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Johannesburg - Plans are afoot to force the abandonment of Cosatu’s special congress meant to save the political career of the labour federation’s embattled general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, by citing financial trouble.
The Sunday Independent has reliably established that Cosatu president, S’dumo Dlamini, is set to report to the next central executive committee (CEC) in November that the federation does not have the money to convene a special congress.
It’s also understood several affiliates are unlikely to attend, even if the special congress goes ahead.
In terms of Cosatu’s constitution, Dlamini holds the key to the special congress which, if convened, would lead to fresh elections that could see his leadership coming under fire from Vavi’s supporters.
Already, this week’s Cosatu CEC asked Dlamini to consider the affordability, timing and the state of affiliates in applying his mind on the call for a special congress.
Effectively, this could leave the door open to a plea of poverty, even if nine of Cosatu’s 19 affiliates, just over the constitutionally required one-third, support a special congress.
However, metalworkers’ union, Numsa, which has come out in support of Vavi, is understood to hold the view that the federation would not be able to plead financial stress as it received millions of rand in affiliate fees and that Cosatu had to respond to the constitutionally valid call for a special congress.
Among those who joined Cosatu in opposing the court challenge to reinstate Vavi – and are seen as critical of him – are the federation’s other two biggest affiliates, the National Mineworkers’ Union (NUM) and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).
NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said “the NUM has not budgeted for a Cosatu special congress” and that it was simply too early to discuss the matter as the union had not even received any notices.
Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola said they would only respond to the issue of the special congress after a report by the federation’s national office bearers at November’s CEC.
“There is no way we can say whether we are going to a congress or not. The national office bearers received a request, they are looking at it and will give us a report,” he added.
It is understood Nehawu may also claim financial pressures over the next 14 months.
The union is preparing for a round of nine provincial congresses, and for the public sector wage negotiations starting in early 2015.
A senior Cosatu official said it was highly unlikely the special congress would take place.
“S’dumo (Dlamini) is going to tell them in November that the federation doesn’t have money (for the conference). “There is no business person who can sponsor such a stupid conference,” the leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment on the matter.
He added that those unions opposed to Vavi would not attend the special congress.
“Workers are not going to allow their money to go to this kind of congress. I don’t see them convincing two-thirds of the unions to attend the congress. Even if they were to fund the congress, affiliates are not going to confirm attending it,” the leader said.
“They are banking on the conference to reinstate him. He is hoping to use the congress for appeal.”
The leader added that the federation was going ahead with its charges against Vavi, which could ultimately lead to his dismissal.
Vavi told The Sunday Independent: “They will do everything to frustrate that (special congress) – there is no money, it’s elections, there’s no venue available, it’s the end of the year, it’s raining, it’s too hot, affiliates are not in good order etc.”
According to Cosatu’s constitution, the federation president must call for a special congress if no less than a third of affiliates in good standing submit a written request or if the CEC passes a resolution calling for such a meeting.
If the president fails to call a special congress, the CEC is empowered to nominate a convener.
Written notice, including an agenda of the special congress, must be at least 14 days, although the president decides the notice period.
Like an ordinary national congress, a special congress requires attendance by two-thirds of affiliates.
Said Dlamini: “I am busy working on the request for a special congress as guided by the constitution of Cosatu”.
It is understood the suspended general secretary’s backers are banking on his grassroots worker appeal at a special congress. They are believed to be planning to use it to oust Dlamini, deputy general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali and second deputy president Zingiswa Losi. The three officials are accused of trying to “sell” the federation to the ANC and aiding some ANC leaders to turn Cosatu into the organisation’s labour desk.
The ANC has dismissed such an argument, but this week the ongoing ructions in its alliance partner saw the ANC establishing a task team to urgently meet Cosatu leaders to break the impasse.
The ANC task team, led by its deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, includes the ruling party’s national chairwoman, Baleka Mbete, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize, the party’s treasurer.
This week Cosatu appeared determined to add further charges against Vavi, who was suspended after admitting to an extramarital office affair with a junior employee.
This week Cosatu took issue with Vavi appearing at a Numsa march and other public events.
However, Vavi’s family spokesman, John Dludlu, dismissed this, saying the letter of suspension, signed by Cosatu deputy general secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali, makes no mention of not being allowed to address meetings.
Dludlu said to date no charges had been brought against Vavi, even as the rumour mill now claimed he condoned unauthorised expenses and irregular appointments.
“The selective amnesia that others are suffering from will be exposed in any due process as only politically inspired. It is significant to state that Vavi has from the beginning stated that he will subject himself to any fair process as he is not above the federation’s lawful processes and policies,” he said.
This week’s CEC was expected to receive reports from probes into claims of maladministration made against Vavi in February. Vavi was accused of selling the old Cosatu head office below value and of nepotism and political disloyalty.
The independent facilitators and forensic auditors requested more time, it emerged in Thursday’s media briefing on this week’s CEC.