In a dramatic turnaround‚ trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi has apologised to former president Thabo Mbeki for siding with Jacob Zuma in a leadership struggle that divided the ruling party a decade ago.

Vavi voiced regret at backing the Zuma faction today – Mbeki’s 73rd birthday.

Zuma was sacked as deputy president by then president Mbeki‚ amidst a wave of corruption allegations‚ in 2005. Vavi‚ general secretary of the then powerful Cosatu union movement‚ became a vocal supporter of Zuma which helped JZ beat Mbeki at an ANC elective conference two years later.

“I believed the charges were being made up by Mbeki and his clique… 10 years down the line I don’t believe in that anymore‚” Vavi said in an interview on Power FM.

“I have to apologise for naively believing in that conspiracy theory.

“I apologise to Thabo Mbeki‚ in particular today at his birthday‚ that I really believed that this was all made up by him and the clique that he was leading.”

Vavi said he had opposed the “neo-liberal” policies that Mbeki was driving‚ and this had influenced his stance.

“I guess my hatred of the policies he was advancing made me blind to the other facts of life‚ such as the fact that there was no conspiracy‚ and I want to apologise for that‚” Vavi said.

Now‚ embroiled in a bruising leadership battle of his own‚ Vavi’s tone was humbled when he was asked in a radio interview if he regretted some of his former stratagems.

“Yes‚ I do. Not once‚ many times‚ lots of things that I have done that are completely shameful‚ that I regret having done‚ and the mistakes that I have committed that have shamed my family and that I felt I was being naïve into believing in the beginning.”

He described the day in June 2005 that Mbeki informed the tripartite alliance – the ANC‚ Cosatu and SA Communist Party – that he intended to sack Zuma as deputy president following a court judgment that implicated him in his friend Schabir Shaik’s corruption trial.

“When we were called to Pretoria… assembled by the leader of the alliance Thabo Mbeki‚ to come and listen to what he had to say‚ I was there – absolutely never been that angry in my life‚ that comrade Jacob Zuma was going to be dismissed.

“I said ‘how dare [he]’. I had believed the conspiracy theory that Jacob Zuma was a victim of these shenanigans‚ this Machiavelli Mbeki was responsible for all the 783 charges that later the deputy president was to face. And naturally as part of my instinct‚ I call it the working class instinct‚ I threw myself with the victim. I always want to find myself next to those who are being victimised.”

Vavi‚ describing his loyalty of Zuma as being “with my body‚ emotions and soul”‚ said he no longer believed there was a political conspiracy against Zuma.

It was Zuma’s brief to his lawyers that had changed his mind‚ Vavi said. “The person who made me not to believe in that is the lawyers of the president who go to every court to try to block evidence that should prove that he was a victim of these shenanigans.” (sic).

Vavi is currently mobilising civil society groups and some Cosatu-affiliated unionists for a planned march March Against Corruption on the Union Buildings on August 19.

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