S.Africa's powerful union boss axed over sex scandal

JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng - South Africa's largest trade union federation Cosatu on Thursday said that it has temporarily removed its boss Zwelinzima Vavi following a sex scandal involving a junior staffer.

Cosatu decided to suspend Vavi, its general secretary, and a female member of staff with whom he is alleged to have had sex in the Johannesburg headquarters of the labour movement.

The two "have been placed on special leave in the light of the nature and the seriousness of the allegations", Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini told a news conference.

An internal investigation has been announced by the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which has long been allied to the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Federation executives reached the decision after talks that ran late into Wednesday night.

"After lengthy discussion, the meeting agreed to conduct a full investigation into the allegation and to ask the secretary general to attend a disciplinary hearing process," Dlamini said.

A Cosatu employee last month accused Vavi, who is 50 and married, of rape. But Vavi claimed he had had an affair with the woman and revealed graphic details of their "consensual" sexual encounter in the Cosatu office.

The 26-year-old employee later dropped her complaint.

Vavi tweeted Thursday: "I committed an error & have profusely apologised to everyone hurt by my indiscretion. That was a right thing to do."

He has claimed that allegations against him are a political plot to unseat him.

Vavi has led the two million-member federation for 14 years, but he came under fire recently for strong open criticism of President Jacob Zuma.

In light of its alliance with the ANC, the country's largest union federation is a valuable source of votes for the former liberation movement.

The tensions around Vavi's leadership threatens to divide Cosatu, since he enjoys strong support from its largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).

A split within Cosatu might jeopardise the ruling alliance and weaken the ANC's vote base.