Convenor of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi (right), sings at the Civic Centre in Witbank. Picture: Balise Mabona/ANA
Witbank – Former general secretary of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zwelinzima Vavi on Thursday took his new South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) on a roadshow to Mpumalanga, where he sarcastically heaped praises on those who expelled him.

Cosatu also expelled the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which has more than 300 000 members, from its ranks.

“If we were not expelled, I suspect we would be there playing factionalism,” said Vavi. “They liberated us. That is why we must be thankful of them because without that [expulsion], the unity of the workers would not be possible. Can we all give them a round of applause for expelling us?” Vavi was addressing hundreds of people during Saftu’s shop steward council held at the Civic Centre in Witbank, Mpumalanga.

The occasion was also the launch of Saftu in the province. The federation was first launched nationally in Gauteng two weeks ago. Vavi is the convenor of Saftu’s national steering committee. Cosatu expelled Vavi in March 2015 following public spats between him and its leadership over various matters.

These included allegations of corruption leveled at him related to the acquisition of Cosatu’s headquarters building in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Numsa, which was Cosatu’s largest union affiliate, was expelled in November 2014 after it often publicly clashed with Cosatu over various issues.

Workers sing and welcome the convenor of the Saftu), Zwelinzima Vavi as he arrives at the Civic Centre in Witbank, Mpumalanga. Picture: Balise Mabona/ANA

These included Numsa’s decision not to campaign for the ANC in the run-up to the 2014 national elections. Vavi on Thursday said there were two factions in the African National Congress (ANC), which he described as “bad news for the workers”.

He said Cosatu has now become the federation of teachers and the nurses. He said the formation of Saftu was prompted by several things including what he called poverty that was affecting a huge number of workers in the whole country.

“The majority of the workers have to borrow [money] from each other in other to go to work. So, we said we needed a new federation. We have worked and developed a new framework that will enhance cooperation within the unions. The fight against job loses is our priority.” Vavi slammed the government’s R3500 minimum wage, saying it was not enough for the workers.

He said even the dogs of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa would not survive on a R3 500 for three days.

Vavi thanked the people of Mpumalanga for their support in launching Saftu in the province, saying it had not been possible to do so in the past few months.

Saftu is made up of 21 unions who include Numsa, Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and the South African Police Union (Sapu). Mpumalanga provincial chairman of Numsa, Xolisa Posiso, is also Saftu’s interim chairman in the province.