Pa­trick Craven gives an ‘in­sider’s view’ of the in­fight­ing and the fed­er­a­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to get rid of Zwelinz­ima Vavi

CityPress - - Business - DE­WALD VAN RENS­BURG de­wald.vrens­burg@city­

One of Cosatu’s long­est-serv­ing staffers has laid the blame for the fed­er­a­tion’s im­plo­sion squarely at the feet of the SA Com­mu­nist Party (SACP). Pa­trick Craven was Cosatu’s na­tional spokesper­son for more than a decade be­fore quit­ting last year to join ex­pelled me­tal­work­ers’ union Numsa and re­unite with his old boss, Zwelinz­ima Vavi, in the ef­fort to build a new fed­er­a­tion from scratch.

His book on the un­rav­el­ling of the fed­er­a­tion, The Bat­tle for Cosatu: An In­sider’s View, is on sale this week.

It chron­i­cles the pe­riod from 2011 to last year, dur­ing which time Cosatu was wracked with in­ter­nal bat­tles cen­tred on its then-gen­eral sec­re­tary Vavi and his in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal stance to­wards the tri­par­tite al­liance.

Vavi first got sus­pended in 2013 amid rape al­le­ga­tions, but was reap­pointed af­ter a court vic­tory.

The saga pre­cip­i­tated a his­toric split of the fed­er­a­tion, with its largest sin­gle mem­ber, Numsa, get­ting ex­pelled for its anti-ANC stance and then lead­ing a break­away that saw Cosatu re­duced to a ma­jor­ity state-em­ployee fed­er­a­tion.

Vavi was sum­mar­ily dis­missed last year af­ter he pub­licly sided with Numsa and the other sym­pa­thetic unions against the Cosatu lead­er­ship. Craven was there for all of it. Right off the bat, he squarely blames the SACP for what hap­pened.

“From start to fin­ish, there was a group of anti-Vavi and anti-Numsa hard­lin­ers within the SACP that never had any in­ten­tion of com­pro­mis­ing...” says Craven.

This in­cludes Cosatu pres­i­dent Sdumo Dlamini; Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion, Health and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union gen­eral sec­re­tary Fik­ile Ma­jola; Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM) pres­i­dent Sen­zeni Zok­wana; and NUM gen­eral sec­re­tary Frans Baleni.

All of them, and many more Cosatu lead­ers, si­mul­ta­ne­ously held SACP po­si­tions.

Ma­jola and Zok­wana both headed for govern­ment jobs in 2014 as well, which leads to an­other ma­jor theme in the book: the way Cosatu unions act as steplad­ders to political ca­reers.

“It can’t be co­in­ci­den­tal that these SACP heavy­weights were al­ways among the ini­tia­tors and in­tran­si­gent ad­vo­cates of the cam­paign to purge the fed­er­a­tion of ... [Vavi and Numsa],” Craven claims.

“And al­ways be­hind the scenes was Blade Nz­i­mande ... who was the very first to raise the political ar­gu­ments that came to dom­i­nate the dis­pute.”

The SACP’s historical dis­trust of in­de­pen­dently minded “work­erist” unions runs deep, says Craven.

By 2012, “with SACP lead­ers en­sconced in the cen­tre of state power, left op­po­si­tion within the unions was no longer just a ques­tion of dif­fer­ent views, but a chal­lenge to the pow­er­ful and priv­i­leged po­si­tion the party lead­er­ship had as­sumed”.

It was iron­i­cally the SACP that tried to re­duce Cosatu to a “labour desk” of the ANC and neuter left crit­i­cism of ev­ery­thing from e-tolls to the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan, ar­gues Craven.

Vavi was ac­cused of work­ing with the DA, work­ing with antigov­ern­ment non­govern­men­tal organisations, work­ing with Numsa against the NUM and many other things dur­ing a drawnout in­ter­nal bat­tle.

A ma­jor theme through­out Craven’s ac­count is the abuse of con­spir­acy the­o­ries to fight fac­tional bat­tles.

The in­ven­tion of ab­surd ac­cu­sa­tions to dis­credit op­po­nents is now so en­trenched in govern­ment, the ANC and the SACP that the coun­try will ba­si­cally never be able to re­spond if there is a real threat from a real con­spir­acy, he ar­gues.

As a Vavi man, Craven can’t avoid talk­ing about the one truly se­ri­ous mark against the man – his af­fair with a ju­nior em­ployee in Cosatu House, which led to an al­le­ga­tion of rape, an al­leged ex­tor­tion racket and, ul­ti­mately, Vavi’s sus­pen­sion in 2013.

“In ret­ro­spect, it might seem that this was when I should have taken the de­ci­sion to re­sign from the fed­er­a­tion, though at the time it was not some­thing that I was even con­sid­er­ing...” says Craven.

“I was, of course, to­tally op­posed to sex­ual acts within the work­place be­tween a se­nior and a ju­nior staff mem­ber.

“I was con­cerned that if I re­signed at that time – even though I was fully aware that the al­leged sex­ual mis­con­duct had been op­por­tunis­ti­cally seized on as an ex­cuse for Vavi’s op­po­nents to take the ac­tion they had wanted to do be­fore the in­ci­dent – this could be seen as my con­don­ing that be­hav­iour.”

He ul­ti­mately quit on the day that Cosatu sum­mar­ily dis­missed Vavi.

A press con­fer­ence was called to an­nounce the de­ci­sion and this was the “mo­ment of truth”, writes Craven.

He sim­ply packed up his things and left Cosatu House with­out telling any­one, rather than have to chair that press con­fer­ence. De­spite the ti­tle, Craven’s book isn’t re­ally an “in­sider’s view” as much as it is a sum­mary of the sad story that un­folded in South Africa’s news­pa­pers over a num­ber of years.

Bring­ing it all to­gether is a use­ful ex­er­cise, even if it is clearly from one par­ti­san side of the line. It is not writ­ten for ded­i­cated South African pol­i­tics-watch­ers. Ev­ery­thing from the Free­dom Char­ter to the lo­ca­tion of Marikana is given a brief Wikipedia-es­que ex­pla­na­tion.

Large seg­ments of the book, how­ever, still end up be­ing page-long quotes from news­pa­pers and pub­lic doc­u­ments such as Cosatu or ANC dec­la­ra­tions. The ul­ti­mate con­se­quences of the splits and purges that have given birth to a large num­ber of new non-Cosatu unions still need to play them­selves out.

The at­tempts to re­build Cosatu will, how­ever, fail, says Craven.

“Their hands are now tied be­hind their backs by a political lead­er­ship whose pri­or­i­ties are the same as those of their SACP al­lies – to talk left but to make sure that their crit­i­cisms are muted.”

IN­SIDE MAN Pa­trick Craven’s book re­flects on Cosatu’s in­ter­nal bat­tles

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