JOHANNESBURG - Cosatu Secretary-General Zwelinzima Vavi has appealed for privacy for him, his family and that of the woman who accused him of raping her, in a public statement released on Monday evening.
"This is an extremely intimate, private, personal and delicate matter that requires great sensitivity and maturity to manage on my part," Vavi said in an emailed statement to the media.
"There are two families and children on both sides involved in this extremely delicate matter," he said. "Their interests are foremost in my mind as we go through this period."
The trade union heavyweight was accused of raping a 26-year-old Cosatu employee on January 25 of this year, who he said tried to bribe him to pay her R2-million in exchange for her silence.
The complainant subsequently withdrew the allegation in an internal hearing held by Cosatu at its Johannesburg headquarters on Monday.
The complainant withdrew the "grievance" after just 2hrs into the process. Thanks to so many who supported my family. Statement following— Zwelinzima Vavi (@Zwelinzima1) July 29, 2013
Vavi has laid a charge of extortion against the woman and said he had "engaged lawyers."
"I am ready and willing to appear before any legitimate body to clear my name," he said.
"I vehemently deny the allegations made against me by the staff member concerned."
This latest sex scandal to explode out of the highest echelons of South African politics has further undermined the low standard of sexual behaviour South Africans expect from their political leaders, gender activist Lisa Vetten said.
"They (political leaders) say one thing but behave in a completely different way," said Vetten.
"This communicates a message of, 'do as I say, not as I do.'"
Cosatu earlier released a statement naming Vavi's accuser and giving a detailed account of what happened on January 25 and in the subsequent months and weeks.
In it, Vavi "categorically and emphatically" denied raping his colleague, but admitted to carrying out an affair with her.
Cosatu said Vavi, who may be absolved of a rape allegation, is still not innocent - and may be disciplined.
"We have seen scandals like this before in South Africa," said political analyst Somadoda Fikeni.
"Sex scandals don't have a precendent of taking down leaders," he said, adding that Vavi's political career will be weakened, if it survives.
Vetten said Vavi was "walking into stupidity" by engaging in intercourse with a colleague at work.
The risk is that this one murky case, in the context of a political power struggle, could undermine all other rape cases in South Africa, she said.
"I think there is a generalized crisis of ethical leaders," Fikeni said.
"There is a thin line of sex being used as a political smear tactic."
Vavi has reportedly apologised to his wife and to the nation for his indiscretion.