Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), emerged victorious on Thursday at the federation’s second conference held in Boksburg.
Despite attempts by the federation’s largest member, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), as well as his own people, Vavi avoided being booted from the position with 389 votes ahead of Moses Mautsoe, who received 300 votes.
The Independent Electoral Commission presided over voting, with results made known in the early hours of Thursday.
Numsa member Ruth Ntlokotse was elected president, defeating Mac Chavalala by 91 votes. Lecogo Motshwari returns as treasurer after defeating Lepheane Moeketsi. Luzipo Nontembeko narrowly won the deputy general secretary position by 357 votes against Moleko Phakedi’s 332 votes. Thabo Matsose was voted back and bumped up to become the firm president with 372 votes against Atwel Nazo’s 316. Mosima Maredi was elected second deputy president with 399 votes defeating Nomvume Ralarala, who received 289 votes.
Chavalala, previously Saftu’s president, Matsose, Lecogo and then deputy general secretary Phakedi were suspended earlier this year after pushing for the suspension of Vavi, on the strength of allegations that he was using union funds for his own gain.
Numsa and its general secretary, Irvin Jim, supported the motion at the conference to lift the suspension. On Wednesday, Jim said that should the four suspended national office bearers not be allowed to stand for re-election, Numsa would withdraw from the conference.
“We can subject this matter to another vote and waste time for this congress. Otherwise you can have a leadership of Saftu that is illegally and wrongfully suspended. They remain legitimate shop stewards,” said Jim.
He threatened to take the federation to court, arguing that the suspensions were not lawful.
Saftu was formed in 2017 by 24 unions with a total of 691 540 members. By August 2018 membership had increased to 725 078.
Vavi said membership numbers had dropped by about 79 000, which he called “extremely regrettable”, particularly because the federation had sought growth of one million members a year.
“The drop reflects the overall demise of the South Africa proletariat in a context in which an extreme pandemic disrupted global capitalism, brazen official neoliberalism was adopted in mid-2020, and capitalist crises of inequality and unregulated technological change played out,” said Vavi.
He said that over the past five years, the South African Workers Union and Numsa had failed to increase membership numbers. The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers and the South African Policing Union have grown, while four other unions have fewer than 1 000 members.