South Africa: United Front condemns COSATU's expulsion of Zwelinzima Vavi

COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has been expelled from the federation by its pro-ANC leadership.

Read more about recent developments in South Africa HERE.

March 31, 2015 -- United Front, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- As expected, yesterday the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) decided to expel Zwelinzima Vavi from his position as its general secretary. The United Front (UF) regards this decision as the final nail in the regrettable terminal decline of what was once a mighty, principled, independent and militant federation of workers’ trade unions.

COSATU will now continue as the "labour desk" of the African National Congress (ANC), with its militancy and independence finally killed. It is the view of the UF that at his height, comrade Vavi was one of the most principled and committed leaders of COSATU post-1994. His expulsion will have a major impact on COSATU. He has paid the price for sticking out his neck to fight against the rise of the predatory elite and a crony capitalist state. His principled fight against corruption made him increasingly an enemy of the corrupt trade union bureaucracy that sits on the neck of workers.

The UF regards this crisis in COSATU as a reflection of sustained disintegration of working-class organisation since 1994. This disintegration has primarily been driven by the failure of the post-1994 political and economic dispensation in protecting workers from systemic unemployment, starvation wages, exploitation and the neoliberal restructuring of work.

Compounding this was the failure of the trade union movement to adequately service members, organise farm workers, casual workers, informal workers and other marginalised workers. Subjectively, many COSATU leaders were also coopted by employers, the government, the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Even with these weaknesses, COSATU still remained for many years an important voice in defence of worker demands, and broader social struggles. This was on the back of the unwavering resilience and ability of workers to consistently mobilise and fight for their rights, a living wage and broader social justice.

A collapsing COSATU can be a serious threat to workers’ rights. This is perhaps the time that capital and the neoliberal government will strike some of the most serious blows against workers, and seek to confuse and demoralise workers. Already, this is confirmed by government’s attitude in the public service negotiations.

Not the end of the story

Vavi’s expulsion is not the end of the story. It can be used to accelerate a process of re-organisation and re-alignment of the labour movement in South Africa. As the UF, we put out our hand of solidarity to all workers (inside and outside COSATU) for the renewal of militant anti-capitalist trade unionism. Out of the wreckage of COSATU can emerge a renewed labour movement capturing the spirit of principled trade unionism, working-class independence, political independence of the trade union movement, high-quality service to members, democratic workers' control, solidarity and militant struggle.

This will also require workers to rise to the occasion where they can arrest and stop internal union corruption, sweetheart relations with management, and bureaucratisation. Comrade Vavi may very well be found playing a critical role in this renewal. As he thinks about his future role, the UF also calls on him to be principled and to take responsibility and corrective measures for his own shortcomings. This applies to all activists and leaders.

The UF calls on all workers not to waste this crisis in COSATU. This is a moment to rebuild and assert working-class confidence and power. The UF calls on workers to reclaim the coming May Day into a day of powerful working-class solidarity and action against join important struggles against the major challenges that face ordinary and poor people in the country.

The UF fully supports the proposed Workers’ Summit. Such a summit will be an important moment to reflect and open the path to a revitalised trade union movement. In the UF, a renewed trade union movement will find a progressive home that unites the broad working class.

[The United Front will unite the working classes, rural and urban in struggle and in which women and youth will be in the forefront. The United Front is a front of mass action and struggle. Across the country people in communities, workplaces, townships and villages are mobilising against poverty, inequality and corruption. We view our first and main task to build movements that mobilise to fight corruption, looting of public resources, failing service delivery, increasingly unaccountable governance, violence against women, children and LGBTQI people, police brutality, and anti-poor/pro-rich economic policies (“neoliberalism”); We will resist retrenchments, cut-offs, evictions, collapse of our education and health systems and the retribalisation of the countryside.]


Stephen Grootes, Daily Maverick, 2 April 2015

So often in politics we subscribe to what historians used to call the ‘big man’ theory. We focus on the newsmakers, the decision makers, the symbols of the various parties. You could examine the national predilection for blaming everything – including bad April Fool’s Day jokes – on President Jacob Zuma, as proof of this. But often the real story is hidden in the shadow of the ‘big’ person that is being publicly discussed. The resignation of Patrick Craven as national spokesperson of Cosatu is just such an example. It shows exactly how much has changed in just one week, as part of the fallout from the break-up of Cosatu. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Patrick Craven is one of the few fundamentally decent people in our politics. Always available, always ready to chat, and always honest, it’s easy to understand why so many in the media are going to be upset at his resignation. The fact that someone who could easily claim to have no blood tie to the struggle of workers has remained so loyal to their cause for so long is proof of his decency. It’s been one of the oddities of Cosatu that it has had him as its spokesperson for so long. 

But he has been part of the furniture for so long that many people around the country wouldn’t even need to have his position spelled out – his brand is now intimately associated with Cosatu’s.

