Zwelinzima Vavi’s allies secured a psychological victory by meeting the constitutional requirements to convene a special Cosatu congress that will decide his future in the federation. But that is all they can celebrate for now. Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini holds all the cards to decide whether to convene the congress (he can opt not to), when it should be and what will be on the agenda. Meanwhile the deck was stacked against Vavi at this week’s central executive committee meeting and his pile of woes might be increasing. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The fate of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi lies in the numbers. Amongst the broad membership of Cosatu, Vavi is extremely popular. But in the federation’s central executive committee (CEC), made up of leaders of affiliate unions and provincial structures, his allies are outnumbered. This is why an attempt to undo the decision to suspend him failed this week, when his allies were defeated by 16 votes to 33. The minutes of last month’s special CEC meeting, which took the decision to place Vavi on special leave pending a disciplinary hearing on charges of misconduct, was therefore adopted.
With the lines of division now clear and attitudes hardened, any vote in the CEC is likely to have roughly the similar configuration – meaning Vavi’s detractors are double the number of his allies. The one thing that has gone in Vavi’s favour is that the requisite number of affiliate unions have submitted letters to the Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini calling for a special national congress to be convened.
Metalworkers union Numsa has led the charge demanding that Vavi’s fate be decided at a full congress as they know that his popularity among ordinary members would ensure his re-election, should the special congress decide to put its leadership positions to the vote.
The Cosatu constitution stipulates that a special congress can be convened if the CEC passes a resolution calling for the meeting or not less than one-third of the affiliates in good standing submit a written request. Now that eight unions have submitted written requests, the onus falls on the Cosatu president to call the congress. The constitution empowers the president to decide when the congress should be held but stipulates “not less than 14 days written notice must be given to each affiliate”.
This has been misinterpreted by some lobbyists and in media reports to mean that the special congress will be convened within two weeks. However, in terms of the constitution, there is no time limit for when the meeting should be held.
There is still a lot of preparation and groundwork that needs to be done. It is not as if unions can simply show up at the venue ready to discuss the problems of the federation. Union leaders need to receive mandates from their members about the positions they take at the special congress. They will therefore need time to consult their members. The national office bearers need to audit the Cosatu membership in order to allocate delegate numbers to the affiliate unions. This will decide how many delegates will be entitled to vote, should the need arise. It is also not known how the congress will be financed and how long it should last.
The constitution states that the president should attach an agenda to the notice he sends out to affiliates informing them of the congress. This means that while Vavi and his allies can get the congress, they do not have control of the agenda. While Vavi’s troubles stemming from a sexual encounter at the Cosatu offices and other investigations of financial impropriety and misconduct against him are likely to be the main topic of discussion, the rest of the agenda still has to be decided.
While some of the affiliates supporting Vavi want the special congress to hold elections for the national office bearer positions, it is not known whether this will be on the agenda or will have to be fought for on the congress floor. Similarly, other issues they want discussed such as the National Development Plan, Cosatu’s relationship in the alliance and the federation’s stance in the 2014 elections might also have to be raised from the floor, for which they need just a simple majority. This might turn the congress into a free-for-all.
But there are also other uncertainties about the special congress. Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim has blamed Cosatu’s woes on the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. What then is the role of the alliance at the special congress? Will Cosatu’s alliance partners be allowed to attend and address the special congress, as they normally do at the federation’s events?
Dlamini and the rest of the office bearers have to decide on all of this, bearing in mind that they do not want the congress in the first place. The constitution states that if the president “fails to call a special national congress, then the CEC is empowered to nominate a convenor”. Since the majority in the CEC does not favour having a special congress either, there could be a stalemate if Dlamini does not send out a notice for the meeting. This could result in further litigation, pitting unions against their federation. Three affiliate unions, led by Numsa, are already challenging Cosatu in court over Vavi’s suspension.
Vavi is yet to receive formal charges for his disciplinary hearing. Now his detractors in the CEC want to add to the charges against him to include the violation of his suspension conditions by addressing two Numsa events. There is also anger over a term he used to insult the Cosatu employee he had sex with at the federation’s headquarters in January. Speaking at a rally in his home township of Sada in the Eastern Cape over the weekend, Vavi reportedly said he did not know what he was doing with that “nopatazana” (a Xhosa term to describe a woman of low morals). Vavi has apologised on Twitter for using the term but his enemies want him to be punished for it.
The Cosatu office bearers will now have to decide on the full charge sheet against Vavi. However, the disciplinary process is dependent on the outcome of the court case by Numsa, challenging Vavi’s suspension. The Food and Allied Workers Union and the South African Football Player’s Union are co-applicants in the case. Seven other unions have joined Cosatu in opposing the court application. Last week, Vavi filed his own papers to join the Numsa application.
With the battles in Cosatu being fought on several fronts, the federation remains rudderless for the foreseeable future. Vavi needs the special congress to bail him out. Dlamini will be loath to convene it because it may result in him being booted out of his post. The first clues as to which way this might go could be revealed at a Cosatu media conference on the outcome of the CEC meeting on Thursday.
Stay tuned. DM
Photo: Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is seen with the trade union federation’s president Sidumo Dlamini (R) at a news conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 29 May 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
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