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Inside the Vavi sex scandal

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi appears for now to have grudgingly accepted his suspension. Photo: Neil Baynes.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi appears for now to have grudgingly accepted his suspension. Photo: Neil Baynes.

Published Jul 28, 2013

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Tomorrow Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is to appear before an internal hearing on a sexual harassment grievance.

The hearing is in regard to claims made by an administrative official, and comes as factional battles within the labour federation turn ugly amid claims of blackmail, alleged telephone bugging and a series of SMSes hinting at pressure, and financial reward.

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Vavi, who has denied wrongdoing, on Thursday laid a charge of extortion at the Sandton police station against the complainant, whose name is known to The Sunday Independent.

Police spokeswoman Captain Kym Cloete has confirmed a case has been opened, but referred further media queries to her provincial counterparts. This is the latest twist in a saga which includes:

- A series of 370 SMSes over the past six months ranging from work-related matters, including transporting flowers to a funeral, to banter. But in several SMSes the complainant talks of people calling her and “how these sick people are trying to use me to bring you down”.

In an SMS exchange on January 25, the day the two had sex, the complainant says “it was not consensual” and that she felt she had been hired for her looks. Vavi replied: “You are so wrong”.

The sexual encounter happened three days before Vavi’s wife gave birth to twins.

- A letter of demand from the complainant and her husband asking for R2 million compensation for loss of income and medical expenses and relocation costs after the complainant met Vavi’s wife earlier this month and several interchanges of texts between the complainant, her husband and Vavi’s wife.

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- A lawyer’s letter sent on behalf of Vavi and his wife describing the demand as “blackmail”, denying claims of sexual harassment, and indicating that an interdict may be sought alongside a defamation claim against her.

The complainant yesterday told The Sunday Independent: “As you are calling me you are aware of the grievance procedure. It is an internal matter… Right now, I don’t want to say anything. Respect that. I will decide afterwards.”

While she did not answer the question whether a rape charge had been laid, subsequently her husband, who answered her phone, confirmed no rape charge had been laid, but did not answer a request to confirm his wife had indeed sent the SMSes.

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“She is in no stage to talk. We are abiding by an internal process which Vavi is taking to the media… Yes, we are under incredible pressure. My main concern is my wife. Please let the world know (what kind of person Vavi is),” he said.

“So the only thing done now, she has laid a grievance…

“She is devastated. She is in no place to comment until the (internal) matter is resolved.”

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The scandal comes after the outspoken Cosatu general secretary has been put under pressure following accusations earlier this year of maladministration, including selling off the trade union federation’s old head office below cost. The claims are the subject of an independent facilitation by labour lawyer Chris Nupen and veteran trade unionist Petrus Mashishi, who also must look into internal Cosatu dynamics and simmering conflicts.

Cosatu yesterday declined to comment on the latest controversy, except to say “the national office bearers are discussing it”.

A series of SMSes exchanged between Vavi and the complainant last month indicate pressure on, and what appears to be a financial incentive of R1m for the complainant to come out publicly against Vavi.

“I’m having sleepless nights because of this. People wanting me to say that you hurt me, wanting information from me…” said one SMS from the complainant.

“I’m gonna explode, my marriage is over and these phone calls won’t stop, some even promising me money and protection, protection from who, from you? What have u gotten me into?”

Among last month’s SMSes was one the complainant seemingly forwarded to Vavi: “He’s messing with your head, we know everything about you, even your financial status (complainant’s name and what looks like a bank account) we know everything already, just need your confession, he’s not a good man and you not the first.

“R1000 000 and your safety is guaranteed, expect a call from us tomorrow morning. Please answer, we’re on your side.”

In at least one text message to the complainant, Vavi insisted the current internal Cosatu facilitation process would not show corruption as “it does not exist” and assured protection to the complainant: “I promise – they are too desperate and they won’t win.”

However, this pressure and alleged financial incentives are not raised in the sexual harassment grievance complaint.

Submitted on July 15, the Cosatu administrative official says that on January 25 this year the general secretary “forced himself on me” and “raped me” after he came to her office looking for documents.

“When I confronted him about it he said that he did not hear me say no…”

Vavi, who has not denied the office affair, in his response to the sexual harassment grievance maintained it was “consensual” sex, saying the two had had “a relationship” since October/November last year.

“I categorically and emphatically deny that on 25 January 2013 I went to the complainants office, grabbed and kissed her, forcefully fondled her private parts and raped her,” he said.

Instead Vavi’s submission to the sexual harassment complaint indicated how at the end of June his wife was contacted to listen to a message, which she did in his presence: “Despite my wife’s anger, my wife immediately realised that I was being set up,” he says.

After the complainant and Vavi’s wife Noluthando met on July 1, the complainant told Mrs Vavi that her husband would speak to a lawyer and draft a letter of demand.

A series of SMSes were exchanged between the three.

A letter of demand asking for R2m in compensation loss of income and medical expenses and relocation, insisting this was not blackmail, was sent on July 3 to Vavi’s wife.

“This document serves as a written agreement that once my demands are met, and a legal document is drafted by your lawyer as discussed containing the terms, signed by both parties.”

“I will solemnly swear not to divulge any information regarding this matter,” it states.

The couple turned to their lawyers, who replied the demand amounted to extortion. “Should you continue with your outrageous ‘demands’ and farcical and defamatory allegations regarding ‘sexual assault’ against Mr Vavi we will strongly consider obtaining an interdict against you, suing you for a substantial amount for defamation and charge of extortion,” states the lawyers’ letter.

Vavi declined to go into details in what he described as a private mater.”

“It is an extremely intimate, private, personal and delicate matter,” he said.

“I am also fully aware that because of my work and life, this matter obviously offers a goldmine for those fishing for sensational stories.”

“For years now I have been dealing with consistent threats to my life, political assaults and efforts to destroy my contribution to the struggle of the working class and the poor in this country.”

“Lately as we all know, these efforts to destroy me have intensified. I am unable not to view this matter in the same light.”

He confirmed he had engaged lawyers and was “ready and willing to appear before any legitimate body to clear my name”, denying the allegations. - The Sunday Independent

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