Some made the mistake of thinking that his fundamental niceness meant Craven would be weak in a debate. They were wrong. In a debate, Craven is fierce, brave, and strong. Once, I chaired a debate between him and a remuneration specialist. It was a hall full of people straight out of Wall Street - the kind of people who really move the world and its money around. All of them were there for a conference on executive remuneration. Their chosen champion went first, detailing why people with certain skills brought a certain value to a firm, and thus should be paid well. It was the usual bank-speak: what happens if they leave a company, why they have the right to be paid millions.

Craven wasn’t flustered at all. Before he even went for the obvious point about inequality in our country, he pointed out that Eskom’s then-CEO had had a pay-rise, and yet his company couldn’t keep the lights on. It was the unanswerable point: remuneration is no predictor of future success.

It was the kind of answer that his moneyed-class audience immediately understood, and couldn’t oppose.

I once wrote a piece full of my usual fulminating about why capitalism was good and why Cosastu was killing jobs. The next time I spoke to Craven, he had plenty to say before he would let me ask him a question about the pressing issues I was interested in.

On issues like media freedom, in front of stages containing ANC heavyweights, he has had exactly the same approach. Sometimes Cosatu’s media profile on issues around e-tolls, the Protection of State Information Bill and issues of general freedom, has been led almost entirely by Craven. Particularly during Cosatu’s current travails, where leaders couldn’t really appear in public for various reasons, Craven has led the charge. Radio interviews, statements, television; sometimes by virtue of Cosatu taking part in these debates, the debates themselves were changed.

At what history will now probably record as Cosatu’s final conference in 2012, Craven was given an award. The entire hall stood up. Even journalists, who famously stand up for nobody, rose to their feet. When he finally came back up the stairs to the press area, he had a massive smile on his face. It was the kind of moment that meant something to everyone in the room. And everyone agreed; Craven and his example are the kind of ideal Cosatu itself sought to emulate.

The last few years must have been very tough for him. Caught between the various camps, perhaps even pushed this way and that, all the time not being sure how things were going to play out. Through all of it, there was no hint of his inner turmoil, no off the record briefings (that have come to light, anyway), no use of his position to push things in a particular direction. Those of us who tried to get a hint of what was going on (and I really did try) would be met with a gentle “You’ll have to wait, I’m afraid.” To put in perspective how difficult this must have been, remember that he had been working for Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary for years. And considering his position, it would have been a very close working relationship.

But those who know Craven, who know he’s never been in it for himself, would not have been surprised that he resigned. As a point of principle, he was never going to side with those who he felt did not have the best interests of workers at heart. From a political point of view, he was also always going to move to the Left, to go to the organisation he thought would push for more radical change to improve the lot of workers. And considering his relationship with Vavi, he was probably always going to follow him. And those within NUMSA probably had few doubts, considering one of that union’s legal officers is named Norma Craven.

The point of all of this is that Craven is just one of the many casualties of this break-up. NUMSA, and the new federation, will surely find a place for him. In fact, even if politics wasn’t the point of it, they would be stupid to not offer him a position immediately, considering the brand and legitimacy he has. Considering much of the battle that is coming will be fought within the public sphere, he will be an invaluable asset.

But many others within Cosatu are now going to be considering their futures. They will have a lower public profile, perhaps be less confident. Many will be younger, and thus not have the experience of life, politics and unions that Craven has. Others, of course, may be less resolute in their views, and feel, quite reasonably, that they are actually doing their bit for workers by staying on in Cosatu. Just the conversations they’ll be having in their dining room, just off the main boardroom that was the site of Monday’s coup, will be damaging for Cosatu. The resolve, the sense of mission, the tradition and the history that made Cosatu unique is gone.

No matter what happens now, that will never be replaced. It’s like a china plate after a smash, or a marriage after an affair. It cannot just be put back together again; it’s never quite the same.

Just like Cosatu without Patrick Craven. 


Cosatu's Patrick Craven resigns

ENCANEWS, 1 April 2015

·         JOHANNESBURG - Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven has resigned from the trade federation.

Craven handed in his resignation on Tuesday following Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi's expulsion on Monday.

"I am no longer employed by Cosatu. I submitted my resignation yesterday [Tuesday]," Craven said on Wednesday.

Craven said he disagreed with the decisions of Cosatu's Central Executive Committee and clearly said he agreed with those Vavi made on Wednesday.

He also said he was alarmed by Cosatu's stance on those who aligned themselves with Vavi.

Meanwhile, Vavi said he will challenge his expulsion in court.

- eNCA



Stephen Grootes & Govan Whittles, EWN, 2 APRIL 2015

Vavi is consulting with lawyers & union leaders over his next step after he was ousted from Cosatu.

JOHANNESBURG – Cosatu President Sidumo Dlamini says he’s not surprised ousted Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi is claiming he was fired illegally and unfairly.

Vavi says he’s consulting with lawyers and union leaders about what his next step will be after the trade union federation’s Central Executive Committee (CEC)
 dismissed him on Monday.

He says his dismissal from Cosatu and three years of infighting at the trade union federation is about more than workers’ struggles but also about
 protecting political privilege.

Vavi has lashed out at his critics and former colleagues, maintaining that his dismissal was unfair.

He says it forms part of a broader agenda to entrench patronage.

Dlamini says this kind of reaction is to be expected.

