANC government and COSATU, with much of COSATU leadership "missing in action" and some actively trying to call off the strike prematurely. Workers' fury during the strike was directed against Zuma and his administration, which had promised a government more sympathetic to the working class. Despite Vavi's comment that the federation would "no longer give the ANC a blank cheque" during elections, the Zuma government has now moved further away from the COSATU-backd resolutions passed at the last ANC conference in Polokwane.

According to political analyst Steven Friedman, an obsession with "high politics" and the ANC's leadership wrangles has led to a lack of focus on labour issues and a lack of strategic direction in COSATU. Workers' revolts directed at union leaderships are hardly unique. Friedman also points out that workers who have left COSATU may tire of the alternatives and eventually return, thereby forcing COSATU affiliates to reorganise in order to retain membership.

"Social distancing" – the growing gap between a rising bureaucratic caste of full-time shop stewards and union officials, on one hand, and the workers they are supposed to represent on the other – forms a major aspect of the crisis. Leaders who sit in plush, air-conditioned offices and live in middle-class suburbs are removed from the lived realities of workers. They increasingly lack the much-needed activist background and skills borne of years of struggle on the factory floor.

What is lost is the culture of "shopfloor democracy" that built COSATU in the first place. Union officials are often closer in experience and priorities to management than to the workers they claim to represent (although this certainly does not apply universally). The vast discrepancy between the pay packages of top union officials and average workers parallels inequality in the private sector as a whole. For example, NUM general secretary Frans Balen, earns some R116,000 monthly, while the average worker earns around R3000.

Social distancing has been a major factor in a growing number of breakaway unions, as union officials are simply unable or unwilling to take up workers' demands. It was a key factor in last years's mineworker strikes leading to the Marikana massacre. NUM has lost more than 100,000 members in Marikana's aftermath. Many have joined the independent Association of Mining and Construction Workers Union (AMCU), set to become the majority union in the platinum sector. Likewise, social distancing is a major factor in the formation of the National Transport Movement, a popular breakaway from the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union.

The NUM's leadership seems to be in denial about the reasons for its loss of members. Even though NUM itself has quite cosy relations with mining conglomerates, it blames its membership losses on an elaborate conspiracy by mining companies using AMCU as a front to "destroy and dislodge the mineworkers by promoting another union".

COSATU, NUMSA, the NDP and neoliberalism

For years, senior ANC officials from Joel Netshitenzhe to Gwede Mantashe have insisted that "our revolution" (the "National Democratic Revolution") is multi-class and cannot become "hostage to narrow sectoral interests" – that is, it cannot display a working-class bias. This stance contradicts the COSATU line, based on the Freedom Charter, that the ANC should be biased towards the poor and working class. The ANC's new gospel is the National Development Plan (NDP), "the only game in town", according to deputy president and billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa. The NDP, however, much like Zuma's presidency, can camouflage itself enough to appeal to many different interests.

Elements of the NDP, in NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim's words, appear to be lifted directly from the right-wing Democratic Alliance (DA) policy documents calling for wage suppression and "market-driven growth". According to NUMSA, the NDP is informed by "the ridiculous and false belief that South Africa's mass poverty, unemployment and extreme inequalities can only be sustainably resolved by growing the economy". This critique has triggered a rash of responses, including from arch-neoliberal Trevor Manuel, who claimed that Jim was possessed by an "infantile disorder", and from Jessie Duarte, who accused NUMSA of being driven by "populism".

In turn, NUMSA press releases directly challenged the SACP leadership and its role in COSATU. In response to a letter from SACP 'sJeremy Cronin, for example, Jim takes public aim (on Politicsweb) at Cronin's own apologetics and at the SACP's attacks on NUMSA and Vavi. This document could, in effect, be read as a covert declaration of war on behalf of NUMSA against the SACP.

What now?

According to an unnamed COSATU senior official quoted in the Mail and Guardian, "Most leaders at the central executive committee level do not represent the views of the workers. [Vavi's] strength lies in addressing worker issues. Most key leaders of the federation are in the SACP politburo or Central Committee. They are there to mortgage the federation. They are not in the executive committee to represent the workers, but the interests of the SACP. What made matters worse was the election of key COSATU leaders onto the ANC national executive committee." Despite the noise made about unity at the top of COSATU and many unionists' refusal to comment in public about deep divides within the trade union federation, it is clear that it has never been more vulnerable or fractured.

