Katishi Masemola, suspended general secretary of Fawu, Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Katishi Masemola, suspended general secretary of Fawu, Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The bruising battle for control of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) could spur rival unions to eat into its 126,000-strong membership.

Fawu was among the first former Cosatu affiliates to switch to the SA Federation of Trade Unions in 2017. It recruits in the farming, fast food, beverage, fishing, wholesale and retail, and hospitality sectors.

The fallout was heightened by the suspension of Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola by its president, Atwell Nazo, in April. Nazo cited allegations of policy transgressions for the suspension.

At issue are write-offs in the Basebenzi Investment Group, Fawu’s investment wing, in which Masemola is the director and former acting CEO.

Nazo told Business Day that there was no bad blood between him and Masemola. “Whether I have a right or no right to suspend him is his opinion. This issue is an organisational matter which I don’t want to ventilate in public,” he said.

He said Fawu lost about R19.2m over a number of years, which led to the write-offs. The national executive committee (NEC) “agreed to run an investigation on the write-offs. A professional party will be appointed to conduct the investigation.”

However,  a recalcitrant Masemola said he would defy the suspension, which he dismissed as pure “madness” and an open violation of the Fawu constitution and policies.

Masemola said the animosity between him and Nazo “has now gone so deep” that the only solution was to convene a special national congress to allow “for a new leadership to emerge”.

He has held the same position for almost two decades, but stressed that he would serve his last term in 2020 if asked to avail himself. “Maybe I’ve overstayed my welcome and should consider handing over in our 2020 national congress.”

In 2004, Masemola was suspended and later dismissed by then Fawu president Patrick Johnson. The decision was later overturned by the courts and Johnson was subsequently removed from office.

“The current fiasco will lead to [the] weakening of Fawu and rival unions will feast all the way to [the] membership pond,” Masemola said on Tuesday.

He said a charge sheet was yet to be served on him. He also argued that Nazo had no authority to suspend him as only Fawu’s NEC had such powers.

He said there was a standing decision taken during a special NEC meeting in February, which called for a forensic investigation to establish some “facts and figures relating to write-offs” in the investment company. This was yet to be implemented.

“This decision was explicit that I’ll remain in the office as the GS [general secretary] and continue with my duties but should relinquish the role of the acting CEO though I should remain a director of the investment wing,” he stated.

Masemola said he was prepared to account in his capacity as Fawu general secretary and former acting CEO of Basebenzi should he be subjected to an NEC-sanctioned investigation. He accused Nazo of wanting him out of the union and looking to replace him with “his buddy”, the acting deputy general secretary Mayoyo Mngomezulu.

“This is based on my information that he lobbied provincial chairpersons before the July and December 2018 NECs but that failed. Then he specifically mobilised provinces to petition him to convene the February 2019 NEC and his desire to see me removed didn’t succeed.”