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Comradeship in Cosatu reached a low point as supporters of president Sdumo Dlamini and suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi traded insults in public in Durban on Sunday.
They shouted that they did not need each other any more.
Police in protective gear separated the factions, who threatened to beat each other up.
The trouble occurred at the Coastlands Hotel, on the Point, at which each group had booked a conference centre.
As National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) members and other invited affiliates arrived at the venue, they found members of fellow Cosatu affiliate, the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).
A police officer said one venue had been booked by Numsa, while another had been booked by Sadtu.
It is understood the hotel inadvertently opened the Numsa-booked venue to Sadtu.
Police had to divert traffic as the two groups occupied Pixley ka Seme (West) Street in front of the hotel.
Inside the hotel, police battled to separate the factions, who came close to attacking each other.
Sadtu’s Durban South Regional secretary, Sva Xulu, said: “We were having a Sadtu meeting upstairs when we became aware there were other Cosatu members here.”
Police eventually persuaded the Numsa-led group to hold their meeting in the third-floor conference room while the Sadtu-led group remained on the second floor.
Vavi and suspended Sadtu president Thobile Ntola had been invited to Durban to address the “shop steward council” called by Cosatu affiliates which supported them, including Numsa.
The function, also attended by national leaders of unions, was seen as a way of celebrating Vavi’s court victory.
However, Vavi could not attend as he was with his daughter, who had been involved in a car accident in the Eastern Cape.
He is due back at work on Monday.
Sadtu members, who had been calling for Vavi’s head, said they did not want Ntola to address Vavi’s group.
Xulu accused Vavi’s group and Numsa of hijacking Cosatu.
Vavi and Numsa could find themselves suspended from Cosatu, while Sadtu’s suspended president believes he will be fired within the week.
Referring to a Cosatu central executive committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Numsa deputy president Karl Cloete told delegates: “On Tuesday, they will say let us continue with the disciplinary charges against Zwelinzima Vavi.”
The office-bearers of Cosatu should be held accountable for having wasted workers’ money in hiring expensive lawyers to fight Vavi’s reinstatement, Cloete said.
Ntola told the meeting: “I have no doubt that within a week I will be fired.”
The central executive committee meeting was “a war” for the survival of Cosatu, Ntola said.
He said it was “unfortunate” that members of his union had attempted to disrupt the shop stewards council.