Cosatu’s legal woes

2014-03-30 10:00

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Zwelinzima Vavi’s court challenge of Cosatu’s decision to suspend him, which was heard by the South Gauteng High Court this week, is a sign that the centre is no longer holding in the federation.

Despite earlier assurances that the labour giant wanted to solve its internal crisis without involving the courts, it has been unable to do so.

Vavi, his wife Noluthando and his ally, Irvin Jim, general secretary of the Nation Union of Metalworkers of SA, sat stony-faced one bench in front of Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini and his second deputy Zingisa Losi as South Gauteng deputy judge president Phineas Mojapelo listened to the argument for and against Vavi’s suspension.

Not once did the rival Cosatu camps exchange pleasantries in the court room or outside it – a sign that the frosty relationship between the two camps jostling for the soul of the country’s biggest labour federation is far from thawing.

In a nutshell, the lawyers for Numsa and Vavi argued that the suspension of the federation’s general secretary in August last year flouted its constitution.

They argued that the delegates to the week’s central executive meeting should have voted over Vavi’s suspension, and failure to do so breached the constitution.

They also argued that Vavi is an elected official, and should not be treated as an ordinary employee.

The lawyers for Cosatu and the intervening unions in essence averred that Vavi is an employee, and that this is a labour matter that should be addressed to the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and the Labour Court.

If the court, which reserved its judgment on Friday, rules that the decision to suspend Vavi is invalid, that would automatically result in Vavi’s reinstatement.

That could potentially present a problem for the disciplinary process that is currently under way, and would present new hurdles for those who want to see Vavi’s back after 15 years of his being at the helm of the 2-million strong labour umbrella.

Although Dlamini has claimed to be in the majority in the CEC, the ructions among union membership that have ensued in the wake of Vavi’s suspension might have forced some leaders to reconsider their loyalties lie.

So there is no guarantee that another meeting of the CEC would yield the same outcome.

If Vavi loses the case – despite assuring his supporters who had huddled outside court that he never picks up battles he wouldn’t win – his fight for the soul of Cosatu might suffer irreversible harm.

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