NUMSA members demonstrate outside COSATU House against their expulsion
NUMSA members demonstrate outside COSATU House against their expulsion

THE following speech was given by the former general secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), dismissed in 2015, and now Vice Chairperson of the Millennium Labour Council, Zwelinzima Vavi to the congress of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) following its recent decision to leave COSATU.

Vavi covers the recent history of the ruling ANC alliance, as its support falls in a deepening political and economic crisis, marked by a powerful strike wave.


SOME specific indicators of the paralysis in COSATU. I have made number of general points about the impact of the ‘morbid symptoms’. More specifically within COSATU, we were unable to implement a range of mandates of the 11th Congress and the Collective Bargaining Conference of 2013. Broadly, the 11th Congress mandate was structured around four pillars, which were:

1. Abolition of the apartheid wage structure and forward to a living wage

2. Radical Socio-Economic Transformation: The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth

3. Build Strong Worker-Controlled Unions: Organise Or Starve!

4. Creating Our Own Lula Moment: Driving The Second Phase Of Our Transition

All these directives fell by the wayside so that the status quo prevails.

The purging of NUMSA and of the COSATU General Secretary:

1. A faction coalesced around an anti-COSATU General Secretary sentiment on the eve of the 11th COSATU Congress. This faction was unhappy with the Secretariat Report to the Congress, which it felt was being too critical of both COSATU weaknesses, the Alliance and the Government. The criticism was despite the fact that the CEC and Affiliates participated in making inputs to the Report in the preparation stage, and that the CEC signed off on the Report.

2. Having not succeeded in suppressing the Report on the Congress floor or getting the COSATU General Secretary not to be elected, this faction decided to take the fight to the media and Central Executive Committee as a small leadership structure. Countless allegations were made of corruption against the General Secretary in public and at the CEC, but no evidence was ever produced by the faction.

3. The faction did not hide its agenda when its primary spokesperson, the then NEHAWU General Secretary, pronounced in the CEC that they (the faction) have made a calculation that, come what may, both NUMSA and the COSATU General Secretary must be surgically removed from the Federation. He acknowledged that while this would create more disunity, and even possibly a split, it would be worth it in order to build COSATU afresh.

He made it clear that the faction was prepared to live with any of the consequences. This sentiment was repeated by Fikile Majola in an interview with the Sowetan published on 25th March 2014, in which he is quoted as saying ‘a split in COSATU is unavoidable … We are far down the road. I don’t think it can be stopped. The person at the centre of the crisis is Zwelinzima and he does not want to find a solution … We can re-establish COSATU on correct principles, build a strong COSATU that can direct its affiliates. But we cannot do it with those who say Vavi or nothing.’ (pg.4 of Sowetan 25 March 2014).

4. Of course the purging came to pass. NUMSA was dismissed on the 07 November 2014 together with all of its now 365,000 members. Convenient and misleading reasons for the expulsion have been advanced (largely related to decisions taken by NUMSA at its Special Congress in December 2013), with no reference to the premeditated nature of the expulsion, stemming back to the CEC of February 2013, some ten months before the NUMSA Special National Congress.

5. The COSATU General Secretary was also dismissed without a hearing for refusing to attend the CEC when 365,000 workers have been dismissed and when 7 COSATU-affiliated unions have announced that they cannot attend the meeting unless NUMSA is reinstated.

6. Interventions such as that by the ANC Task Team, COSATU former leaders, including a facilitating team appointed by the CEC itself, came to nothing as the faction pursued its agenda to the end.

7. What has happened therefore is a split planned and pursued by a faction with clear support of the SACP leadership. The split is happening on the terms of this CEC majority behind the members’ backs. The purging of dissenting voices or ‘opponents’ has extended to within POPCRU, SADTU, SAMWU, NUM and SATAWU. Can COSATU be saved? Did we perhaps not try hard enough?

When the writing was on the wall that a faction was pursuing the agenda to purge NUMSA and the General Secretary, whilst allowing some affiliates to be paralysed and to also embark on their own purges, the 9 COSATU affiliates called for the convening of the National Congress that could take us back to the implementation of the 11th National Congress resolutions. This group called itself the ‘nine plus’ meaning nine affiliates plus supporters in many other affiliates.

This happened alongside other interventions by the former COSATU leaders led by comrade Sydney Mufamadi, the founding Assistant General Secretary of COSATU, a COSATU-appointed team that was meant to facilitate unity and cohesion – Petrus Mashishi, Charles Nupen and SizweNtsalubaGobodo and later the ANC task team that included its Deputy President and Secretary General.

All these were frustrated by the dominant CEC faction which clearly had a different mandate from the dominant ANC faction and the SACP to pursue a COSATU split at all costs. When after a long process to frustrate even the constitutionally allowed right of a third of the unions to convene a congress, the leadership of the dominant faction used every trick and loophole in the constitution to frustrate the right of this one third.

Again let me use the statements issued by the 9 plus unions to analyse how the congress and COSATU itself was stolen from the workers.

‘The agenda to build unity inside COSATU or to get COSATU to drive unity with other unions and federations and independent unions has been defeated. What used to be proudly called the Workers’ Parliament was a rigged shambles, where leaders and largely handpicked delegates silenced any independent voices and elected a leadership which will ensure that COSATU remains a labour desk for government and the ruling party, and which pays no more than lip service to the interests of the workers who elected them.

