If ever anyone was in doubt about the power which has largely lain idle in the hands of Zwelinzima Vavi, the former supremo of trade union federation Cosatu, as a political force in this country, those ideas are due to be dispelled before the end of next month.
Before Cosatu’s central executive committee voted to expel him as general secretary by an overwhelming majority just over two years ago, Vavi was the voice of one of the key players in the ruling tripartite alliance.
He has never been afraid to speak out on often controversial issues. His criticism of the expulsion of metalworkers’ union Numsa by Cosatu is cited as a major contributory factor in Vavi’s personal ousting.
But Vavi has continued to expand his power base and will be able to count on 1 800 delegates from 21 unions, representing 684 865 members, when SA’s newest trade union federation is launched in Boksburg.
That is a significant number of potential voters and if persistent rumours over the past two years have any credence and Vavi and his supporters move up a notch from unionism to pure politics in the guise of a labour-orientated party, they will have significant clout before the 2019 general elections.
It is also more than just a likelihood that the Vavi faction could gain additional support – and numbers – from the emasculated ranks of Cosatu, further enhancing his credentials as a significant role player.
It could also tip the balance away from the once monolithic ANC, a party busy tearing itself apart through factionalism and mixed agendas.
Vavi fired the first significant salvo as the convener of the new federation’s steering committee this week, vehemently opposing the planned nuclear power deal, saying it “opens up space for political hyenas to engage in primitive accumulation”.
More broadsides are sure to follow.