Zwelinzima Vavi’s fight heats up

2014-03-02 14:00

Supporters of embattled general secretary drown out Cosatu boss.

Embattled Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s battle for the soul of the labour federation looks set to paralyse it for the next few weeks as it prepares for May’s general election.

The outcome of this week’s Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) meeting suggests the union federation’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, will continue dousing the flames of rebellion being stoked by Vavi’s supporters in the organisation.

The unions backing Vavi still represent less than half of the federation’s membership but the support Vavi is receiving in Gauteng and Eastern Cape suggests his campaign is gaining momentum.

Thus far, 10 unions have come to Vavi’s defence, including a splinter faction of the deeply divided leadership of chemical workers’ union Ceppwawu.

On Friday, rebellious Gauteng shop stewards from all Cosatu affiliates would not allow Dlamini to talk to them about preparations for this year’s May Day celebrations and about the outcomes of this week’s CEC meeting.

Two sources who attended the shop stewards’ council at the Joburg City Hall said the workers forced Dlamini to abandon his speech by singing songs demanding Vavi’s reinstatement while he stood at the podium.

Dlamini told City Press he left the Friday meeting after it became clear the singing workers were not prepared to stop even after he had gone back to his seat.

This month, Dlamini will lead a delegation of his lieutenants and CEC members to quell dissent in Eastern Cape, where affiliates have openly defied CEC decisions and demanded the disbandment of Cosatu’s national leadership.

An Eastern Cape Cosatu leader, who asked not to be named, suggested they were caught between a rock and a hard place as they did not want to take sides in Cosatu’s action against Vavi.

He said: “We refuse to express a view about how we see the decision of the CEC [on Vavi] because we are trying to maintain organisational discipline. It would be easy for the national leadership to get rid of us if we called a press briefing and lambasted the leadership. On the other hand, provincial leaders of affiliates are attacking us and they want us gone?...?they are not happy with our stance.”

Vavi has spent some time this week drumming up support in Eastern Cape.

The latest ructions suggest he will fight on the streets and in the courts, where the lawsuit to challenge his suspension is due to be heard in the next two weeks.

This week, Cosatu said the disciplinary action against Vavi would go ahead.

Meanwhile, lawyers for National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) general secretary Frans Baleni have demanded an apology from Castro Ngobese, the spokesperson for metal workers’ union Numsa, for a tweet he sent out last week about Baleni.

Ngobese tweeted: “Frans Baleni can kill #NUM of Bharayi, but his political ambitions will never be fulfilled. He will never be SG [secretary-general] of the ANC. We are no fools.”

ENSafrica, the law firm representing Baleni, says the tweet is “incorrect, untrue, defamatory and insulting” to Baleni, and demanded Ngobese to delete it by Thursday. But by yesterday, the tweet remained on Ngobese’s timeline.

The lawyers have also demanded a written apology and said they would take legal action if Ngobese fails to remove the tweet.

Yesterday, Ngobese said he was “not having any sleepless nights” about Baleni’s “empty threats”.

He said NUM and Baleni “should be apologising to the poor mine workers for using workers’ hard-earned subscription monies to bankroll [Blade Nzimande’s SA Communist Party, SACP] in return for positions in SACP and ANC”.

“Therefore, I will not apologise or retract anything. They can go to Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii,” he said.

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