Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: THE TIMES
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: THE TIMES

CONGRESS of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s accuser on Monday withdrew her complaint of sexual harassment, but there are still several grounds on which the federation could institute a disciplinary inquiry against him.

The Cosatu employee who had laid the complaint withdrew her grievance two hours into the hearing on Monday.

As alleged details of the incident spread at the weekend, other grounds for disciplinary action emerged. These include that Mr Vavi admitted to having sex with the woman during working hours on work premises, and that he personally employed her, possibly without following procedures. Should Cosatu’s central executive committee decide to institute an inquiry along these lines, Mr Vavi could still be found guilty of misconduct and removed.

Following the hearing on Monday, Mr Vavi released a brief statement saying he was pleased the grievance procedure had been finalised, and he hoped that "we can all put this saga behind us".

He also said he hoped the police would continue to investigate the complaint of extortion he had made in connection with the matter, after the woman and her husband allegedly demanded R2m from him to remain silent.

Mr Vavi also hinted that he was considering further legal action "in the light of the extreme damage that has been done to my reputation".

He said he had been involved in an extramarital affair with the woman.

National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim said the union — Mr Vavi’s staunchest ally in the federation — was "watching the space", but that it felt "vindicated".

He warned that Mr Vavi’s detractors may use the saga to "further wage a political onslaught" on him. Mr Jim said that he, along with Cosatu as a whole, supported President Jacob Zuma during his rape trial prior to Mr Zuma assuming the African National Congress presidency. In the trial, Mr Zuma also admitted to an affair.

"We are going to look very carefully for those wanting to bring a moral standard that did not apply to Zuma," he said. The case against Mr Vavi had not even been reported at a police station. Mr Jim said Mr Vavi himself admitted he had erred.

"All of us must learn from this … we must all also struggle against our own weaknesses," he said.

But Mr Jim said the woman involved could have been working with Mr Vavi’s enemies from the outset. "She may herself have been a victim of a political conspiracy by the marauding gang, working in the shadows to weaken and defeat Zwelinzima Vavi."

The accusations against Mr Vavi again laid bare deep divisions in Cosatu, with Numsa, the Food and Allied Workers Union and South African Municipal Workers Union general secretary Walter Theledi all offering Mr Vavi support, and alleging political dirty tricks.

Mr Theledi said Mr Vavi was "targeted because he has dared to speak truth to power" and had " incurred the wrath of those with career ambitions and waiting to enjoy the fruits of office by legal or other means".

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), seen as part of the anti-Vavi faction in Cosatu, dismissed allegations that Mr Vavi’s latest woes were part of a political conspiracy.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni said on Monday that allegations on social media that the woman was "planted" by him were untrue.

Before the collapse of the grievance hearing, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said he would convene a meeting of the presidents and secretaries of all Cosatu affiliates as soon as possible, as a "sounding board" to decide what to do next.

The meeting would advise the national officer bearers on whether to call a central executive committee meeting. This is the only structure, besides a full-blown congress, that can remove Mr Vavi from his position, but due to the entrenched divisions, any decision in the central executive committee would come down to a factional fight.