Cosatu's suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi arrives at the High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday, 27 March 2014 to challenge his suspension after admitting to an extra-marital affair with a junior employee. Vavi said the trade union federation's central executive committee failed to hold a vote as required by its constitution. Cosatu maintains that Vavi was suspended because he violated the federation's code of conduct. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Johannesburg - The battle for the heart and soul of Cosatu is likely to end up in court again following a legal victory by the federation’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, on Friday.

The South Gauteng High Court ruled that Vavi’s suspension be lifted because Cosatu was unconstitutional when it took action against him. Cosatu was ordered to pay costs.

Now Vavi’s staunchest ally, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), is planning on asking the court to force Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini to hold a special national congress.

Dlamini, according to the constitution, is obligated to convene a congress if one-third of the federation’s affiliates make the request. Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said on Friday that Dlamini was “dragging his feat”, as nine of Cosatu’s 19 affiliates had requested the convening of a congress in October already.

Numsa and eight other affiliates believe that a special national congress is the only forum that can put an end to the divisions that have been plaguing Cosatu for more than a year.

Not only would the congress decide on the future trajectory of Cosatu, it would also see fresh elections for the federation’s national office-bearers.

Cosatu’s leaders have been accused by many unionists of helping to push the country’s largest union federation into becoming a “labour desk” of its alliance partner, the ANC. However, Vavi’s supporters will not have an easy task getting new leaders elected. The majority of Cosatu’s affiliates support the status quo.

Vavi was suspended in August last year by Cosatu’s central executive committee. This was after he had sex with a junior colleague at Cosatu’s offices. Vavi, Numsa and two other affiliates – the Food and Allied Workers Union and the SA Football Players’ Union – took the suspension to court because they believed that the central executive committee had not acted lawfully.

Instead of voting on the suspension, as stipulated in the constitution, the central executive committee members, who are all Cosatu affiliates, made verbal input. Cosatu had argued that it believed this was not illegal because the majority of the executive members were in favour of action against Vavi, and the non-voting was not peculiar because it had often occurred in previous executive meetings. However Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo disagreed. “They did not vote, whereas the constitution expressly called for a vote,” he said.

“Surprisingly, the person who at the end told the meeting there was no need to vote (Cosatu president) is the same person who earlier in the meeting had expressed himself in favour of voting… twice. One wonders what happened in the side meeting to turn him against the constitution,” Judge Majapelo said.

The judge also said that the disciplinary action resulting from Vavi’s suspension could not go ahead because the meeting behaved in an unconstitutional way.

How this may impact on Vavi’s disciplinary hearing set down for next month will be the subject of debate. He is facing nine charges, which include financial irregularities relating to the sale of Cosatu’s old building and the purchase of its new one, and bringing the federation into disrepute.

One option for Dlamini would be to hold another central executive committee in which the majority would have to lawfully suspend Vavi and institute disciplinary action.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), one of the largest affiliates in Cosatu and anti-Vavi, said on Friday that it wanted Cosatu to appeal against the judgment.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the logistics around Vavi’s return to work would be discussed at a special executive committee meeting on Tuesday.

The committee is being convened to decide on the fate of Numsa, which is facing suspension or expulsion from Cosatu for withholding support to the ANC in the May elections.

Group Labour Editor