Zwelinzima Vavi

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Zwelinzima Vavi
Born 20 December 1962
Hanover, Northern Cape
Occupation Trade union leader

Zwelinzima Vavi (born 20 December 1962[1][2]) is the former General Secretary of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and Vice-Chairperson of the Millennium Labour Council.

Early life[edit]

Vavi was born on a farm in Hanover, Northern Cape, with a mineworker father, four brothers and seven sisters. Until he was baptised, he did not know the date of his birthday.[1] He was a child labourer, looking for work among neighbouring farms.

In 1987 Vavi worked in a gold-mining territory of Klerksdorp and Orkney. He was a uranium plant clerk at Vaal Reefs mine, and joined the National Union of Mineworkers as an organizer. He was fired from AngloGold in 1987 following a massive miners' strike which crippled the Chamber of Mines. He then joined COSATU as a volunteer.


In 1988, he became COSATU's regional secretary for the Western Transvaal. In 1992 he took up the position of National Organizing Secretary. he served as COSATU's Deputy General Secretary from 1993 to 1999.

Vavi took centre stage in the four-month negotiation that preceded the 1997 Jobs Summit. He serves on the International Labour Organisation's commission on globalisation.

In 1999 he succeeded Mbhazima Shilowa (formerly the Gauteng Premier, now one of the leaders of COPE) as general secretary of COSATU.

He addressed the 27 June 2002 XIV International AIDS Conference where he pushed mass education and prevention campaigns.

Recently Vavi has spoken out against the expulsion of NUMSA, the metalworkers union, which used to be the largest union in the COSATU federation.[3] This is one of the major factors contributing to Vavi's expulsion from the COSATU. On March 30, 2015 the Central Executive Committee (CEC) held a vote to expel Vavi.[4] The vote was 31-1 in favor of expelling Vavi.[4][5]


As General Secretary he has expressed disappointment with political progress in Zimbabwe, blaming mismanagement by government, an ill-conceived structural adjustment programme, and factors beyond its control like sanctions against neighbouring South Africa during apartheid years. He led two fact-finding missions, in October 2004 and February 2005, to assess conditions for a fair poll during the planned Zimbabwe parliamentary elections of 2005. The members of the mission were deported during the first mission, and were turned back at Harare airport at the start of the second.

Talking of the alliance which governs South Africa between the ANC, COSATU and the SACP after a failed trip to see the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in 2004, he is critical of the ANC's approach to Zimbabwe, privatisation, and corruption in government.


He took particular issue with the Public Investment Corporation's Telkom share purchase, involving former communications director-general Andile Ngcaba and the former head of the presidency Smuts Ngonyama.

COSATU accuses both men of taking advantage of their government posts to access privileged information.

In May 2010 the ANC threatened to charge Vavi with "ill-discipline".[6]

Vavi has argued that under Jacob Zuma's government "We are heading rapidly in the direction of a full-blown predator state in which a powerful corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas increasingly controls the state as a vehicle of accumulation[7] and warned of a possible Tunisia style revolution.[8]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Nikiwe, a PA with the Gender Commission, but the couple have since divorced. He is now married to Noluthando with whom he has twins born in 2013. In the same year, Vavi was accused of rape by a 26-year-old colleague, who claimed Vavi offered her a job at COSATU without proper recruitment procedures. Vavi admitted that he did have a relationship with the accuser and that they have had sexual relations in one of COSATU offices in January 2013, but denies that he forced himself on the colleague, saying everything that happened between them was completely consensual. Vavi claims that the colleague tried to extort ZAR2 million (approximately US$200 000) in to keep quiet about the incident. After the details were revealed, Vavi consequently laid charges of extortion and blackmail against the woman, claiming that she had planned the whole incident. No charges have been laid against Vavi yet. On the 14 August 2013 Vavi was suspended by COSATU. On 30 March 2014, Vavi was fired as the General Secretary of Cosatu.


  1. ^ a b Ngalwa, Sibusiso (20 September 2009). "Zwelinzima Vavi: the paradox and the paradigm". IOL. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  2. ^ "Zwelinzima Vavi". Who's Who Southern Africa. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  3. ^ SABC. "SABC News - Vavi stands firm by his stance on Numsa:Thursday 13 November 2014". 
  4. ^ a b Independent Newspapers Online. "Cosatu boots Vavi out". Independent Online. 
  5. ^ Stephen Grootes. "Cosatu's CEC dismisses Vavi". 
  6. ^ "Analysis: ANC's reckless, dangerous Cosatu gambit". 
  7. ^ Creeping anarchy as the centre fails to hold, Business Day, 31 August 2010
  8. ^ Jobless youth a ‘ticking time bomb’ for SA, Vavi warns, SAM MKOKELI, Business Day, 2011/06/07

External links[edit]