Under the Congress of SA Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) constitution, its president had to call a special national congress if a third of affiliated unions called for one, acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali told reporters in Johannesburg.
This was one of the matters discussed at a central executive committee (CEC) meeting held from Monday to Wednesday.
Ntshalintshali said Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini would need to deal with the practicalities, such as the cost and timing of the congress, and the state of the affiliates.
A progress report would be made to the CEC in November.
Ntshalintshali dismissed as “false” media reports that the CEC had called for the special conference.
He did not give the affiliates’ reasons for calling for the special congress.
At the CEC meeting this week it was confirmed that decisions taken at the meeting on August 14 were unanimous and binding on all affiliates.
It was at this meeting that it was decided that general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi would be placed on special leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing into an affair he had with a junior employee.
“The meeting condemned in the strongest terms possible the use of pejorative and degrading language towards women comrades, such as the derogatory term used by the general secretary about a Cosatu employee,” Ntshalintshali said.
Vavi recently referred to her as “that nopatazana” (roughly translated from Xhosa as a woman of low morals) during a family meeting.
Asked whether Vavi’s suspension letter included a restriction on addressing workers or meetings, Dlamini said it did.
“The general secretary is relieved from performing his duties as the general secretary of the federation. That is very clear… As he is on special leave, the general secretary of Cosatu is not expected to address workers and go into meetings of workers, as in the Numsa case.”
On Friday, Vavi said he was joining the National Union of Metalworkers of SA’s (Numsa) court attempt to have the CEC meeting which decided on his suspension, declared “unconstitutional”
Last Tuesday, Numsa’s application was postponed after the High Court in Johannesburg allowed an application to intervene by seven opposing unions.
As to whether further charges would be pursued against Vavi beyond those which caused his suspension, Dlamini said the matter was being looked into.
“The CEC has mandated a process of investigation into further charges… That process is still going on.”
He declined to say what charges Vavi faced.
On the African National Congress’s announced on Tuesday that it was creating a task team to help Cosatu resolve its problems, Dlamini said the federation welcomed any assistance that would help unify it.
“What encouraged the ANC task team? [They were] concerned that Cosatu may not be doing what is expected of Cosatu, concerned about the… real or perceived split in the federation. They don’t want to say ‘We stood and did nothing’,” he said.
Ntshalintshali described Numsa’s decision to approach the courts as “very painful”.
However, he hoped internal solutions could be found to address differences within the trade union federation.
“We are praying the unions that take us to court will reconsider,” said the acting general secretary.
Regarding when the special congress would be held, Ntshalintshali said the president had 14 days to apply his mind to the special congress, the congress’s agenda, and other logistical issues.
He said the Cosatu constitution did not specify when the congress would be held.
Dlamini appealed to media to not contact him while he “applied his mind”.
“Don’t call me, I will call you,” he said.
He had not yet received the affiliates’ letters asking for the special congress, so he could not speak about what would be on its agenda.
Dlamini said from what he understood, they had different reasons and that each of these needed to be addressed.
Addressing the issue of Cosatu members also sitting on the ANC national executive committee (NEC), Ntshalintshali said: “It was a resolution of Cosatu that it was encouraged Cosatu [members] also serve as members of the NEC of the ANC.”
Dlamini said he had not wanted to become a member of the ANC NEC, but did so given that it was a Cosatu resolution.
“I didn’t want to serve on the ANC NEC… I had to listen… You have no choice,” he said.
Vavi’s spokesman John Dludlu said in a statement on Thursday that he had noted speculation about his possible breach of the conditions of his suspension and that he could face additional charges.
“We wish to place it on record that we are unaware of further charges and, indeed, no charges have been brought to our attention to date,” said Dludlu.
“… Hopefully, this will end the intrigue and various interpretations about the conditions.”