Is the suspended General Secretary of COSATU not his own worst enemy?


– He is tweeting, remarking, apologising, clarifying, pronouncing and defying himself into a status of former general secretary –


Niklos, on the subject of arrogance concluded “arrogance is a stray bullet from an unloaded gun”, I thought of this when I look at the unfolding saga of the General Secretary of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi and him in a sense spiralling out of control into a free fall of history. 


Let us attempt to unpack the saga in pursuit of where Vavi blundered, to see if there is substance in my claim that Vavi is his own worst enemy.


Firstly, it is perhaps important to ask again, who took this issue of Vavi’s inappropriate relations with a staff member to the media and for what reasons? It is clear that Zwelinzima Vavi took this matter to the media we may only surmise what he had hoped to attain in sympathy embrace. 


We are told this incident transpired in January 2013 yet it only surfaced late July, this means the objective of involving the media was not something contemplated in January or throughout the span of the transpired six months. In fact, there was no need for any of us to know about it until someone felt it important to draw the media into it.


Secondly, Vavi by no pressure from anyone in COSATU Leadership context admitted to an illicit affair exemplified in graphic ‘quickies’. He went to length to explain where and how this took place in definition of incident. Please note we are not dealing here with the affair, we dealing with the incident that Vavi provided the gory details. The affair is not in question because anyone may proverbially fall and prove particularly vulnerable in breaking morals one hold dear.  One therefore seek not to condemn Vavi or the woman in question for falling, that would not make sense.


The issue is not an affair in morality of definition; the issue is the admitted incident of inappropriate sexual relations of staff members of COSATU on COSATU premise.  


It was correct for him to admit the affair it was equally correct for him to admit the details of the specific incident yet in doing this he was preoccupied with the issue of a threatened rape claim. It is clear that in his mind the rape – claim threat naturally weighed heavier than a disciplinary hearing in organisational context. 


Thirdly, Vavi proverbially shot himself in the foot since in targeting to disprove the claim of rape he volunteered in sharing information such as where the incident took place, his concern at the time was to argue against the rape claim, which he correctly aimed to prove soluble yet in the process he admitted to the case he must face in organisational context.


The admission on the part of Vavi may not necessarily be sincere because it came as part of his defence against the rape claim. It could easily be argued that if there was no claimed rape and admission of misconduct may never have surfaced.


The fourth aspect where Vavi blunders is made evident in his prism of thinking on the subject matter of forgiveness, at least what forgiveness means, and how it must apply in this his incident. He unilaterally invokes a sense of morality mirrored in the construct of “forgiveness” as the correct response to his error. He constricts forgiveness in a one-dimensional sense stripped bare from any consequence. For Vavi forgiveness literally means, once I confess you must forgive and we move on, there is no case, no issue we back in the trenches dealing with COSATU issues.  


His suggestion that his family and relatives can deal with this issue better is not wrong as it relates to his personal morality on the home-front context,   yet he commits a fundamental error in superimposing this morality on COSATU as an organisation. He negates COSATU’s right to institute a constitutionally framed disciplinary process to deal with the issue of his indiscretion.


The suspended general secretary either has forgotten that COSATU as an organisation prescribes to certain codes and procedures on how to deal with this type of incident if it occurs in its environment. Alternatively, the suspended general secretary arrogates a right to be treated different to others only informed by his popularity.


One is not sure if Vavi is oblivious or suffers of selective amnesia as to how COSATU has dealt in time past with issues of this nature? If COSATU always accepted only an apology then Vavi is correct to assume an apology is all that is needed. If however COSATU’s policies and processes guided previous similar cases then can we allow the policies to dictate devoid of any inferences or loose emotional claims of victimhood? 


The fifth leg of Vavi’s personal war against himself is his love for pronouncements, public notifications, and expressing of views on the issue of his suspension even when it is not necessary. Vavi resorted to his tweeting once the rape claim faltered. 


His tweets as much a confirmation of his apology for the error of his ways, in no veiled sense expressed buoyancy and almost a victory salute. 


He committed two errors with this. The first is that he did not respect the independent assessors to pronounce on the developments of the case. He took it upon himself to pronounce on the status of the case. He acted as eyewitness news-reporter in attempt of almost giving his followers an immediate live coverage on the hearing. Secondly, he proved less sensitive to the seriousness of the charge in respect of organisation in assuming if he poked holes in the rape claim he will walk free from any claim of accountability for a deed he admitted performing during office hours on the premises of COSATU as an office bearer with a junior staff member.


It was not prudent of Vavi to engage in this regardless to how tempted he may have been to get even with his detractors. 


Perhaps Vavi spoke as the spokesperson of COSATU with one major difference he was in question and his misdeeds the subject of scrutiny making it not his place to speak. 


