Jacqueline Phooko’s efficiency at South African Airways in helping Zwelinzima Vavi sort out a problem with his air ticket is what caught his attention and made him want to hire her as an administrative secretary to handle Cosatu’s booking logistics. Now, two years later, that fateful meeting is the source of the Cosatu general secretary’s woes, as he faces disciplinary charges as a result of a sexual encounter with Phooko in the federation’s offices in January and a new forensic investigation of misuse of Cosatu funds.
News broke in July that Phooko had accused Vavi of raping her and that he had laid a charge against her for extortion. At a Cosatu grievance hearing, Phooko withdrew the rape charge against Vavi. The federation held a special central executive committee (CEC) meeting in August to discuss the matter and put both Vavi and Phooko on “special leave” while disciplinary charges were investigated against them.
But up to now, no charges have been put to either of them and Vavi and his supporters have been extremely aggrieved that he has been sidelined from participating in Cosatu activities since his suspension on 14 August. There is also an ongoing investigation against Vavi by auditing firm Sizwe Ntsaluba Gobodo into alleged financial irregularities regarding the sale of Cosatu’s old headquarters and purchase of a new building. That report has been delayed following the murder of the firm’s head of forensic services, Lawrence Moepi.
At a media briefing on Thursday to report back on a Cosatu CEC meeting this week, the federation’s national office bearers said the disciplinary investigation against Phooko had been completed while Vavi’s process was “nearly complete”. There were strong hints in their statements that something else quite damning had arisen in the investigation.
Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini said it was neither the federation’s nor the investigators’ fault that there had been such a delay in the process. He said that the investigations had “unearthed a number of issues” such as the manner in which Phooko was employed, the release of her name in the media and “power relations in the office”. Dlamini also said the investigation had “uncovered other things that need further investigations”. He did not elaborate on what these “other things” were.
Cosatu deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said that the Vavi investigation was “not about the question of sex” as there were “many other issues about the relationship” that arose. “When the time arrives and when the charges become public, I think you will appreciate that these are not easy matters … that it will have been justifiable that a thorough investigation has to be conducted,” Ntshalintshali said.
He said the investigators had initially struggled to get co-operation from Vavi but he had now begun to work with them and the probe was very close to being finalised. Vavi tweeted last week that he had handed over his official laptop and bank statements to the investigators.
Daily Maverick has learnt that these are in fact a second team of forensic auditors which were appointed to investigate a number of irregular transactions in which Cosatu finances were used to pay for Vavi’s private expenses.
These include flight travel for Vavi’s ex-wife Nikiwe and their son in mid 2012 and two flights for his wife Noluthando. The investigators are also probing why flights and accommodation for Vavi and Noluthando to the Cape Town Jazz Festival last year were billed to Cosatu. The Vavis were apparently guests of an investment bank which was meant to carry these costs.
The auditors are also looking into hotel reservations billed to Cosatu, which the federation was not aware of. The hotel invoices include bills for massages.
Phooko was allegedly responsible for making all the flight and hotel bookings on Vavi’s behalf as he had given her his credit card and frequent flyer details. A source in Cosatu told Daily Maverick that Phooko was co-operating with the auditors and had confirmed to them that she made the bookings at Vavi’s request.
But a source close to Vavi claims that he had been unaware that she had been billing Cosatu for his private bookings and had been under the impression that the expenses were being charged to his personal credit and frequent guest cards. The source said since learning of the allegations, Vavi was also trying to establish from the investment bank how, in the course of them arranging with Phooko to host the Vavis at the jazz festival, that Cosatu came to be billed for the flights and accommodation.
The source also claimed that Vavi himself had asked for proper accounting for Cosatu’s travel costs months ago when the federation’s own accountants red-flagged flights to the tune of R600,000 that could not be accounted for. This figure suggests that the irregular expenditure might not have related to Vavi alone.
Vavi would not comment on the allegations as he has been warned by Cosatu not to speak publicly on its internal processes. However his spokesman John Dludlu said in a written response to Daily Maverick last night:
“We have elected not to respond to each and every one of your questions as doing so will constitute a parallel inquiry. However, we would like to place on record that Mr Vavi has answered all the questions put to him through the appropriate channels – namely the two sets of forensic auditors appointed by Cosatu. He has provided all the documents asked for, and he will continue cooperating and providing information as demanded. We are convinced that the investigators’ report will show no impropriety on Mr Vavi’s part.
“That said, we remain deeply concerned at the malicious campaign of smear against Mr Vavi in which senior federation officials, purporting to be anonymous sources, are selectively leaking allegations against Mr Vavi as part of a bid to damage his political reputation, and conduct a public trial against him. Ironically these officials are the same ones who have sought to gag Mr Vavi from speaking in public about the investigations against him. The only people who could have access to these investigations are the forensic auditors themselves, Cosatu lawyers and the Cosatu National Office Bearers.”
The new allegations of misuse of Cosatu funds are similar to those made by former Cosatu president Willie Madisha in the heat of his battle with Vavi in 2006. Madisha probed Vavi for the misuse of the Cosatu credit card for personal expenses. Vavi paid back the funds he owed to Cosatu after the allegations emerged.
The latest twist comes as tensions within Cosatu are reaching a crescendo over demands by nine affiliates led by metalworkers’ union Numsa for a special national congress. These unions believe that the special congress will vindicate Vavi and return him to his position, and also act against his enemies in the federation.
But this week’s CEC took no decision on when the congress would be held and what its agenda would be. Dlamini, who is constitutionally empowered to call the congress, presented a report to the CEC on the “practicalities”, which include the timing, costs and resources, the state of readiness of the affiliates and the objectives and agenda of the congress.
The Cosatu national office bearers told the media that the special congress would not be taking place this year and all the undecided issues have been referred to them and the affiliates’ presidents and general secretaries to resolve. They are to report to a special CEC to be called in the next few weeks. If this meeting still cannot resolve the matter, the discussion will be deferred to the next scheduled CEC in February.
The constant padding on the issue of the special congress has infuriated Numsa. Speaking at a media briefing later on Thursday, Numsa deputy general secretary, Karl Cloete, said this week’s CEC meeting had been frustrating for the unions which had requested the special congress. He claimed these unions had been disrupted and cut off while trying to make their case during the meeting.
Daily Maverick has learnt that some of these unions including Numsa fought the proposal that the affiliates’ presidents and general secretaries should be tasked with the matter as they believed most of these people were already opposed to the idea of a special congress. However they were outnumbered and therefore the motion carried.
Numsa was ordered by the CEC to withdraw a widely published letter calling on Cosatu to appoint a convenor for the special congress because Dlamini was failing to do so. The union is also to be investigated by Cosatu for its conduct.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim claimed that his union was being isolated by the ANC and SA Communist Party because they had come to Vavi’s defence. Numsa is to hold its special congress on 13-16 December to decide on its position in the alliance and electoral support for the ANC. DM
Photo: Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi speaks at a news conference in Johannesburg, Thursday, 25 August 2011 following a meeting of their central executive committee. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
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