Cosatu Hit by Turmoil over Zuma
Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliates have hit out at the federation's general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, over his apparent support for embattled Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
The affiliates cautioned Vavi yesterday against expressing his personal views on Zuma's presidential ambitions as these could be mistaken for those of the organisation, which had not decided whether or not to back Zuma.
The caution indicates a difference of opinion within Cosatu over whether Zuma should succeed President Thabo Mbeki as president of both SA and the ruling African National Congress (ANC). The row also casts doubt on claims that Zuma enjoys widespread Cosatu support.
Dumisa Ntuli, spokesman for the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), said whatever Vavi said reflected on Cosatu, and that he should therefore be careful about what views he expressed in public.
Ntuli said: "Vavi must be careful of what he says. He is a leader, and what he says reflects on the organisation."
Moferefere Lekorotsoana, spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), said Vavi should have been more circumspect about expressing his opinions on the succession issue.
"I don't think Vavi should be crucified for expressing his opinions, but maybe he should have been more tactful.
"What he says has an impact on how people perceive Cosatu and his views might sway people."
Numsa and the NUM are two of the biggest affiliates within Cosatu, which has about 1,7-million members.
Vavi came out in apparent support of Zuma's presidential ambitions on Monday, saying any effort to stop Zuma becoming ANC president in 2007 would be like "trying to fight against the big wave of a tsunami".
A defiant Vavi said yesterday he stood by his comments, and repeated that he was expressing only his opinion on the matter.
Asked about affiliates' concerns that his views could be mistaken for those of Cosatu, Vavi said: "Yes, I agree." But Vavi insisted that Zuma enjoyed the support of most Cosatu members.
"My view is my view. Zuma is unstoppable, and I hold strongly to that view," he said.
Vavi said he had no doubt which way the debate over Zuma's presidential ambitions would go within Cosatu.
"I know exactly how it (the debate) would go. It would go the Zuma way. My own judgment is that Zuma will win. I have no doubt about that," said Vavi.
However, a union official, who declined to be named, dismissed claims that Zuma was a friend of the unions or that he had not been badly affected by the corruption and fraud trial of his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik.
"It is not entirely true that Zuma is popular within the federation. The Shaik trial has dented Zuma's credibility, and Zuma has also never uttered a single word of support for Cosatu during its run-ins with the ANC and government. He is silent when Cosatu fights with Mbeki or the ANC," said the official.
But Moloantoa Molaba, spokesman for the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, said Zuma was always available to help resolve differences between Cosatu, the ANC and their South African Communist Party ally.
Molaba also said the row over Vavi's comments would not have arisen had Zuma's presidential ambitions not been contested.
"This is a complex thing, but Vavi is articulating the dominant view within Cosatu." However, Molaba said the dominant view could have been expressed differently, "not as crudely as Vavi has done it".
Molaba said the general view within Cosatu was that Zuma should replace Mbeki as ANC president in 2007 and as SA's first citizen in 2009.
Said Molaba in a statement later: "The dominant view of workers and activists in general is that comrade Jacob Zuma must be the next ANC president (and) therefore the president of SA, when the term of comrade Thabo Mbeki ends."
Another union official, who declined to be named, said Vavi's support of Zuma had to be understood in the context of intense jockeying for power ahead of Cosatu's congress next year and the ANC's conference in 2007.
But this was rejected by Thulas Nxesi, general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union.
"Msholozi (Zuma's clan name) is popular, that's it. What has the Zuma issue to do with the Cosatu congress? Vavi is popular in his own right. That analysis (that union leaders are jockeying for positions) is incorrect, unfounded and reactionary. It's trying to discredit Vavi."
With acknowledgements to Jacob Dlamini and the Business Day.