In Vavi's words, "We cannot fight silly battles against one another when our house is on fire." COSATU's enemies are waiting like scavengers sensing weakness. This is a political battle and reflects an initiative taken by Zuma's allies to purge the Alliance of the president's critics in the run-up to next year's national election.

At the centre of this crisis is an ideological struggle for the soul of the workers' movement and its future direction. Regardless of the victor, while COSATU continues to put the ANC's political aims before its own this crisis will remain unresolved. To protect their movement, COSATU workers must stand up and openly resist the attempt to remove Vavi and force the movement to toe the ANC line.

[Benjamin Fogel is assistant editor for Amandla magazine and a freelance journalist with a particular in interest in labour issues and the intersection of politics and popular culture.] 

Amandla! editorial: Hands off COSATU!

April 11, 2013 -- Amandla! -- How ironic that the attack on COSATU comes from within. Ironic, but not unexpected. Supporters of the Jacob Zuma faction in COSATU want to get rid of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi as he is too independent-minded and too critical of Zuma and the ANC government.

Vavi has been outspoken about the government's failure to implement the Polokwane resolutions and its continued promotion of neoliberal pro-growth economics; he has shown his determination to fight the predatory corrupt elite through the formation of Corruption Watch. His independence in working closely with civil society formations like Section 27 and pursuing popular alliances through initiatives like the COSATU/Civil Society Conference of 2010 drew great anger from the SACP and the ANC.

Faced by the majority of COSATU delegates at the October 2012 Congress, they did not have the numbers to oust Vavi and shift COSATU into a transmission belt for ANC policy. A false truce was called.

However, in COSATU's central executive committee (CEC) they thought they had the numbers – hence the extraordinary attack on the general secretary. Demanding his suspension on the grounds of alleged financial irregularity, the "neo-Stalinists" seek to put Vavi on the defensive and to remove him from the day-to-day running of COSATU. For the moment the plot has failed. Nevertheless, the struggle continues. A recent meeting of presidents and general secretaries of COSATU affiliates decided to set up a committee to facilitate discussions on complaints made against Vavi. Although this is a far cry from the inquisition that some on the COSATU leadership wanted, it provides a platform to keep Vavi on the back foot, especially in relation to charges of deviating politically and ideologically from COSATU's agreed positions.

But who are THEY? They are lieutenants of the SACP's general secretary Blade Nzimande and of ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe. Sdumo Dlamini, president of COSATU and current SACP politburo member, is one. He is strongly supported by NUM's president and new chairperson of the SACP Senzeni Zokwana; by NEHAWU's Fikile Majola, also a SACP politburo member; and by POPCRU's president, Zizamele Cebekhulu, a leading member of the SACP.

They believe that the path to power is through the ANC, no matter how centrist or right-wing its policies. They have consequently liquidated the SACP into the ANC – and not just the ANC, but the state itself. They are the most loyal and resolute defenders of ANC President Jacob Zuma, regardless of Nkandlagate or any of his other follies. They consequently end up defending the indefensible: the Secrecy Bill, the Marikana massacre and even the Youth Wage Subsidy. They support the New Growth Path and the National Development Plan, despite the fact that the main neoliberal precepts that marked GEAR remain the foundations of these policies.

They speak of the national democratic revolution – by which they mean that the ANC is the true and only representative of the nation. Their so-called "NDR" is, in effect, nothing more than a cover for a continuing capitalist dispensation, presided over by a new elite.

Inside COSATU they fight against class-struggle positions. They oppose militant action against labour brokering and e-tolls. They are the leaders of those trade unions that have bought into collaboration with the employers through social contracts, share-equity schemes, productivity accords and so on. Their personal lifestyles (salaries, cars, housing, private schooling and the like) are not too different from the lifestyles of top state officials and private sector managers.

But the attack on COSATU from within has been enabled and orchestrated from without. Zuma's promise of a left shift after Thabo Mbeki's neoliberalism has been betrayed. At Mangaung the ANC nailed its colours to the mast of its BEE [black economic empowerment] backers – the Motsepes, Ramaphosas and so on. The adoption of the NDP with its pro-business policies requires an Alliance that does not rock the boat, that, in the words of the NDP, sacrifices or trades wages for jobs. But as minister Gordhan has made clear in his budget, the outlook for jobs is bad. So, to please the rating agencies, the government needs labour stability and compliance from COSATU. COSATU is supposed to accept wage moderation, corporate restructuring (read retrenchments), special economic zones and youth wage subsidies without too much of a fight.

