A night vigil is scheduled outside the Johannesburg High Court from Wednesday evening, followed by day-time pickets, in support of suspended labour federation Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who on Thursday returns to court to challenge his suspension.
The two-day court hearing to have Vavi’s suspension overturned comes, it is understood, as a legal challenge to replace Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini as the convener for a special congress is being finalised.
The possibility of legal action to ensure a special Cosatu national congress is called to resolve tensions in the 2.2 million trade union federation - and in a move to have Vavi reinstated by workers from the congress floor - emerged last month.
This development comes after the Cosatu central executive committee left it to Dlamini to make a final determination on the special congress - months after Cosatu cited financial and logistical reasons for being unable to host it urgently.
The two-day court hearing from Thursday again throws into public the divisions within the labour federation.
Over the past few months Cosatu’s largest affiliate, the National Union of metalworkers of SA, alongside municipal workers union Samwu, the Food and Allied Workers Union, nurses’ union Denosa and the footballers’ union have called for Vavi’s return to work and for a Cosatu special congress to resolve tensions.
These demands have found sympathy at grassroots level in various provinces, where affiliates have broken ranks with the official Cosatu line that the labour federation must be allowed to follow internal processes.
These affiliates late last year filed court papers challenging Vavi’s suspension, which he subsequently joined.
The court action is opposed by Cosatu, alongside the National Union of Mineworkers, National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union, teachers’ union Sadtu and police union Popcru.
Steve Faulkner, the co-ordinator of the nine Cosatu affiliates campaign to have Vavi return to work, said the aim of the night vigil and pickets early on Thursday and Friday, was to draw attention to Vavi’s eight months’ suspension without a disciplinary hearing.
“We all think it is far too long… He must go back to work on Monday,” Faulkner said.
Vavi was suspended in August over an extra-marital affair with a married junior Cosatu employee.
Following a Cosatu special central executive committee in January, not attended by all affiliates, Cosatu served disciplinary charges on Vavi, although not a date for the hearing.
The charge sheet included the extra-marital affair, how the woman in question was hired, but also counts of financial misconduct arising from a forensic report.