JOHANNESBURG - Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on Wednesday hit back at critics unhappy with his support for the ANC by saying he speaks as a representative of his organisation.
"I am not an individual but a general secretary of all 19 Cosatu-affiliated unions and must be bound by the decisions taken by the collective even if I was not present," Vavi said during a memorial lecture in tribute to former Congress of the SA Trade Unions president John Gomomo in Port Elizabeth.
"If I was to do the opposite then I would no longer be a general secretary whose role must be to unite all Cosatu unions."
He dismissed his critics, suggesting "those calling me a sell-out for stating this may just as well continue to call me names".
Vavi said that Gomomo would "be appalled" at the inequality of South Africa today.
"Our attempts to make the second ten years of democracy a decade for the working class and the poor has largely failed."
Gomomo would have said that advances had been made to ensure that the post-1994 South Africa was "far better" than pre-1994.
"He would have praised the ANC-led government for these advances."
However, Vavi said Gomomo would also want historical documents such as the Freedom Charter and Reconstruction and Development Policy to be used as measures of progress.
Vavi said that the "biggest task" leaders in the country faced was to ensure "radical economic transformation under the leadership of a reconfigured tripartite alliance".
Vavi also made mention of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report into the spending at President Jacob Zuma's homestead in Nkandla.
"The... Nkandla report is just the latest exposure of outrageous profiteering by service providers, and gross maladministration by state officials and lack of oversight by political representatives."
He said that while Cosatu continued to support its allies, "Cosatu should never stop speaking honestly about the state of the working class 20 years into our celebrated democracy...
"We must never be threatened into silence when we see the triumph of individualism and selfishness amongst the leadership and membership of our formations."
Last week, the Sunday Times published a report that Vavi had said he would abide by his federation's decision to campaign for the ruling party ahead of the general elections, but that his support would not be unconditional.
Cosatu has announced it would back the African National Congress manifesto, largely based on the National Development Plan which Vavi opposed.
Vavi told the paper he was bound by Cosatu's central executive committee decision to back the ANC even though he believed that supporting the party's election manifesto amounted to the labour movement "committing class suicide".
"I have said there has to be a condition. Please don't expect me to say unemployment of 34.1 percent is a good story to tell, I will refuse...No one must ask us to lie," Vavi was quoted as saying at the time.
Vavi returned to work at Cosatu House this month after eight months of being on suspension, following the High Court in Johannesburg's ruling setting aside his suspension.
Cosatu's biggest affiliate and Vavi's staunchest backer, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, has called on its members not to support the ANC in the May 7 elections.
Last week, The Star newspaper reported that Vavi had told a group of shop stewards in Cape Town that he did not owe Numsa for having made calls for him to be reinstated.
"It is wrong to say the resolution of Numsa must bind Vavi... and Numsa is not arrogant to tell me I must abandon Cosatu," he was quoted as saying.
"It does not work like that."