The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the nation’s largest labor grouping and a ruling-party ally, suspended General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who admitted to having an extra-marital affair with a colleague.
“He has been suspended pending a disciplinary process,” Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, said by phone today. The decision was taken yesterday by Cosatu’s leadership.
Cosatu is in a political alliance with the ruling African National Congress and its 21 affiliate unions have been split over whether to oust Vavi, a vocal critic of the policies of President Jacob Zuma’s government. With elections due to take place by July next year, the ANC is seeking to maintain the alliance’s unity and has called for the spat to be resolved.
A subordinate employee accused Vavi of raping her, an allegation that was subsequently withdrawn at a July 29 internal Cosatu inquiry. While Vavi admitted to having sex with the woman at the federation’s head office in Johannesburg, he said their affair was consensual and she had demanded 2 million rand ($201,000) from him not to make it public.
Vavi “hasn’t been fired, and his supporters are probably still better off fighting from the inside,” Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “I do think more aggressive action against Vavi could split Cosatu and thereby fracture part of the ruling alliance. Either way, Cosatu emerges a weaker political force, less effective at campaigning for the ANC in 2014.”
Zuma, a polygamist who twice admitted to having extra-marital affairs, won an overwhelming victory for a second term as ANC leader in December. Several of his other opponents have also been sidelined, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who was ousted as the ANC’s deputy leader in December, and Julius Malema, who headed the party’s youth wing prior to his expulsion in March last year.
“Would Vavi have faced a disciplinary hearing if he was a Zuma cheerleader?” Pierre de Vos, a law professor at the University of Cape Town, said in a Twitter post. “Not in a million years. They would have turned a blind eye to abuse.”
Cosatu’s affiliates have a combined membership of about 2.2 million. The South African Municipal Workers Union and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have both issued statements in support of Vavi.
Numsa tried unsuccessfully to get yesterday’s meeting canceled.
The “meeting was not supposed to have happened because it was convened unconstitutionally,” Jim said. “You can’t have a situation where you go to a meeting without knowing what will be discussed then get there and be bulldozed to accept a decision that has been taken. We will meet today to discuss what Numsa will do given the outcome.”
The South African Democratic Teachers Union suspended its president, Thobile Ntola, for giving Vavi a platform to address its members and telling journalists the union accepted his apology for having an affair, Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian newspaper reported on Aug. 13, citing Ntola. Sadtu spokeswoman Nomusa Cembi said yesterday she was unable to comment on the matter.
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