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Is Cosatu’s special national congress a farce?

Jul 14 2015 08:13
Terry Bell

Midrand - Day One of the Cosatu special congress in Midrand started more than an hour late and was something of an organisational, public relations and political shambles. However, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini ended the day by lauding the congress as a process in which “Cosatu was the winner”.   

His speech was delivered shortly after 22:00 and was largely directed at the few members of the media contingent who had been invited into the hall after being locked out for the best part of nine hours. Obviously aware that many of the delegates who had earlier left the congress, would have painted a less than rosy picture of events, Dlamini started off by saying he wanted “to set the record straight”.

He was aware, he said, that the media would have been given “a lot of wrong information” by delegates who had left. They were not supposed to speak to the media, but he was aware that they did.

So, to cheers from perhaps 60% of the more than 2 500 delegates and officials who remained, he assured the media that there had been “no blood on the floor”. Delegates had participated in a process in which they “had to engage and persuade each other” with the result that “we are determined to achieve what we want to achieve”.

He glossed over the length of time the more than 100-strong media contingent had been barred from the congress, painting a picture of robust debate and unity. Earlier, as we were being shepherded from the hall, the explanation was that media could not attend because “sensitive issues” were to be discussed.

These “issues” fell under the heading of “credentials”, an item allotted 15 minutes in the original timetable for the congress. The item concerned which delegates should be accredited and allowed to vote.

Two such “issues” were initially tabled: whether or not delegates from the newly created metalworkers’ union, Limusa, should be accepted and whether the second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi, was constitutionally entitled to continue to hold her post. A third issue, the adoption of an agenda or programme followed.

This verbal sparring was, however, a proxy battle in the ongoing war between those unions and trade union members supporting the reinstatement in Cosatu of metalworkers’ union Numsa and of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.  Limusa was established in the wake of the Cosatu executive’s expulsion of Numsa and is headed by general secretary Cedric Gina who was formally the president of Numsa.

Losi was a Numsa representative on the Cosatu executive who left the union at the same time as Gina. Within weeks, she was adopted as a shop steward (a necessary qualification for the executive position in Cosatu), by police and prisons union, Popcru.

Although there was a call for a secret ballot on these issues, and on the numerous disputes leading up to them, “show of hands” voting was decided on, with 2 058 votes to be cast.  There was a clear majority in support of Limusa and Losi and the final count was 1 731 in favour, 226 against, with 253 abstentions, giving a total of 2 231 or 73 more votes than were supposed to have been cast.

During some of the voting, a number of delegates, including Communication Workers’ Union general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala, were outside the hall and blocked from entering.  

As a result of the manner in which the closed congress was conducted, the voting procedure and the barring of media, there was much of what Dlamini called “wrong information” delivered by a number of delegates.  

It ranged from comments about the congress being a farce or a joke to predictions that “Cosatu is now dead”. It obviously is not, but it is perfectly clear that the federation remains deeply divided.

What also seems clear is that it would almost certainly be impossible for the agenda items listed — including two where the expulsions issue would have been raised — to be completed. The likelihood, therefore, is that much of the business of this special national congress will be held over to the scheduled congress in November.

* Fin24 Inside Labour columnist Terry Bell is covering the congress exclusively for Fin24.

cosatu  |  numsa  |  zwelinzima vavi
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