The leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the nation’s largest labor grouping and a ruling party ally, will decide today whether to discipline its general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who admitted to having an extra-marital affair with a subordinate.
“The meeting of the central executive committee is to take place today,” Tahir Sema, spokesman for South African Municipal Workers Union, one of the federation’s 21 affiliate unions, said by phone from Johannesburg. “They would discuss the Vavi matter.”
Cosatu is in a political alliance with the ruling African National Congress and its affiliates 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 needs to maintain the alliance’s unity and has called for the spat to be resolved.
Vavi’s colleague accused him of raping her, an allegation that was subsequently withdrawn at a July 29 internal Cosatu inquiry.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 ($200,000) from him not to make it public.
The South African Democratic Teachers Union yesterday 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’s Mail & Guardian newspaper reported yesterday, citing Ntola. Sadtu spokeswoman Nomusa Cembi said she was unable to comment on the matter.
The municipal workers’ union and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have both issued statements in support of Vavi. Numsa, Cosatu’s biggest affiliate with more than 300,000 members, tried unsuccessfully to get today’s meeting canceled.
Numsa’s comments “imply that Cosatu will split if he is summarily axed,” Business Day, the country’s biggest daily finance paper, said in an editorial today. “That could be mere grandstanding” as union leaders are aware of the importance of keeping the alliance intact, the newspaper said.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone or e-mails seeking comment.