NewsSouthern AfricaSouth Africa: Vavi's comeback marred by Cosatu implosion fears


Posted on Monday, 22 December 2014 15:57

South Africa: Vavi's comeback marred by Cosatu implosion fears

By Crystal Oderson in Cape Town

COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima VaviConfederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) secretary general, Zwelinzima Vavi worries the trade union movement will further fragment, as a key union has been expelled from the body.

Out in the cold since he was sent on special leave for improper relations with an employee, Vavi was back at the helm of the Cosatu earlier this year and is working hard to keep the organisation intact.

we hope that Cosatu will avoid implosion

In August 2013, Cosatu said Vavi had been put on special leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing relating to an affair with a junior employee.

A month before, the employee had accused him of rape.

But Vavi insisted they had an affair and the woman subsequently withdrew a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Following Vavi's suspension the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), an ally of his, lodged an application in the South Gauteng High Court challenging the decision.

And although he was reinstated in April 2014, it is keeping the federation intact, since his return that has him worried.

Speaking to The Africa Report after addressing hundreds of workers at the recent Uni-World Indaba in Cape Town , Vavi said a "split in Cosatu might further fragment" the trade union movement at a time when only 29%.

He said divisions in Cosatu were not just a set-back but an "act of treason against workers' interests".

"Behaviour where union leaders act like bosses and believe that because they are elected they can make decisions without reference to the base must become a thing of the past," he said pensively.

But asked whether it is the end of Cosatu in its current form, Vavi was the eternal optimist.

"With the help of the ANC and former Cosatu leaders, we hope that Cosatu will avoid implosion," he said, adding "and comrades will become comrades again."

Aside from being suspended and reinstated, 2014 also saw Cosatu largest affiliate, the metalworkers union – (NUMSA), expelled.

An ANC task team has stepped in to help the embattled trade union federation deal with internal friction.

With only 29% of the country's workforce belonging to unions, Vavi fears further squabbles in the workers' movement will harm Cosatu.

"Regrettably we have become preoccupied with our endless boardroom fights that have nothing to do with advancing workers' interests when Rome is burning," he said.

Loving Vavi or hating him

As leader of Africa's largest trade union federation, millions of workers believe Vavi speaks for the poor and marginalised. He is loved and hated in equal measure.

Trying to interview him is a difficult task. At every turn, Vavi is inundated with by workers trying to take pictures or "selfies" with him.

They speak to him about worker issues, problems and he listens.

He poses patiently until they are satisfied that they have the perfect picture with their leader.

They only take their leave when they feel they have had his ear and are satisfied with his answers to them.

His admirers say he understands the plight of workers, the daily struggles they face and speaks to the corruption plaguing the country.

His detractors on the other hand argue that he has become too powerful and too vocal in his criticism of the ruling ANC government. Some say, he is the ultimate comeback kid and a survivor.

Since taking the reins at Cosatu in 1999, the year 2014 has been one of the most turbulent during Vavi's time at the federation.

And with barely a year to go before Cosatu's 30th anniversary, many wonder whether there will be any celebration within the imploding federation.

But some wonder whether Vavi's optimism will carry the day and whether the federation will stay intact to celebrate its anniversary.

Whatever happens, Vavi says he remain a servant of the people.

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