Suspension of Vavi as COSATU General Secretary

The suspension of COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is a very disturbing development.  For quite some time there has been a struggle underway within the Congress of South African Trade Unions specifically, and more generally within the South African progressive movement. It is a struggle that revolves around the direction of what has been called in South Africa the “national democratic revolution,” i.e., the effort to transform South Africa away from the racial capitalism of apartheid.

Over the years since liberation (1994) the direction of the African National Congress has been one in line with neo-liberal globalization, despite the left-leaning rhetoric periodically issued.  The tension around the neo-liberalism of the ANC leadership has resulted in a series of fissures including within the three organizations that make up the tripartite alliance: the African National Congress, Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.

In the last several years struggles have broken out within each of these organizations over the direction of the country and, specifically, whether and how to challenge the ANC leadership.  In COSATU, General Secretary Vavi has been associated with those who have been highly critical of the ANC leadership and the office of, first, South African President Mbeki and now South African President Zuma.  Challenging Vavi has been a bloc of those within the SACP and COSATU who have aligned themselves most recently with President Zuma even when that alignment appears to be at odds with the demands of the masses.

Below is a statement by the Democratic Left Front, an organizational initiative started several years ago to group together South African leftists who, whether they happen to be in other groups, e.g., the SACP, believe that a broader Left unity is essential, and a left unity that believes that the national democratic revolution must be pursued along with a struggle for socialism.  The statement reads as follows:


15 August 2013


As expected the COSATU Central Executive Committee took a decision to suspend Vavi, its general secretary. An internal probe will now sit and in all likelihood find him guilty of bringing COSATU into disrepute and he will be permanently removed from the leadership of COSATU.

Women’s abuse is a very serious offence. Abuse of power is very serious. No-one should be above the law. In this case Vavi’s guilt has not been established. And it is obvious that the rapid and determined way some in the CEC went about taking up this issue is part of the bigger campaign to rid COSATU of Vavi’s leadership. If Vavi, or any official is guilty of serious abuse the workers movement must act principally.


However, COSATU has for a long time left the plane of principle and the defense of working class political interests. In the 1990s the leadership of COSATU was captured by a political faction that has subordinated the independence of the labour movement to political interests of the ruling ANC.  This faction has a name: the South African Communist Party. At the ANC’s Mangaung conference this faction ensured the ANC clinched tighter control of COSATU by ensuring senior leaders sitting in its national leadership where now in the ANC National Executive Committee. Thus reflecting a desperation and realisation that cooping worker leaders through giving them seats in parliament was not enough to ensure control. The politics of control of the SACP/ANC sacrificed working class independence for an accommodation with capital and big business with disastrous results for workers.

As could have been expected the transition from Apartheid, where working class independence was subordinated to the so-called national interest, the position of the working class and the poor has suffered. Unemployment has more than doubled, large sector of the employed has been informalised and consequently the wage share in the national income has declined as against profits. South Africa has become one of the most unequal countries in the world.

This un-principled politics took its worst form with COSATU liquidating itself into the campaign to have Jacob Zuma elected President of the ANC.

Vavi’s, suspension comes after he, together with several principled leaders in COSATU and its affiliates started to reposition COSATU to fight for workers against capital and the state. Since 2010 COSATU has made the “predatory elite” and the threat of the emergence of a “predatory state” a major target. Potentially powerful campaign were launched against corruption, labour brokers, “the jobs blood baths”, e-tolls. Government policies such as the New Growth Path and National Development Plan were criticised. This was not just an attack against the ANC leadership but the leadership of the SACP that had liquidated itself into the  Zuma-led state and now occupyingied major position in Cabinet positions and at every level of government. The turn away from ZUMA  was also a challenge to business unions inside COSATU, linked to the SACP/ANC faction trying to control COSATU,  and engaging in shady BEE deals behind the backs of workers

For this reason, even before, COSATU’s 2012 Congress the SACP/ANC faction in COSATU has run a campaign to get rid of Vavi. Now they may have succeeded.

However, the global crisis, the deepening crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality will force principled leadership in COSATU, such as that of NUMSA to continue the struggle and to continue to fight for COSATU’s independence and working class independence – with or without Vavi.

The crisis of many affiliates in COSATU in the form of corruption, sweetheart relations with management, lack of servicing of its members, bureaucratisation, etc. which Vavi was trying to arrest will inevitably lead to further splits and fragmentation of the labour movement.

Vavi’s suspension is not the end of the story. It will accelerate a process of re-organisation and re-alignment of the labour movement in South Africa. As the DLF we expect to play a major role in assisting the renewal of militant anti-capitalist trade unionism. We call on workers to reclaim their unions from below through worker control and we call on NUMSA to convene its long declared commitment to a Conference of the Left. Out of the wreckage will emerge a renewed labour movement capturing the spirit of principled trade unionism, namely of working class independence, solidarity and militant struggle.


Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi may very well be found playing a critical role in this renewal.


For further comment

Noor Nieftagodien (082) 4574103

Matthews Hlabane (082) 7079860

Brian Ashley (082)085 7088

Vishwas Satgar (082) 7753420

Ayanda Kota (078) 6256462

One thought on “Suspension of Vavi as COSATU General Secretary

  1. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for sharing this. The struggle clearly continues. I always liked Vavi for not becoming and ANC leader and for taking on government corruption and labour brokers. These are key issues for working people of SA.

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