However, a major part of the working class is not willing to accept this. Twenty years after the end of apartheid they are no longer willing to grovel for crumbs dropping from the table of social accords. That was the real meaning of the mineworker and farmworker strikes and the labour militancy of 2012. That was the significance of Marikana.

And substantial parts of COSATU, under pressure to deliver to their members, are no longer willing to suck in their stomachs and accept moderation. Even the business press cautions against sweetheart unionism. A Business Day editorial (December 12, 2012) cautions employers against being happy with compliant unionism:

Contrary to Mr. Dlamini's claim, the tendency of COSATU's leaders to desert the workers' struggle and position themselves for cushy positions in the government, or as black economic empowerment beneficiaries, is precisely what is weakening the union movement. Some elements of business tend to think that a weaker union movement is a good thing. Perhaps. But this is extremely shortsighted. The shop-floor chaos that can be the consequence of union battles is often worse than a strike-prone labour force, and nothing demonstrates that better than the Marikana tragedy.

So Nzimande and Mantashe have taken it upon themselves, on behalf of the ANC leadership, to neutralise the militants in COSATU, to stop the rot and bring COSATU back into the fold. Hence Vavi is the first target of attack. Neutralise him and you arrest the drift of COSATU. And perhaps they have more significant targets in their radar. NUMSA, under Irvin Jim, has been a vehement critic of the Nzimande leadership of the SACP. He attacked Nzimande for taking a full-time position in government while remaining SACP general secretary. He has come out strongly against the National Development Plan, labelling it as neoliberal and a DA document. He also was one of the few leaders in COSATU who defended the Lonmin strikers and condemned the police for the Marikana massacre. This has further exacerbated tensions between NUMSA and NUM, COSATU's two biggest unions. And it is these two poles that are at the epicentre of COSATU's internal conflict.

All progressive forces – those that still believe that, through redistributing wealth, we can fight the post-apartheid trajectory towards growing inequality, joblessness, poverty, corruption and authoritarianism – must unite to defend COSATU.

In respect to the attack on Vavi, we must say an injury to one is an injury to all.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 04/23/2013 - 11:43


Ordinary workers at the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) bargaining council spoke up for Cosatu's embattled general secretary.

Image removed.

Sylvia Mlonyeni, Western Cape
When you are speaking the truth, you become an enemy. Vavi did nothing but say things the way they are. His interest is with the workers. All the issues he raises, such as labour brokers and e-tolls, are issues that affect the poor. Vavi is the enemy because he is raising issues from the Freedom Charter. He is raising the same issues that our leaders in the government raised before. Now that people are in key positions, they forget worker issues.

Yaaseen Abrahams, Western Cape
The campaign against Vavi goes back to the Cosatu national congress, where faceless individuals tried unsuccessfully to remove him from his position. He was elected by the workers’ parliament. The investigation against Vavi is nothing but a smear campaign against him. Why were all these issues not raised during the Cosatu conference?

We all know that Vavi declined nomination for a position as ANC national executive committee ­member. Maybe this might have sparked the whole thing. Even Numsa general secretary [Irvin Jim], who rejected nomination, is also ­subjected to consistent attacks.

Xolani Mkunqwana, Hlanganani region
The attack against Vavi for us has to do with the fact that he is on the side of workers. Some people believe he is opposed to the ANC government, but it is not true. The reason he is attacked is that all the time he articulates issues that affect poor people. We believe there are people from our ranks who are benefiting from e-tolls and labour brokers.

We defended him during the conference and we are intending to defend him now because there is nothing that he has done. It’s surprising that some unions were not there when their workers needed them the most, but now they are leading the campaign to remove Vavi.

Lazola Ndlazilwana, Eastern Cape
It is surprising that, a few months after we as workers elected Vavi to his position, there are now corruption allegations against him from faceless people from Cosatu. It is sad and disappointing that we have leaders spreading unfounded allegations against Vavi. He is the voice of ­reason in Cosatu.

Nomalanga Cebekhulu, KwaZulu-Natal
We are not saying he did not do anything wrong, but we must remain principled and not run to the media with the allegations. We have structures in the organisation where people can raise their issues. Vavi has been clear on labour brokers and nationalisation.

