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Cosatu's future questioned

The trade union federation suspended Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi on Wednesday.

FILE: Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: SAPA

JOHANNESBURG - Questions surrounding the future of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) have emerged following the suspension of its General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on Wednesday.

The trade union federation's Central Executive Committee met to decide whether action should be taken against Vavi for having sex with a younger Cosatu employee, who initially accused him of rape.

He has also been accused of hiring the woman through improper procedures.

Vavi, who has been with the federation for nearly 13 years was suspended pending an internal investigation.

The 26-year-old employee withdrew a charge of rape at a formal hearing into the matter last month after initially claiming Vavi forced himself onto her in January.

However, the General Secretary has maintained they had consensual sex.

Vavi and his allies have claimed his opponents have used this incident as a motive to oust him from the federation.

Behind closed doors, deliberations over Vavi's conduct and whether he is fit to keep his job went on for several hours.

Some Cosatu affiliates backing Vavi did not want the special meeting to go ahead knowing that his political future was at risk.

But whatever was debated between his accusers and backers, the final vote went against him.

Sources close to the meeting have confirmed the suspension and Cosatu is expected to officially confirm it via a statement later today.

SPLIT COULD CAUSE MAJOR INSTABILITY

Vavi's allies will be furious at the decision which could create a split within Cosatu that might see some unions leave.

A split in Cosatu could lead to a major realignment in South African politics as it seems unlikely those unions would still support the ANC.

Already, leaders of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said they will ask their members to discuss leaving Cosatu at their December conference.

A rift could also lead to more instability in the country's industrial relations as it will cause unions to compete with each other more often.

Over the last few days, Vavi's allies including the Food and Allied Workers Union, the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) and Numsa have thrown their support behind Vavi.

Samwu general secretary Walter Theledi said he believes there are attempts within the union to oust Vavi.

"We believe that there is probably a concerted effort to get rid of our General Secretary."

Numsa said on Monday that those who want to take action against Vavi for having sex with a younger Cosatu employee are politically motivated.

Numsa's Deputy General Secretary Karl Cloete said this issue has the potential to completely divide Cosatu.

"Unless we handle things maturely, comradely and properly, there is indeed all the possibility of a split in Cosatu."