Upbeat Vavi says it’s an open contest

2012-09-01 15:24

As Cosatu prepares for its elective conference in two weeks’ time, Sabelo Ndlangisa  spoke to general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi about steering the labour federation through rough waters

What is the state of Cosatu ahead of the congress?
Cosatu is a powerful institution, the biggest membership-based organisation.

Its standing in society has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 19 years of democracy.

Lots of people were expecting that Cosatu would just be a conveyor belt, a government lapdog that will be divided by the difficult politics in the ANC. We’ve proven every critic wrong.

What are the federation’s weaknesses?
It’s not all hunky-dory, it’s a mixed bag.

We want to get our members to realise that this is a do-or-die congress. It is a congress which will have
a long-term impact on the future of the federation.

In what sense is it a do-or-die congress?
If we don’t address some of those pertinent challenges we have identified (in the political report), we will just die a slow death and become irrelevant in two, three or five years.

We don’t want that.

We consider this congress a major assessment stopwatch because it’s on the eve of our 30th anniversary in 2015.

If beyond this congress members don’t see us doing things differently, then we would have let go of a major opportunity to redirect the ship in a direction where we can say we have rediscovered our very purpose of existence.

We are about wages.

The conditions of many workers remain pathetic.

Job security remains a big challenge.

Lots of the gains we have scored in the past 18 years are under pressure.

At what point will you know if your position will be contested at the congress?

The leadership debate is on.

The unions are assessing our leadership as a collective.

They have a right to do so.

This is one of the important ingredients of worker control.

They have until September 14 to do so.

The last thing I want to do is to preoccupy myself with whether there is support for me or anyone else.

I have produced a good account of the work Cosatu has produced over the last three years.

There is talk that if you are re-elected you’ll come out weakened?
I am not going to be weakened, nor will I be blackmailed into not advancing what I consider to be resolutions adopted by the collective.

Anyone who wants an alternative candidate must push for that position and win at the congress.


The point I am raising, without sounding arrogant, is that anyone is free to run. I will run and my name will be in the ballot box if that’s where things are going to.

If I win, I will not consider myself weakened because I was contested.

There have been suggestions that while you might not be contested, you might be forced to tone down your criticism of the ANC by the time the party’s Mangaung conference comes around in December ...

I have heard about that. Everywhere I go, I begin to appreciate what many Marxists will say, that the greatest forest of revolutionaries is the masses.

So you’re not worried as long as you enjoy popular support on the ground ...
I’m not worried about somebody who runs to newspapers and says all manner of things indicating that he is no longer a friend.

Even though I don’t know who these people are, I believe they are an absolute minority in the federation.

How do you plan to deal with the problem of breakaway unions?
It will all depend on Cosatu’s response to the problems they have.

For example, if Cosatu goes through its congress on denial mode, then we will be ignoring those weaknesses at our own peril.

Do you think the affected unions are taking the problem seriously?

They are.

I’m encouraged because arising out of the meeting we convened with the unions, the provinces have developed programmes to work with the National Union of Mineworkers, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union and all other Cosatu-affiliated unions to hit the ground and explain to members that Cosatu is under attack.

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