By Moshoeshoe Monare

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has beefed up his personal security, as he apparently believes a top comrade is plotting to assassinate him.

A Cosatu national leader said on Wednesday that the alleged assassination plot was the subject of a heated meeting between Vavi and Cosatu president Willie Madisha.

Madisha, however, had dismissed the plot allegations as "desperate paranoia", according to the union source.

The assassination allegations follow reports that Madisha is probing Vavi's alleged misuse of a union credit card to allegedly entertain his mistress, who is the wife of a union colleague.

Another Cosatu official said Vavi had been followed around by suspicious people.

"Vavi's security has told him that he had been followed. The plot against him is three-fold. First to spread rumours that he has an affair with a married woman; secondly, to plant a woman who would later claim that she had been raped like they tried to do with (ANC deputy president Jacob) Zuma; and ultimately to assassinate him and play it out as if it was a love-triangle killing," said the Cosatu official.

Vavi and Madisha would not be drawn into the assassination saga on Wednesday.

The Star can, however, confirm that Vavi's security detail has been reinforced, with either former combatants of Umkhonto weSizwe, the demobilised ANC military wing, or former self-defence unit members.

Other Cosatu leaders are also believed to have beefed up their security as paranoia and tensions within Cosatu and the tripartite alliance increase.

The mistrust and suspicions are so intense that, as in the ANC, officials refuse to speak on their phones or insist on removing a cellphone battery during meetings.

Another leader who is said to believe he was followed by intelligence agents is SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande.

Nzimande on Wednesday indirectly attacked Madisha, as alliance comrades openly take sides in each other's divisive leadership battles.

In his fortnightly newsletter Umsebenzi Online, Nzimande defended Vavi against the fraud allegations, saying they were "contestations over the soul of the progressive trade union movement", and took a swipe at Madisha, albeit without referring to him by name.

Vavi and Nzimande are personally and politically close to Zuma, while Madisha is accused of being a pawn in President Thabo Mbeki's camp in the succession battle that is gripping the ANC.

Nzimande said a phenomenon had emerged within Cosatu, which he called "business unionism", whereby trade unionists were leaders by day and capitalists by night.

His comment could be seen as a reference to allegations that Madisha is allegedly running business ventures by abusing Cosatu's name and accepting kickbacks on the union's "lucrative tenders".