Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. File photo: Matthews Baloyi

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi – a leading critic of the ANC and its leader President Jacob Zuma – has been warned by the federation’s largest and most influential union to stop his one-man crusade or risk losing the mineworkers’ support.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – Cosatu’s financial pillar – has accused Vavi of fomenting divisions in the federation.

NUM and Cosatu leaders had a tense bilateral meeting this week in which the mineworkers’ union gave its frank but “brutal assessment” of Vavi’s leadership.

Vavi said on Saturday that he was not surprised that “a closed meeting” of the “national office-bearers has been leaked to the media”, and refused to divulge more details.

“Those who informed the media of the meeting are motivated by a drive to assassinate my character and launch a media trial where I cannot defend myself. I will respond to these issues not because they were raised in the meeting, which is a lie, but because I am defending my integrity in (the) face of a media trial to tarnish my standing among workers on the eve of Cosatu’s congress,” he said.

Insiders within the federation told The Sunday Independent that Vavi’s indirect business interests were also raised by the NUM delegation.

The sources could not be named because the meeting was meant to be a closed gathering.

It was reported two years ago that Vavi’s wife, Noluthando, was hired by a controversial company to market financial products to union members.

She had since quit and the federation defended her then, saying it could not find any conflict of interest.

But Vavi on Saturday said: “My wife has not won any government tender. I have told her she should never ever tender for any government work precisely because if she did she would be singled out. Cosatu policy says in case any of our families get involved in business we should avoid a conflict of interest. If the sources have evidence to the contrary they should raise the matter with Cosatu.”

NUM reprimanded Vavi for taking unilateral decisions by publicly announcing that he was stepping down as general secretary, but later made himself available, again without discussing his decision with his colleagues.

Vavi is expected to stand for a fifth term as general secretary when the federation holds its congress next month.

If he wins, he is likely to continue his anti-Zuma crusade, to the irritation of some affiliated unions.

But NUM could not guarantee him its support.

The Sunday Independent was told that NUM has threatened that unless Vavi stopped his “behaviour, the union will review its position”.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni refused to discuss “confidential and internal” union matters. He also expressed his anger that discussions in a closed meeting of the most senior structures of the federation and the union were leaked.

Some in the federation believe that Vavi is the only one who could hold a divided federation together, hence it was necessary for him to stand.

But others said Vavi only made himself available after realising that he wouldn’t make it to the ANC’s top leadership at its own elective conference in Mangaung in December.

It is understood that NUM also asked him to stop undermining and defying Cosatu by publicly propagating his views, deviating from “collective decisions”.

Vavi said: “I have not undermined any union and I am not divisive as alleged by the source. I have intervened on countless occasions in countless unions as part of the collective to solve internal problems when we see such or when we are invited by members to do so.”

His close relationship with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) – which is known to be anti-Zuma – was cited as an example of his divisive leadership.

Vavi denied that he was biased towards Numsa.

“I have been invited and addressed national and provincial congresses including bargaining conferences of countless unions, but only when invited to do so.

“I cannot be accused of not addressing other unions when I am not invited or even aware of their meetings,” he said.

While NUM is critical of Vavi’s leadership, his report to next month’s congress is scathing of the leaders of the ANC, SACP and Cosatu alliance.

Vavi reiterates in his draft report – which could still be amended before the congress – that the ANC was “increasingly wracked by factionalism, patronage and corruption and is unable to reassert the mission and strategic vision of the organisation”.

If his report is adopted by the congress, the federation – which boasts that most of its members are in the ANC – could assume a hostile posture towards Zuma on the eve of the nominations for ANC leadership positions in October.

But Vavi doesn’t command wholesale support with the federation, and his report could be a source of factional divisions similar to those that threatened to tear Cosatu apart in the run-up to the ANC’s 2007 elective conference.

In his report Vavi paints a scenario in which the ANC leadership in most provinces and regions was compromised by the presence of tenderpreneurs, those who benefit from state contracts and political connections.

He said Cosatu, seen by many as the last hope and attacked by those in the alliance threatened by its vocal criticism against corruption, was in a dilemma.

“In relation to the ANC, we need to ask what interventions are required to ensure a leadership which is uncompromised, and is primarily driven by its desire to address the needs of the people; an ANC which operates in a democratic and accountable manner and takes responsibility for transformation and an alliance which is able to shape the strategic direction of the movement and the state.”

Sunday Independent