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About  |  Biographies

COSATU General Secretary - Zwelinzima Vavi

Abridged Zwelinzima’s Vavi Biography

Zwelinzima Vavi is the General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). He was born on a farm in Hanover, Northern Cape, with a mineworker father and a domestic worker. He is the tenth child of four brothers and seven sisters.

The oppression, suffering and exploitation of the working class under capitalism are well known to Vavi, who grew up and lived in the farms for the greater part of his early childhood. The plight of evictions, unfair dismissals, abuse and the long and dreadful working hours in the farms is a thread that runs through his family history. Vavi’s class-consciousness and political awakening was moulded by this bitter experience.

It is this experience that informs his disdain for inequality – a disdain demonstrated by his early activism against apartheid education in his high school days. Vavi was amongst the early members of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), which he joined a year after its official launch in 1979. His passion for social and economic justice would lead him to the floodgates of the many youth congresses making a presence in South Africa’s political landscape in the 1980s. Inevitably, Vavi would also become actively involved in the UDF, becoming a volunteer organiser during the year of its launch in 1983.

His belief that the struggles of the working class in communities and workplaces are inextricably linked found practical realisation when he joined Vaal Reefs Gold Mine and worked at its uranium division as a clerk in 1984. During this time, Vavi became a Shop steward and continued launching youth congresses and participating in civic movements. In 1987 his activism cost solicited his dismissal from Anglo American Vaal Reefs Gold mine following the 21 days of strike that rocked the Chamber of Mines. He joined NUM as an organiser in the same year.

In 1988, he became COSATU’s regional secretary for the Western Transvaal (an area covering the North West, Vaal Triangle and northern parts of Free State). In 1992 he took up the position of National Organizing Secretary. He served as COSATU’s Deputy General Secretary from 1993 to 1999. In 1999, Vavi became the General Secretary of COSATU, a position he occupies to date.

Vavi has a recorded nearly 3 decades serving in the labour movement. Vavi’s lifelong dream is to see a world where the working class becomes the ruling class in society. .

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