Vavi should have desist the temptation to pronounce because it conflates him as one who sees himself bigger than COSATU the organisation he was elected to serve.


Perhaps his tweeting and pronouncing send the wrong message that he was not sincere about the wrong he committed at the COSATU office. 


Vavi did not stop tweeting, his tweeting immediately after the controversial CEC  confirms again the issue of him pronouncing when he in the same breath apologises but takes a pungent snipe at those whom he claim don’t want to forgive him. 


“I committed an error & have profusely apologised to everyone hurt by my indiscretion. That was a right thing to do,” “I am relieved so many have accepted that apology and recognise that some remain unforgiving. Know others celebrating and rubbing salt.” “Thank you for the support – will say more later.”


Vavi’s sixth error was his force-focus of the disciplinary hearing on political conspiracy rhetoric hanger. This appears a faulty attempt to railroad COSATU’s right and legitimacy to institute a due disciplinary process on two of its employees. There is no question that in our murky political environment of conflated party and organised labour context, there are both friends and enemies.


So whilst this may be the case that some are laughing at his demise, and had hoped for this day to come, as a thorough political animal Vavi is all too aware of the environment he chose to make a career. He is not the first neither the last to experience this and simply could not have dreamt that the entire SA citizenry or at least everyone in the COSATU madly in love with him.



Vavi’s seventh blunder is he taking his political conspiracy theory to another level in making public the scantily clad in evidence and bereft in substance though salacious and sensational driven secret intelligence report. This ‘intelligence’ report conflates a string of names of people straddling the judiciary, former public officials / technocrats, politicians as all part of a group of people financed by apparently a USA based NED Organisation. The report it is claimed concerns itself with the destabilising of South Africa’s political landscape in apparently funding individuals and organisations to challenge the ANC – Zuma led administration.


I am not at liberty to advance an opinion on the veracity of these so called ‘intelligence’ reports, suffice to say this cannot become the epicentre of the COSATU disciplinary hearing but should serve in a different forum.


Vavi was suspended or put on special leave, pending the receiving of the report of the independent assessors. One of the conditions of suspension or special leave restricts Vavi from addressing any COSATU affiliates, yet Vavi swayed by the energy of the NUMSA’s General Secretary Irvin Jim and others to address a NUMSA gathering. Vavi did this he claims in his personal capacity. We still do not know what that means, but it is more important to ask what Vavi says when he addresses these forums.


Lastly, Vavi simply cannot resist the need to pronounce, or to pass a remark. This past weekend, the suspended general secretary and erstwhile spokesman of COSATU took the liberty to speak in his vernacular in the Eastern Cape. This time the object of his vituperative remarks in reference on the woman, he shared inappropriate relations included the IsiXhosa word ‘nopatazana’, a word that for gender activist Nomboniso Gasa refers to ‘a street woman of loose morals’


As soon as the suspended COSATU general secretary realised his mistake he apologised. Yet his apology rings hollow and remains rejected in some circles that he least expected he may get challenge from. Gasa challenges Vavi in her response tweet in highlighting the dichotomy when Vavi can apologise for the remark in saying ‘it is interesting that you speak of consensual sex & yet you refer to her as a girl. Is your use of “girl’ to emphasize your power/ seniority? I am concerned, in some way, with absence of modicum of respect’


Others like Mbuyiselo Botha the Sonke Gender Justice official said of Vavi’s remark, “It does not help in the fight against the abuse of women…. The statement is demeaning, sexist, insensitive, and humiliating to women.”

The Commission for gender Equality spokesperson, Javu Baloyi cautions those in position of power must desist from making statements that undermine the dignity of others’.


It appears the suspended COSATU general secretary simply cannot resist the temptation to speak, tweet, or pronounce on the very matter he brought to the media. He seems trapped without a microphone and flashing cameras in this turbulent season of labour politics and wage negotiations a time Vavi usually was very visible and captured the news bulletins of the SABC and all other independents news media.



One cannot help but assuming no one regrets his misdeed more than Vavi himself, perhaps not for genuine remorse as to be expected but from being gagged to speak what he for more than 14 years have done on behalf of COSATU.


At this rate, that the suspended COSATU general secretary is going we should expect many more remarks, tweets, clarifications and many more apologies because Vavi does talking best and being denied that is torture of the greatest degree.   


It seems Zwelinzima Vavi is talking, remarking, tweeting and defying himself out of the labour world into what I choose to call a free fall of historic labour leadership at least if COSATU is the structure.


Will we soon be talking of the former general secretary of COSATU; at the rate Vavi is rattling, it seems he is talking himself into that status with relative ease.


In the end, it seems justified to argue Vavi is perhaps is own worst enemy and in the quietness of the moment, he warrants admitting to himself, jaa-neh you really gagged yourself…


Clyde N.S Ramalaine