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Johannesburg - Suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is so confident that he is going to win his court battle to be reinstated that his lawyers are no longer seeking temporary relief in case he has to turn elsewhere to be successful.
And, although Cosatu believes Vavi does not stand a chance because his suspension was supported by a simple majority in a special central executive committee (CEC) meeting last year, it may not be that cut-and-dried after testimony on Thursday.
Vavi and three unions have approached the Johannesburg High Court to declare his suspension unlawful and to set it aside.
Vavi was suspended last year after it emerged that he had an affair with an employee and had sex with her at Cosatu’s offices.
Although the woman initially accused Vavi of rape, she withdrew the charge.
Since Vavi’s suspension, there have been attempts to unify Cosatu, but the federation is split over what to do about the embattled leader, as well as whether it should become more radical in its political and economic direction.
But even if Vavi is reinstated, there is little chance of the federation being unified, with many affiliates now talking of a split.
And Cosatu’s national office bearers will probably call for a special CEC meeting, this time to get Vavi suspended by the book, and without any suspicions, as are currently being raised.
Vavi, who was flanked by his wife Noluthando and senior members of the metalworkers union, Numsa, in court on Thursday, argued that his suspension should be lifted because Cosatu’s constitution had not been followed correctly when the action was taken.
The constitution specified that CEC members should have voted on Vavi’s suspension and because they had not, there was no lawful decision. Also, Vavi said, he had not been not given a hearing, first.
Cosatu is arguing that although there was no vote, it was clear from verbal input by CEC members that the majority were in favour of the action. Also it argues that one cannot know if the result would have been different if there was a vote. It also says that Vavi was given a chance to defend himself a day after the meeting.
However, Vavi’s advocate, Paul Kennedy SC, argued that it “boggled the mind” that Vavi was expected to defend himself after the action had already been taken.
“Vavi has been treated in a grossly unfair manner,” he said.
He said his client would no longer seek temporary relief which asked the court to set aside Vavi’s suspension until he could appeal to a sitting of a special national congress he has accused Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini of delaying.
Vavi was now going for “first prize”, which was that the court lift his suspension. Thursday’s hearing was mostly technical, and Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo had several questions around how many central executive committee members supported action against Vavi.
Although Cosatu has 19 affiliates, during that meeting only 16 were in good standing. According to Cosatu calculations, eight were in favour of his suspension and 10 were in favour of disciplinary action against Vavi. This means that if the affiliates had voted, there would not have been a simple majority in favour of the suspension.
However, larger unions have more members in the CEC, and those unions were mostly in favour of Vavi’s suspension, so those votes would have resulted in a simple majority.
Cosatu will make its case on Friday and some of its arguments will centre on claims by Vavi and the three unions that the national office bearers were manipulative and tricked affiliates into taking part in undemocratic decisions.