Analyst: Infighting could split Cosatu

Cosatu is facing one of its biggest challenges to date as the Zwelinzima Vavi saga rages on.

Suspended Cosatu General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: Sapa

CAPE TOWN - Political analyst Nick Boraine believes the Zwelinzima Vavi saga is aimed at weakening the Congress of the South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) ahead of the elections.

Zwelinzima Vavi was recently suspended as the trade union's secretary general after he admitted to sleeping with a subordinate.

The woman initially accused Vavi of rape but later withdrew the claims.

Vavi has indicated he plans to fight the suspension as he maintains he did not break any Cosatu rules.

Boraine told 702's Midday Report that Cosatu is at a crossroads.

"The factions are taking decisions that could split Cosatu. I think it's quite unexpected. I think the ANC-led alliance with Cosatu has always allowed a very wide kind of debate in Cosatu and kept the whole thing together. It's been a very creative dynamic of the ruling alliance, if you like.

I think what we're seeing is a function of a leadership that increasingly has a very narrow and tighter grip and therefore in my mind a more brittle grip.

It looks like these attempts are to get Vavi's views out of the ruling alliance so that those who control the ruling alliance will be able to fight any election without any noise.

I think it's a sign of weakness not a sign of strength. If they succeed in doing this, they narrow their hegemonic influence over the whole ruling alliance and ultimately over the working class and the rest of society."

Meanwhile, three unions including the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) have called for a special Cosatu congress to decide on a way forward in the Vavi saga.

Boraine says Vavi does not have enough support to have the latest decisions overturned.

"However, if you took it down to the vote on the ground, members of those member unions, I think there's a wide spread speculation that Vavi has enough popular support to win it.

At a conference like that, I think the expectation would be that Vavi, like he did at the September conference last year, will survive any attempt to unseat him. The broader the base in which the decision is made, the more likely he is to survive."

At the same time, National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has called for Sdumo Dlamini's head as they have accused the Cosatu president of prejudging Vavi.

Numsa has made it clear it supports Vavi and believes his claim that the whole saga is politically motivated.