Rape allegation could give Vavi’s opponents the ammunition they need to knock him off his perch.
Zwelinzima Vavi’s political career could be sunk by the rape and extortion scandal that rocked headlines around the country this weekend.
The 50-year-old unionist has been fighting to keep his job over the past few months as his rivals within the union federation have pushed for an investigation into his role in the sale and purchase of buildings for labour federation Cosatu, as well as a probe into whether he is still ideologically suitable to lead.
This is not the first time the married father of six – from both his current and previous marriages – has been accused of sexual misconduct.
In 2006, then Cosatu president Willie Madisha compiled a dossier in which he accused Vavi of sexually harassing a married female Cosatu employee. The charges did not stand.
Around the same time, Vavi was also accused of using the federation’s credit card to bankroll an extra-marital affair, using it to splurge on his and his mistress’ foreign trips without the federation’s knowledge.
His mistress, Noluthando, later became his wife.
City Press reported on how her distraught former husband Bheki Ngema tried in vain to get Madisha to institute disciplinary proceedings against Vavi, and to force Vavi to fork out R700 000 “as compensation so my children would not suffer much”.
Then, Cosatu stood by its general secretary.
It may still do so now.
A Cosatu source sympathetic to Vavi says the timing of this week’s allegations against the former mine worker is suspicious, surfacing months after the alleged rape took place. “I think the woman is being used (by the anti-Vavi leaders).
“The affair is not being disputed. But the rape, no,” he said. “Vavi’s main (public) issue is corruption, not sexual morality.”
Vavi, who lives in Sandton, may not be a paragon of virtue on matters sexual, but he has styled himself as a committed family man.
Occasionally he posts images of his baby twins on Twitter to his 91 000 followers.
He recently told City Press that his large family offers him a refuge from the stress of political life.
He has been outspoken on sexual violence too.
An influential pro-Vavi union leader linked this weekend’s accusations to ongoing fights within the federation, insisting that Vavi will stay on.
“He should survive. Do you think this is neutral?” he asked.
Vavi’s opponents are said to be mulling over the scandal, and may want to use it to push him out.
Some delegates on the sidelines of the ANC national executive committee lekgotla in Pretoria last weekend discussed its implications.
Vavi said this week his life was in danger, and his family wanted him to quit politics to save him.
But the rape allegations cast this claim in a different light altogether.
Nevertheless, he says, he will not quit.
The question, though, is whether Vavi can come out of this unscathed and retain his credibility and popularity as a leader of the 2.2 million-member Cosatu.
His 14-year career in the federation could come to an end.
It is unlikely Vavi’s adversaries would use an extramarital affair to force him out, given that the many men in trade unions do not view this as a grave offence.
But an accusation of rape is a grave charge.
National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana was lauded when he told a 2006 union congress that Calvinistic morality was not the only game in town at a time when Jacob Zuma’s suitability to hold public office was being questioned.
He said: “We are not Christians. We don’t listen to the 10 commandments and we don’t have to listen when Christians tell us adultery is wrong.”
But unlike Zuma in 2006, Vavi is swimming against the political tide.
Also caught in the act
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is not the first local politician to be embroiled in a sex or rape scandal.
Here are some others:
» Jacob Zuma
In December 2005, Zuma was charged with the rape of an HIV-positive family friend in what was to become one of the country’s major sex scandals in recent history. He was acquitted in May 2006.
» John Steenhuisen
The DA’s KwaZulu-Natal leader was forced to resign in 2010 after an affair with the party’s provincial spin doctor Terry Kass-Beaumont became public.
» Narend Singh
News of the 2006 sex scandal followed the emergence of a DVD of a tryst between Singh and Roseanne Narandas, wife of jeweller Bob Narandas.
By then, the DVD had been sold around Durban for weeks.
Singh resigned his post as Kwazulu-Natal MEC for arts, culture and tourism, but remained a member of the provincial legislature for the IFP.
» Fikile Mbalula
In 2011, the sports minister had an affair with model Joyce Molamu, whom he paid R10 000 to have an abortion. They had sex twice, said Mbalula, who publicly apologised.
» Malusi Gigaba
The public enterprises minister was sued for R1.7 million in 2011 by a friend, Luka Sandhlane, for having an affair with his wife and ruining their marriage. Gigaba apologised to Sandhlane, who reconciled with his wife.
» Albert Mncwango
The former IFP national organiser had his rape conviction and 10-year sentence overturned by the Pietermaritzburg High Court in 2005. Mncwango – who spent 19 days in jail before successfully appealing – said the rape charge was trumped-up to destabilise the IFP’s elections campaign at the time.
» Mbulelo Goniwe
Goniwe was axed as ANC chief whip and MP in 2006 after being found guilty of sexual harassment. He asked ANC parliamentary administrative assistant Nomawele Njongo to have sex with him after she helped serve dinner to guests at his home.
» Jonas White
The Cederberg mayor was kicked out of the ANC last month for allegedly sending an image of his genitals “embellished with a strawberry and cream” to his deputy, Lorna Scheepers. He is also facing a criminal investigation for alleged sexual harassment.
– Xolani Mbanjwa
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