“Obviously there will be ill feelings from some, and that’s what we are witnessing. You will be seeing him making the statements but Cosatu is working on its own unity.”


Meanwhile, Vavi has exposed what he says is a political agenda behind his persecution yesterday, saying it was bigger than Cosatu.

“It’s not just about Cosatu, this is about society and its institutions, it’s organs of people’s power being hollowed out and planted so that they can be reduced into the apologist of everything that is going wrong today.” 

The ousted Cosatu leader says besides a possible court challenge against his dismissal, his allies need to prepare a political response.

“The response can’t just be running up and down in courts endlessly. The response has to be political because we are dealing with a political crisis.”

Vavi is due to address members of
 unions loyal to him in coming weeks as he contemplates his next move.

WATCH: Vavi opens up after dismissal from Cosatu

(Edited by Tamsin Wort)


Craven also quits, but Vavi refuses to burn his bridges

 Setumo Stone, Business Day, 02 April 2015

AXED general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Zwelinzima Vavi is holding back on a clean break from the federation, leaving the door open for a fight-back campaign while testing the level of support he commands.

It also emerged on Wednesday that Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven had followed Mr Vavi out of the federation, becoming the first prominent leader to snub Cosatu in protest against Mr Vavi’s removal.

Joined at a media briefing by Mr Craven and leaders of the seven unions that have backed him, Mr Vavi said consultation meetings were to be "urgently" scheduled to allow for the "rank and file" to decide the way forward. Mr Vavi said all the options were on the table, including a fight to get back into Cosatu or an investigation of "alternatives".

He also hinted at a possible court bid to overturn his dismissal.

The unions backing Mr Vavi are the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union, the Food and Allied Workers’ Union, the Communication Workers’ Union, the Public and Allied Workers’ Union of SA, the Democratic Nurses Organisation of SA, the South African Football Players’ Union and the South African State and Allied Workers’ Union.

On Monday the Cosatu central executive committee voted to expel Mr Vavi, who was facing allegations of maladministration and bringing Cosatu into disrepute by having an affair with a junior worker.

The meeting also accepted a new metalworkers’ union as an affiliate, replacing the expelled National Metalworkers Union of SA (Numsa) — which had been leading Mr Vavi’s campaign before its expulsion last November. Numsa was at the time Cosatu’s biggest union with membership of up to 340,000. Mr Vavi said on Wednesday Numsa had since grown by 25,000.

Mr Craven said he had resigned on Tuesday because the decisions from the meeting of the Cosatu central executive committee were "unfair".

"I could not defend the indefensible and I disagreed with the decisions," he said.

Mr Vavi said he was considering legal action for the statements Cosatu leaders made about him that "border on defamation and criminal libel".

He also said he had a contract with Cosatu and had to get a fair hearing led by an independent chairperson.

He said Numsa was continuing with its legal challenge to force Cosatu to hold a special national congress. The congress was expected to allow for ordinary Cosatu members to decide Mr Vavi’s fate.


Govan Whittles, EWN, 1 April 2015

Cosatu President Sidumo Dlamini told unions not to interact or work with Zwelinzima Vavi.

JOHANNESBURG – Seven Congress South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) unions on Wednesday vowed to defy an order from President Sidumo Dlamini not to interact or work with Zwelinzima Vavi, saying they didn’t recognise the decision taken to dismiss him as general secretary of the federation.

In a show of unity at a briefing, Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union, Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), South African Football Players Union and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa lashed out at Cosatu's leaders.

The federation’s CEC meeting voted to 
dismiss the secretary general on Monday.

At least 31 members of the CEC voted to dismiss him while only one member voted against that decision.

Together the unions plan to hold mass meetings with their members to ascertain whether the federation was worth fighting for, while Vavi will address the members of unions supporting him this month as they decide whether to form a new movement.

“Can we win back Cosatu or have we reached the end of the road where we should now consider alternatives?”

Fawu’s General Secretary Katishi Masemola said his members would not be prevented from speaking or listening to the dismissed general secretary.

“We are going to continue to invite Zwelinzima Vavi into our activities. If we can’t invite him as the General Secretary of Cosatu then we’ll invite him as the son of his dad.”

The CWU's deputy General Secretary Thabo Mogalane said they rejected Vavi's dismissal and maintain that Numsa should return into the federation.

“We view those developments as being political by capturing Cosatu for the interest of capital.”

The unions’ presence at Wednesday’s briefing is in defiance of Dlamini and is the strongest show of 
support for Vavi since his dismissal.


Vavi on Wednesday said he was consulting lawyers and allied unions before deciding if he should 
challenge his expulsion from the trade union federation which he's described as completely unfair and illegal.

He said his dismissal represented a turning point in South Africa's labour movement.

The former general secretary said his right to a fair process had been denied.

Vavi added the workers and his family would advise him on whether he should challenge his dismissal.

“I’m in consultation to decide if I should challenge my illegal expulsion. I have no doubt that the dismissal is unfair.”

The sacked Cosatu general secretary said mass meetings with seven Cosatu unions would take place across the country this week where a political response will be finalised.