These are thorny issues. We believe we should defend Vavi because he is able to carry our mandate as workers.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 04/23/2013 - 11:51


Individuals leaking divisive information within Cosatu will be harshly dealt with, its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has told a workers' summit.

Image removed.

"The newspapers's sources, who we now can say without any fear of contradiction, are a few senior leaders of our affiliated unions at the level of the presidents and general secretaries [and] are the new enemies of the working class," he said on Thursday.

"They have been given a mandate to destroy [Cosatu] or at best create so much division that the federation can no longer be an independent movement capable of fighting for the interests of members."

Vavi told the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa's (Numsa) bargaining conference an orchestrated campaign to discredit him was being implemented through the media.

"The mandate of the sources is very clear: target the general secretary and smear him continuously in the newspapers until workers lose trust in him. After all, they know the only way to kill a snake is to smash its head," he said.

"Either they succeed to divide and weaken the Congress of South African Trade Unions [Cosatu] or we expose them and crush them. Eventually we shall defeat these few individuals acting as sources of the newspapers; we have no doubt about that," said Vavi.

'Chicken and a pig partnership'
Regarding the contentious national development plan (NDP), Vavi said Cosatu would continue to differ with its alliance partner, the ANC, about the NDP proposals.

"It is simply unfair for anyone, in particular our ally the [African National Congress], to ask us to cooperate with our own oppression and exploitation, which is what the NDP's major proposals are. The NDP represents a typical example of the chicken and a pig partnership, in which the chicken offers to lay eggs for breakfast, but asks the pig to donate bacon. This will become the last straw in every respect," he said.

The NDP was an "anti-worker" policy, he said, and its economic and labour market proposals constituted a serious assault on workers.

Earlier, Vavi told the summit that most workers demanded decent work and the banning of labour brokers, which should have been resolved long ago.

"Workers are telling us everywhere that they are tired of listening to themselves demanding a complete ban on labour brokers," he said.

"It is now four years since the ANC committed itself to the principle of decent work. Decent work and labour brokering is like oil and water – they don't mix," said Vavi.

Workers were disgruntled
Giving feedback on Cosatu's collective bargaining, organising and campaigns conference held in March, Vavi said workers were disgruntled.

"The main message from our members is crystal clear: workers have had enough of poverty wages, retrenchments, labour brokers, obscene levels of inequality and arrogant bosses," he said.

"We will unite to resist the attacks on collective bargaining and the right to strike, and step up the fight to transform the apartheid wage structure and implement, among others, a statutory national minimum wage and a basic income grant." – Sapa

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 04/23/2013 - 11:55


Editorial: Zwelinzima Vavi's fight rents fabric of the left

Unlike Julius Malema, who is shivering in exile, a Vavi operating outside the alliance would pose a far greater threat than he does on the inside.

Campaigning around the future of trade union federation Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the related fight over whether or not the unions adopt as policy the national development plan (NDP)intensified at the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) collective bargaining conference this week. Vavi's most important union allies fought back against efforts to defenestrate him and they flatly rejected the NDP.

Vavi himself said the plan asked workers to "co-operate with our own repression and exploitation". Allegations of political indiscipline and financial impropriety against him, he said, were leaked by "senior leaders of our affiliated unions at the level of the presidents and general secretaries". These close comrades, he said, "are the new enemies of the working class".

He could hardly have made it plainer where the trenches are dug. Nor does he have much choice. His only chance of salvation within the alliance lies in reaching members through a public campaign for the moral high ground. As he knows, however, that is a place our politics tend to detour around.

These coiled strands of leadership struggle and policy conflict are the DNA that has coded instability in the alliance since at least 1996.

It was opposition to the government's macroeconomic stabilisation ­project, Gear, that helped to harden the left's enmity with then-president Thabo Mbeki and led Vavi to campaign vigorously on behalf of Jacob Zuma.

Removing Vavi
In the first flush of the Polokwane victory that followed, Willie Madisha was forced out as president of Cosatu after a disciplinary case was trumped up to punish him for his support of Mbeki. His replacement, Sdumo Dlamini, is now an important figure in the Cosatu faction seeking to remove Vavi.

This time, Vavi finds himself in opposition not just to a resurgent Zuma, but also to the most powerful bloc of left leadership. There are important differences, however. First, Vavi is a figure of far greater political import than Madisha was, and the issues he has campaigned on, notably corruption, have begun to generate real popular resonance. Second, support for the NDP from the pro-Zuma left is distinctly ambivalent. They are going along for political rather than ideological reasons. Finally, the established unions face a major threat from new formations such as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which draws its perceived legitimacy from its outsider status.

