South Africa

Going global: Vavi takes Cosatu and alliance battle to international audience

By Ranjeni Munusamy 30 October 2013

We’ve asked before and we’ll ask again: what is Zwelinzima Vavi’s game plan? There had to have been some strategy behind granting an interview to a highbrow international publication like the Financial Times on the state of Cosatu, the alliance and the country. Spoiler alert: he was not at all complimentary - in fact it sounds a lot like “I never loved you anyway” after a bad break-up. His statements are bound to infuriate his enemies even more and ratchet up the pressure ahead of a Cosatu central executive committee meeting in mid-November. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Zwelinzima Vavi has not yet received charges for his disciplinary hearing following his suspension as Cosatu general secretary in mid-August. He is in limbo as the investigations against him, the court challenge on his suspension and the process towards the Cosatu special congress all collide. This week, the parties involved in the court action initiated by metalworkers union Numsa and others to challenge Vavi’s suspension were still filling responding affidavits. Vavi is also a party to the court case against Cosatu’s decision to place him on special leave.

An interview he granted to the London Financial Times was published this week, in which he let loose once on a range of issues. Vavi was quoted as saying the governing alliance has not functioned since 1996 and was primarily a “vote-catching instrument”.

Vavi, who was elected Cosatu general secretary in 1999, has never openly advocated for the federation splitting away from the alliance but has expressed concerns about the working class being used as voting fodder. It also raises further questions about Vavi’s future plans and, should he be reinstated into his position, whether he would campaign for the ANC.

In the FT interview, Vavi apparently stipulated that he was speaking in his personal capacity. However, his views are only relevant to an international audience because of who he is: the outspoken general secretary of Cosatu. After the last central executive committee (CEC) meeting in September, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini made it clear that Vavi was not to address meetings of workers who are affiliated to Cosatu or make statements about the federation during his suspension. The CEC statement also intimated that further charges would be investigated against Vavi based on his public utterances after he was put on special leave over a sexual encounter with a junior staffer.

Since then, Vavi has been cautious about speaking about his troubles and the problems besetting Cosatu. He has, however, maintained a presence on social media, continuing his strong opposition on e-tolling and general commentary on sport. But the interview with the FT puts him front and centre again.

According to the FT, Vavi spoke of the crises of unaccountability, unemployment and inequality in South Africa and painted an “unflattering picture” of the social, economic and political conditions. He said the ruling alliance has been unable to arrest the 36.7% unemployment rate (according to the expanded definition) in the country. Vavi said resolutions adopted by the alliance were not implemented.

“You are not dealing with (just) a crisis in Cosatu in order to find a solution,” Vavi is quoted as saying. “You have to deal with the crisis in the ANC, in the SACP (SA Communist party), in all the organisations that should be leading the transformation project.”

In parts of the FT interview quoted in Business Day, Vavi said the ANC would face its toughest election next year as rampant corruption, a lack of accountability, tribalism and policy dithering would cause apathy at the polls. “We’re going to be facing demoralisation. People will refuse to go and vote,” Vavi said.

He said the divisions in Cosatu would also have a “huge” impact on the ANC campaign as the federation was paralysed and in crisis. He said neither the loss of the Western Cape, nor the near-loss of Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in the Eastern Cape had been enough to halt the ANC’s decline.

“It is not a wake-up call to many people. That’s why I have a sense that some people who came to be leaders of the ANC do not have a damn interest of the ANC at heart. They don’t care what will happen to it eventually, as long as they are still eating now. It is a narrow approach of looking at things.”

Vavi also condemned the National Development Plan (NDP) saying it was evidence of “doublespeak” by the ANC. He said the adoption of the NDP by the ANC at its Mangaung conference last year was in contradiction of the policies adopted at Polokwane five years before that. “Those things are standing in contradiction to one another, and it is going to lead to what I call policy paralysis.

“It is a paralysis. That is not how you drive change in society. You need clarity in your policies first and you don’t need policies that contradict one another. And you need to get that clarity sent out to every investor that counts in South Africa,” Vavi said.

Despite Vavi’s strong views about the alliance being dysfunctional, he says Cosatu should not split away. “That is when you hand over the ANC itself to the elite.”

Vavi denied that he was looking to join another political party and said he was intent on “winning Cosatu back”. It is not clear how he intends doing so.

On his sexual indiscretion, Vavi told the FT: “All I can say is that I handed over a loaded gun to the enemies”. (Thank you for reading Daily Maverick: “Vavi has effectively handed his enemies a loaded gun and, not surprisingly, they are aiming for his head – Daily Maverick 29 July 2013.)

The Cosatu CEC meeting in November will receive a report from Dlamini regarding the progress towards convening a special congress, as requested by Vavi’s allies. Vavi clarified on Twitter this week that the reason they requested the congress was not to discuss his suspension. “Congress not called to discuss discipline but address paralysis that emerged since last congress which meant no decisions can be implemented,” he tweeted.

However, the case brought before the South Gauteng High Court by Numsa, the Food and Allied Workers’ Union and the South African Football Players’ Union is to challenge the legality of Vavi’s suspension. Vavi has joined this court action against Cosatu. The federation is being supported by seven affiliate unions, all of whom argue that there was nothing unprocedural about Vavi’s suspension. They want him to remain on special leave until the completion of a disciplinary hearing.

And yet, two-and-a-half months after he was put on special leave, Vavi is still to be informed about what charges he is facing. It is not clear why Cosatu is dithering over the disciplinary hearing, but Daily Maverick understands that the federation has been trying to access Vavi’s e-mail history and documents on his official laptop. Vavi was also facing a separate investigation for alleged financial impropriety over the sale of the old Cosatu headquarters. All indications are that this investigation has not produced anything substantial against him.

In his mountain of troubles, it is not clear whether the time away from the Cosatu headquarters has given Vavi the opportunity to decide his game plan and where his future lies. Although he says his goal is to win Cosatu back, it is puzzling how taking the federation’s troubles to an international audience will help him do that. His undermining of the alliance will also make it difficult for the mediation attempts by the ANC to bear fruit.

If there is a strategy behind this, it is somewhat difficult to read. To the observer, it might appear as if Vavi is drawing a line in the sand and backing away from Cosatu and the alliance. However some of his statements communicate just the opposite. And his summation that the alliance has not been functioning since before he was elected Cosatu general secretary calls into question why he pushed so hard for the relationship to remain intact during his tenure.

If all else fails, Vavi’s conduct and discipline might be the last weapon Cosatu and his enemies in the alliance could use against him. As in the case of Julius Malema, flouting the rules and perceived disloyalty to the movement could prove fatal.

If Vavi uttered his comments in the FT interview in the heat of the moment and they are not part of a well thought-out strategy, this might be yet another loaded gun he has handed to his enemies. And this one could truly be deadly. DM

Photo: Zwelinzima Vavi (Sapa)

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