On the 13th and the 14th of July 2015 COSATU held its Special National Congress after nearly two years since NUMSA and other affiliates called for it. The special national congress was to allow COSATU’s highest and most democratic decision-making structure to deal decisively with the conflict and divisions in the federation. But after the expulsion of NUMSA and later COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, the narrative changed for those affiliates who felt that both Vavi and NUMSA were hard done by.
As a build up to the congress COSATU’s National office Bearers were supposed to draw up the agenda but the discussions in executive meetings were so divisive some unions ended up boycotting them. As the General Secretary of FAWU, Katishi Masemola noted “debate has been replaced by voting” in the Central Executive Committee (CEC) planning of the Special Congress.
COSATU’s Special Congress stalled on the very first day as delegates refused to adopt the credentials report due to the status of COSATU second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi and Liberated Metal Workers Union LIMUSA’s presence at the congress. Most of the bickering took place behind closed doors as the media was locked out.
Later in the evening when COSATU President Sdumo Dlamini and second Deputy President Zingiswa Losi came to give the media an update, they were uptight and reluctant to answer questions. Asked about the issue of voting by show of hands COSATU President simply said, “It was Congress’ decision” and quickly ended the impromptu press conference.
Steven Rakolle of SACCAWU believes COSATU is even more divided now because the congress didn’t deal with the issue of cohesion and unity, but concentrated on issues outside of the congress, like politics. People who were willing to talk to the media were few and far between. Apparently the delegates were not allowed to speak to the media freely. One of the delegates from KZN even said he ”do not want to be seen talking to the media,” but he did not elaborate why.
Another blow to the rebel unions came when Communication Workers Union announced their withdrawal from the 9 plus unions. In a letter written to 9 plus members CWU deputy general secretary Thabo Mogalane said, “Communication Workers Union, CWU resolved in a meeting held on the 12 of July 2015 that CWU should withdraw from 9 Plus…”
It seems as if the unity and cohesion message and theme of the special congress was achieved through closing ranks and micromanaging. A Nehawu shopsteward who did not want to disclose his identity for fear of reprisal told Elitsha that the unions’ members at the congress were regimented.
“We were controlled so that people don’t speak against the union’s position. We were not even allowed to speak to members from other unions even to those unions that are on our side. There were private security guards and ANC delegates that were watching us. The union leaders would tell people who were they with and what they were doing. That intimidated a lot of us. They told us if we misbehave, we would be sent back home,” said the Western Cape based shopsteward.
“When it came to voting, they did not allow secret ballot voting. We had to vote by show of hands. We were seated according to unions and we had union leadership standing next to us as we were voting. They were watching those who were not putting their hands up. There were no discussions on the mandate and we were not allowed to participate in the plenary.”
All of the claims made by the NEHAWU shopsteward were independently confirmed by a Free State based POPCRU shopsteward. “This is exactly what happened to us”. The NEHAWU shopsteward told Elitsha that a NEHAWU member from Mpumalanga who was talking against the union position was told that the union was going to deal with him”.
From where things stand at the moment, it seems that it will take a miracle to have Zwelinzima Vavi reinstated. NUMSA is not coming back soon either. The 9 plus rebel unions’ unity is waning with DENOSA straddling the factions and now CWU joining them. FAWU is slowly becoming the lone voice for the 9plus unions. As things stand the writing is on the wall of a divided and weakened Cosatu come December if its National Congress does take place.
Currently Numsa and Vavi are also mobilizing towards a Workers’ Summit which will have its main point on the agenda the formation of a new federation that will rival Cosatu.