‘We salute the bravery of FAWU and SACCAWU who once again fought very hard to knock sense into the dominant leadership faction to no avail. The “normal” Congress confirmed the correctness of our verdict on the outcome of the shocking Special National Congress (SNC) in July 2015, that “COSATU has been stolen by the state … rigged by the Federation’s leadership in order to crush workers’ right to express their views and to force through decisions which we believe are killing the mighty federation of Elijah Barayi.” In some respects the “normal” Congress was even more shocking than the Special National Congress, by blatantly flouting COSATU’s own constitution:

‘1. Two of its former and re-elected office bearers, Tyotyo James and Zingiswa Losi, were ineligible for election, as neither complied with the requirement that they must have been elected as shop stewards in their workplaces.

‘2. A new “union”, LIMUSA, was unconstitutionally accepted as an affiliate despite not meeting the necessary every condition for this prescribed in the constitution.

‘3. Unions’ membership figures, on which the size of their delegations were calculated, were not verified to ascertain their correctness in line with clause 3.2.4 of the COSATU constitution and the principle of paid up membership.

‘Instead, unions were allowed to claim membership largely based on 2012 figures despite clear evidence that many of these affiliates have suffered big membership losses over the last three years as a result of thousands of members being purged, retrenched or leaving to join a rising stream of breakaway unions.

‘More shockingly and worryingly is the Independent Electoral Commission wittingly and unashamedly agreeing to put its own credibility and standing on the line by effectively endorsing what was clearly an undemocratic election:

‘a) The IEC allowed Tyotyo James to chair a session in which he was so directly conflicted. Tyotyo James took the opportunity to drive the meeting in a direction that will benefit him and his NOBs colleagues.

‘b) The IEC allowed a vote through a show of hands. The fact that this is allowed in the constitution does not absolve the IEC from ensuring that it protects its own reputation. As said above once more, delegates were asked to stand if they support a motion and sit down if they disagreed.

‘This allowed an open intimidation of delegates, which the IEC is now an accomplice to. COSATU constitution does not end only at the point where the meeting must decide on whether to vote through a show of hands or not. IEC did not ensure the observance of the constitution that states:

‘11.4.5. At all meetings where there are more than 50 participants, votes must be counted by scrutinisers who: – Must be appointed by the meeting; and Must record the votes and report the results to the Chairperson.

‘c) In the presence of the IEC entrusted with COSATU Congress’ entire elections process, Tyotyo James again was allowed to chair over his and his NOBs colleagues’ nominations and related processes, with the IEC under processes in dereliction of its responsibility whilst Tyotyo James was by default allowed to assume such responsibilities: notwithstanding his vested interest hence arrogance to defend such interests no matter what.

‘The same IEC refused a request by FAWU and SACCAWU for reopening the nominations from the floor as is the practice and decided to give over to Tyotyo to impose a vote through a show of hands votes that reinforced the position of him and his NOBs colleagues as duly elected – by default though.

‘When delegates from FAWU and SACCAWU bravely rose to oppose the credentials report in order to rectify these breaches of the constitution, 1st Deputy President, Tyotyo James, despite himself being one of those whose legitimacy was being contested, called a vote on a show of hands, another practice first used at the Special National Congress.

‘Once again delegates who might have disagreed with their union’s view had to stand on chairs in this unfair and intimidatory method of counting votes and were force to ‘legitimise’ this deviation from the constitution.

‘There was a similar travesty when the Congress “debated” the expulsion of NUMSA and Zwelinzima Vavi. It was a foregone conclusion, which fully vindicated their decision not to appeal. Despite a courageous effort by FAWU and SACCAWU to raise all the arguments against the expulsion of 340,000 members, they were totally ignored and the decision to expel was bulldozed through the Congress through a vote that showed that less than half of the delegates actually participated in the farce.

‘We reiterate what we have been saying for the past three years: there can be no unity to the exclusion of NUMSA now 380,000 members, there can be no unity with the exclusion of other purged members now represented by DEMAWUSA, MATUSA, SAPSU, NTM, FUWO, many others who have been resigning from the unions in despair.’

It was only after this assessment that the 9 plus unions made a call that the Workers Summit be amended to reflect a discussion on the formation of a new federation. A Workers Summit has since been held at the end of April where 9 principles that would help us build a new federation were agreed upon. These principles include that affiliated unions must be independent from the employers and political parties but must not be apolitical. And that affiliated unions must truly be democratic and worker-controlled not through congress declarations but through daily practices. I know this congress must now consider this recent history and decide on the way forward.

My honest view comrades is that with this detail presented there can be no turning back from where we are. FAWU can’t go back to COSATU because there is no COSATU to go back to. They have killed the Federation of Elijah Barayi, Jay Naidoo, Liz Abrahams, Oscar Mpetha, and Ray Alexander.

What exists now is the Federation of Sidumo Dlamini, Michael Makwayiba, Lieutenant General Zizamele Cebekhulu and Mugwena Maluleke. There is one thing they all have in common. They were not there when COSATU was formed. They have nothing to show in terms of their own involvement in a struggle against apartheid and its bosses. In fact some of the today’s leaders collaborated with that system declared a crime against humanity.

I may also add there is no tripartite alliance of independent organisations that exist capable of driving a revolution. There is no vanguard for a struggle for socialism. There is hardly any ANC that is truly working-class-biased pursuing a radical change in line with the Freedom Charter demand that says wealth and land shall be shared.

So I urge you to take careful consideration of all I have raised today. We must not lose hope. We must be brave. It is time to forge a new path to rebuilding the power and strength of the working class, in its fight back against poverty and exploitation. It is time to reach out to all unorganised workers, whether they are permanent or casual, formal or informal. We need to go back to the basics of organising and servicing, but with new insights and understandings of what solidarity amongst workers means.

Amongst other challenges, you as FAWU have a massive challenge ahead to organise farm workers across South Africa. You need to think about what kind of real solidarity and support you need from other organised workers in order to achieve this.

Zwelinzima Vavi