Cosatu: Our fight will continue

Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was placed on indefinite special leave on Wednesday.

FILE: Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi holds a news conference in Johannesburg on Thursday, 31 May 2012. Picture:SAPA

JOHANNESBURG - The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says its decision to place General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on special leave will in no way affect its fight for better wages for workers.

Vavi was placed on indefinite special leave on Wednesday following a meeting by the federation's Central Executive Committee.

Vavi, who has been general secretary for nearly 13 years, admitted to having consensual sex with a more junior Cosatu employee. The woman withdrew her complaint after initially accusing him of rape.

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

On Thursday, Cosatu announced that Vavi and the staff member would go through a disciplinary process and be given the opportunity to state their cases.

The union said both have been placed on special leave but many view the sanctions as being indefinite suspensions.

"The recent events surrounding the General Secretary will in no way affect the campaigning work which Cosatu is doing and will certainly not mean any change in policy," said Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven.

However, one of Cosatu's affiliates, the Food and Allied Workers' Union (Fawu), is standing by its call for a special congress to allow workers the opportunity to decide on Vavi's future.

It has also questioned the legitimacy of the meeting during which Vavi was suspended.

Fawu's Katishi Masemola said it was unclear if it was called by Cosatu's national office bearers or by its affiliates.

Masemola said his union would attempt to nullify the entire process. He added the union's senior leadership would meet on Sunday to discuss a way forward.

"We have convened an urgent meeting on Sunday at which we will be weighing the options of what kind of action we should take in getting the meeting to be nullified."

However, Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini maintains the meeting was constitutionally convened.

He hasn't given a date for when that process would start but emphasised that everyone involved must be treated equally.

Fawu, the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have thrown their support behind Vavi over the last few days.

His allies have expressed concern that the decision to discipline Vavi could cause a rift within Cosatu that might see some unions breaking away from the federation.

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.