Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi is back in the fold, and being compelled to wave the ruling party’s pom-poms.
Contrary to the public relations script of a ceasefire following a shaky truce, Cosatu has resorted to compelling its reluctant general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, to read from prepared notes and tell the ANC’s “good story” in what is left of the election campaign.
Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said on Thursday that Vavi, who has yet to publicly pronounce his support for the ANC following his previous stated disapproval of the party’s direction, will be forced to convince workers to vote ANC during a May Day rally in Port Elizabeth.
A senior ANC leader in Gauteng said two weeks ago that he would share the stage with Vavi to help the ruling party retain the province.
Vavi’s profile and support among the workers, one of the ANC’s key constituencies, is crucial to a ruling party facing its toughest poll since 1994.
However, on Wednesday a person known to be Vavi’s closest ally was resolute about the fact that the embattled Cosatu general secretary had vowed not to campaign for the ANC, as he believed that doing so would compromise his credibility.
Difficult to campaign
Vavi has stated previously that he would find it difficult to campaign for the ANC, as he said the party has failed to create decent jobs.
He has also publicly criticised the spending of R246-million to upgrade President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla, the ANC’s decision to adopt the National Development Plan, the party’s refusal to ban labour brokers and the introduction of e-tolls in Gauteng.
Said Vavi’s ally: “How does [Vavi] campaign for the ANC with all [its] anti-worker policy without compromising his credibility? It would be like committing class suicide.”
But Dlamini is adamant that Vavi will carry forward the mandate of Cosatu and campaign for the ANC.
“We are in full swing, campaigning for the ANC,” said Dlamini. “Vavi is deployed in Port Elizabeth for the May Day [rally]. Everyone [including Vavi] is expected to speak to the script.”
Support versus criticism
Dlamini’s faction in Cosatu supported Jacob Zuma’s second term as ANC president in 2012, while Vavi’s faction criticised Zuma’s leadership.
The prepared notes, according to Dlamini, touch on the gains made over the past 20 years under the ANC government, as well as during the five years under Zuma.
“All our leaders will tell workers why it is important to vote for the ANC,” said Dlamini. “We should tell them we expect the ANC to implement issues that we have raised, like a total ban on labour brokers and fixing the economic chapter of the National Development Plan. No other party can implement those issues.”
He said Vavi had also agreed during the Cosatu’s top officials’ meeting on Wednesday to be deployed in the Eastern Cape this coming weekend to campaign for the ANC.
“No one said no to the deployment. He [Vavi] is mandated by the central executive committee and the [top officials] to perform the functions of Cosatu,” said Dlamini.
Vavi could not be reached to respond to these allegations.
So far, Vavi, who was suspended by Cosatu but reinstated by the Johannesburg high court, has managed to stay away from ANC events. But May Day is D-day for him.
The federation’s hardline approach signals Dlamini’s impatience with Vavi’s apparent decision to keep a low profile after ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempt earlier this month to reconcile the warring factions within the federation.
Vavi faces the dilemma of either continuing his harsh tone against the ruling party and risking isolation after the elections, or betraying his angry supporters in the metalworkers union who want him to renounce the ANC.
Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has already warned Vavi that the knives are still out for him, and for the union.
“It does not matter if he campaigns or not. No amount of good or bad things will change the views of his enemies,” Jim said on Wednesday.
He said Vavi should deal with workers’ issues at the May Day rally on Thursday, rather than campaigning for the ANC.
Some of the metalworkers have angrily rejected the Ramaphosa ceasefire deal, adding to Vavi’s predicament.
On the other hand, Cosatu’s transport union warned Vavi that failure to campaign for the ANC would amount to him being a metalworkers’ puppet.
South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu said on Thursday: “We would be very worried if he [Vavi] is not taking the mandate from the main structure [Cosatu]. We are looking to him to address the May Day gathering and campaign for the ANC.”
On Wednesday, Vavi was still cagey regarding his support for the ANC and ambiguous about his loyalty towards the metalworkers.
“Numsa’s decisions don’t bind me. They are not Cosatu’s policies. They will become policies of the federation once they are adopted by the national congress of Cosatu,” Vavi told the Mail & Guardian.
Social media attacks
Vavi also took issue with some of the workers who had attacked him on social media.
“Attacks on my person by some or putting pressure on me to break ranks with Cosatu on its decision to support [the] ANC is not fair,” he tweeted.
Pressed on whether he would campaign for the ANC, Vavi was evasive. He wanted to see Cosatu united and would respect the ANC’s intervention process.
“I want to give it my best shot. I don’t want anyone to say I didn’t try hard [to resolve divisions in Cosatu]. But this unity is not unconditional. It can’t come at any price. We will strive for unity so that we can be a trade union which has workers’ interests at heart, not an extension of any political party,” he said.
He admitted that some of the workers are “sceptical about the ANC’s intervention”, and that this view is “not ill-informed”.
“They are asking me if the ANC would have intervened if the court did not find Cosatu’s decision to suspend me invalid. They are asking why the intervention is happening so close to the elections,” said Vavi.
Vavi was suspended from his position eight months ago after he admitted to having sex with a subordinate, but the decision was reversed earlier this month after the court found that Cosatu had not followed proper suspension procedures.
In response to his suspension, Numsa, Cosatu’s largest affiliate, resolved not to campaign for the ANC at its special congress in December last year.