Unlike Julius Malema, who is shivering in exile, a Vavi operating outside the alliance would pose a far greater threat than he does on the inside.

If the left leadership chooses to purge Vavi in pursuit of coherence behind Zuma and his programme, it will have ceded its role as a quasi-independent internal check on the ruling party, reducing the unions to a mobilisation tool for ANC factions. In accordance with the laws of political physics, the energy of opposition must then go elsewhere and perhaps take a less manageable form. In effect, the Mbeki plan to excise the left from the alliance will have been completed by the very people who removed him, albeit in a different form. Whatever your views on the NDP (which the Mail & Guardian broadly supports) this scenario would be hugely consequential.

Vavi has always refused to countenance it, however. He believes the ­hyenas are best policed from within the fenced reserve of the alliance and, indeed, that approach has helped to redress the imbalances of our single-party-dominated system. He may not have a choice for much longer.

This may not be the final point of rupture, but mark it down as a deep rift in the fabric. More will follow.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 06/30/2013 - 16:05


Matuma Letsoalo

Union's deputy general secretary Suraya Jawoodeen was dumped for allegedly aligning herself with Zwelinzima Vavi.

Jawoodeen was removed from her position as deputy general secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), a move viewed by some within the labour movement as part of a clean-up campaign against those who are too critical of the ANC and the state.

An activist in her own right, Jawoodeen is seen by some of her comrades within Nehawu as an ultra-leftist and a close ally of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. 

Jawoodeen failed to make it on to the nomination list – leaving Free State provincial secretary Bareng Soke to be elected unopposed as deputy general secretary. 

At the Nehawu conference in Boksburg on Thursday, a group of angry delegates sang in protest at Jawoodeen's removal.

Vavi is facing an uncertain future as a faction aligned to Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini is pushing for his removal. This week, Vavi cut a lone figure during the conference. 

His supporters see the decision to invite Cosatu deputy president Zingiswa Losi to address the conference as a snub. Losi is one of Dlamini's close allies. 

Vavi critics
Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola, whose re-election was unopposed, has lately become one of Vavi's more vocal critics.

His secretariat overview report accuses Vavi of not being fully in line with the views of the federation.

"Leading to the 11th congress [of Cosatu], our union had come to a conclusion at the 2011 central executive committee that there was a political strategic rupture within the federation, in particular with regard to our strategic posture as Cosatu on the one hand and the political views and organisational practice of the general secretary [Vavi] on the other hand,” it said.

"Indeed, notwithstanding the tabloid claims in the media, from our point of view as Nehawu, it is this political strategic rupture that constitutes the essence of the current internal instability and disarray within the federation. 

"The rest of the other issues are the logical manifestations of this fundamental issue. However, we are equally concerned about the ongoing allegations of corruption around the Cosatu House and [Cosatu funding arm] Kopano ke Matla, but these matters are currently before the internal process of inquiry and Nehawu has made its own submission, principally on the key questions of the political strategic rupture,” said Majola.

Majola said Cosatu should remain an independent component of the alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) in pursuit of the strategic objectives of the national democratic revolution, wherein each component played a different but complementary role.

"Thus, in the process of this struggle, these formations of the alliance of necessity become interdependent of each other. Therefore, it must be clear that within Cosatu when we speak of the ANC and SACP, we are speaking of our own – the spearhead of our national liberation movement and the vanguard of the South African working class. 

"Cosatu is not an oppositional watchdog to the ANC and the alliance, and we are strategically opposed to all forces, be they nongovernmental organisations, institutes, political parties or the media, that are positioned as such. These are part of a larger project of the anti-majoritarian offensive,” said Majola.

Unity call 
President Jacob Zuma this week called for unity within Cosatu and the alliance: "The workers of this country need a united and strong Cosatu to defend their rights and advance their daily struggles.

"The unity of Cosatu as a federation is entirely dependent on the actions or non-actions of its individual affiliates. In this regard, Nehawu and all affiliates are duty-bound to do everything in their power to defend the unity of Cosatu,” Zuma said.

"Issues, if any, of the federation must be discussed at proper platforms of the federation in line with the Constitution of Cosatu and consistent with our proud traditions of democratic engagement.” 

Matuma Letsoalo is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian.