The 2.2 million-member strong South African umbrella body COSATU three-day Central Executive Committee has been described by some as a make-or-break Central Executive Committee is underway at the federation’s headquarters in Braamfontein.
Top of the agenda is the African National Congress (ANC) task team’s report to heal deepening rifts within the federation and the future of its General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.
Vavi calls this meeting the most important in the life of the 29-year-old organization.
In a speech delivered at the North West Provincial Shop Stewards meeting last week, he gave Cosatu two scenarios going forward: (1) the CEC meeting must engage frankly and adopt a new mindset to end factionalism – or (2) leave the current situation as is and risk rendering the federation divided and open to manipulation.
But former Numsa President, Cedric Gina, disagrees. He resigned after Numsa decided to form a left-wing worker’s party and is now spearheading the formation of a rival union in the metal industry.
Gina says Vavi’s assessment of the state of Cosatu is not genuine.
“In 2003 Cosatu took a very powerful decision in terms of how it should ‘hegemonies’ its ideas in society and the 2015 plan was a clear plan that was supposed to do that and we have not had him accounting and for many of the years, since 2003.
“He (Vavi) has been at the helm of ensuring that Cosatu becomes hegemonic. Cosatu becomes a very influential body in society. So, he can’t cry now and say it is about to implode. He must look at himself.”
Cosatu’s tensions exploded after Vavi was suspended for an intimate affair with a junior employee and over the sale of Cosatu’s old headquarters.
Numsa, which now commands the most members fought for his return. However, affiliates who disagreed want it expelled for refusing to endorse the ANC in the May general elections and for forging ahead with the formation of a new workers party.
“As Cosatu, we are currently seized with the task of working to achieve the unity and coherence of the federation, on the assertion and the reaffirming of the founding principles of the federation.”
Numsa is standing its ground and not willing to leave without a fight.
Numsa’s Head of Education, Dinga Sikwebu, says “The unfortunate thing about the meeting of the Central Executive Committee, that is currently taking place, is that many of the people who are there or most of those leaders have no mandate from the affiliates because the documents that are being discussed, which may lead to whatever eventuality, expulsion or suspension of Numsa, have not been circulated. The traditions of this federation are that before any meeting documents are circulated so that affiliates can discuss and give those who represent them a mandate.”
Despite these, Cosatu President, Sdumo Dlamini, was optimistic about uniting the federation.
In September, he told a South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu)’s national congress that while some affiliates had resorted to what he called lies and propaganda to project Cosatu as a dysfunctional entity, the federation’s leadership wanted to unite Cosatu.
“As Cosatu, we are currently seized with the task of working to achieve the unity and coherence of the federation, on the assertion and the reaffirming of the founding principles of the federation, which include one country one federation; one industry one union; a worker control federation, which observes the principle of democratic centralism. It is clear that workers expect nothing from us including all of you here other than the unity of the federation.”
The next three days will be crucial for Cosatu and its members. In Vavi’s own words, tensions continue to paralyse the federation and could eventually lead to a 50-50 split that would spell a dire future and render the federation inactive with unresolved and bitter conflicts.