The knives are out for Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi at the federation’s congress next week and a “minor bloodbath” could be on the cards, according to labour analysts.
Cosatu’s biggest affiliates, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), teachers’ union Sadtu and public sector union Nehawu, are leading the charge to have Vavi replaced.
Labour analysts believe the leadership battle within the ANC is feeding into its powerful alliance partner’s internal tensions as ANC factions seek to influence the outcome of the Cosatu congress.
It has already been billed a “Mini-Mangaung” – in reference to the ANC’s upcoming elective conference in December – and Vavi has described it as a “do-or-die” moment that would show whether the federation’s members were looking for a “lapdog or for critical voices”.
Vavi has been a vocal critic of the ANC leadership under President Jacob Zuma, but has himself been described by detractors as too “individualistic”.
This has split the federation, with its president, S’dumo Dlamini, and the NUM defending Zuma and supporting his re-election campaign.
Cosatu’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Zet Luzipo, has been tipped as a possible challenger to Vavi, a claim the federation has dismissed.
The popular Vavi, who has been at the helm of the federation for more than a decade, had angered some of the bigger affiliates and they were “going for him and want him out”, said veteran labour analyst Terry Bell. “Vavi is not toeing the party line and is too much of a maverick,” said Bell.
The three unions will have the most delegates at the conference and Bell said there was a real sense of “trepidation” and there could be a “minor bloodbath”.
But Vavi’s most vocal supporter, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), believes he is the “right man for the job” and must return to lead the federation.
Numsa’s Irvin Jim said it would use its power to “influence” other affiliates to do the same and ensure Vavi kept his job. “We treasure Vavi’s contribution and want him to continue,” said Jim.
Numsa believed Vavi had been consistent in taking up worker issues like e-tolling.
The NUM’s Lesiba Seshoka has dismissed talk that it was leading the call for Vavi’s removal and said it was “pure speculation”.
He said the NUM had never spearheaded any campaign against Vavi because he was anti-Zuma.
“We are not carrying the torch of being pro-Zuma and have never taken any resolution to fight Vavi at conference.”
A Cosatu provincial secretary said “some leaders are edgy” about the leadership issue, but that Vavi was way too popular among its rank-and-file and affiliates to be removed.
Wits’ Professor Eddie Webster, also director of the Chris Hani Institute, said there was a lot of “division” in Cosatu which had become more “pronounced”, especially since 2007 when Vavi openly supported Zuma’s campaign for the ANC presidency.
He believes this “set the tone” for the federation and its support in the ANC’s election battles.
“This should be a worry for everyone, because it is distracting Cosatu from doing its job, which is to organise labour,” said Webster.
The Marikana incident had brought the tensions to the surface and there was disconnection between workers and shop stewards, said Webster. He said the conference should be a moment for Cosatu to get back to basics and focus on real issues confronting workers.
Nominations for the top six positions in Cosatu have been closed, but nominations may be taken from the floor at next week’s conference. – Pretoria News