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Durban - In a thinly veiled reference to suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi called on union leaders to subject themselves to disciplinary processes to clear their names.
Speaking at the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) provincial general council in Durban on Saturday, Nxesi, who is also SACP deputy chairman, said he was accused in 2002 of living off union funds.
Vavi was suspended in August, pending the outcome of an internal investigation, after admitting to an affair with a 26-year-old employee.
“During the Sadtu congress at the ICC in 2002, my face was splashed on the front page on a Sunday. I was accused of buying cars and houses with Sadtu funds. I myself was subjected to an investigation,” said Nxesi.
Nxesi, who jokingly said his “speech was not classified, unlike the other report”, a reference to Nkandla, added that Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and former Cosatu president Willie Madisha had all been subjected to investigations.
“So you can see there is nothing new here. We have processes. Why put processes in place when you cannot use them?” said Nxesi.
He said Cosatu should be given the time, space and respect by “all of us” outside of the federation to deal with its internal issues.
“The SACP reaffirms the critical importance of trade union independence. We need a militant, robust trade union movement, not a conveyor belt for alliance partners or for the ANC-led government,” he said.
Nxesi said militant union independence, however, should not be confused with what he called a liberal notion of sustained anti-governmental opposition.
“We must also reject the misleading call for a workers’ party. That is why we say ‘hands off Cosatu’. We call on Cosatu to get its house in order, but Cosatu itself must do this.”
Nxesi said any factional interference from outside, whether from the ANC, SACP, media or NGOs, would not help. The federation could not play any economic, political or ideological role outside the alliance, he said.
“So a workers’ party is a non-starter,” he said.
Delegates at the council sang songs rejecting calls for Cosatu to convene a special congress. Vavi’s backers want to use a special congress to lobby for the reversal of his suspension.
Nxesi called on delegates to find an exit strategy for union leaders who have been in federation ranks for a long time.
He left when deployed to Parliament in 2009.