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Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday threw down the gauntlet to “anonymous sources” to provide proof that he, or relatives, unduly benefited from the sale of Cosatu house - or to shut up.
“When you can bring evidence - back your allegations that you are happy to put in the media instead of the (Cosatu) structures - I will walk and this will be my last speech,” he told the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) annual bargaining conference in Cape Town.
“Then it will mean I’m distrustful to the core to want to steal from you. I’ll walk away because Cosatu will never again champion the fight against corruption because its leaders are corrupt,” he said to loud applause and cheers.
“I will rather live the life of a beggar in the street than lose my integrity or Cosatu’s integrity, condemning workers into a deep, dark hole… I am too old to change at this age. I want to go one day to Violet Sibone (the late Cosatu second vice-president and Sactwu first vice-president) and say ‘I’m still the same man you left behind’.”
Vavi also faces fresh allegations about his daughter’s employment with a company linked to the labour federation.
His stepdaughter Thabisa Ngema is employed by VMS, a company that provides technology for the fingerprinting system among other services at Cosatu’s new premises in Braamfontein.
This has increased suspicion among his detractors that there is a potential conflict of interest case to answer.
Confronted with the allegations, Vavi said he did not “know the terms of the contract or anything beyond that. I can’t take responsibility for her or Craig’s company.” Craig Greene is the owner of VMS.
“Thabisa Ngema is my stepdaughter. She left my house about two years ago after falling pregnant while on second year doing technology in the financial sector.
“My relationship with her broke down at that point. Not because of pregnancy but because of other family-related things that I am not willing to engage in a public forum.
“I don’t know where she stays or works.
“Craig tells me he engaged her for a specific software programme two or three weeks ago. Thabisa has been there about three times for that purpose.
“I don’t know the terms of the contract or anything beyond that.”
Following this week’s Cosatu central executive committee meeting, media reports emerged on allegations that Vavi, and relatives, had benefited from the sale of the Cosatu head office and the move to the new R50 million building, which was opened by President Jacob Zuma last year. According to media reports, there would be an investigation.
Cosatu categorically denied that a call for an investigation was ever made during its three-day meeting. Obscuring the picture was the statement that “independent facilitators” would be brought in to tackle several issues, which were not identified.
Yesterday Vavi emphasised integrity – both his own and of the trade union federation - and dismissed the allegations as “a character assassination campaign designed to achieve political ends”.
While Vavi’s outspokenness on corruption is often cited as a bugbear, his anti-corruption stance also applied to Cosatu, where a third of members said there was corruption and 12 percent said they had experienced it, according to a workers’ survey conducted ahead of the September 2012 congress.
It is understood that central to many of the committee’s discussions was how Cosatu with 2.2 million members was positioning itself, particularly vis-a-vis the governing ANC and within the tripartite alliance.
This comes despite unqualified support for the ANC for the 2014 elections from Cosatu.
Vavi said he intended serving his term. “I have a mandate. Why would I abandon a mandate, a very strong mandate from the workers (at the 2012 Cosatu congress)?”
KwaZulu-Natal Cosatu secretary Zet Luzipho, touted last year as a contender for Vavi’s position at the Cosatu September congress, confirmed that there was no investigation against Vavi, saying “this incident of disinformation” must be viewed as part of “an orchestrated plan not only to attack, but to weaken the federation”. - Sunday Tribune