I REMEMBER interviewing an emotional but triumphant Zwelinzima Vavi at President Jacob Zuma's inauguration in May this year.

I REMEMBER interviewing an emotional but triumphant Zwelinzima Vavi at President Jacob Zuma's inauguration in May this year.

He had every reason to be triumphant because his prophetic declaration, that only a tsunami could prevent Msholozi from becoming the next president of the republic, had now manifested itself.

Cosatu's general secretary was looking suave and splendid on that cold and wet Saturday morning and I had a sense of this not only being a big moment for Zuma but also for the men and women who had risen and fallen and risen yet again with him on his path to the highest office in the land.

Vavi was elated but admitted to experiencing a lump in his throat when Zuma took his oath.

Evidently for Vavi the inauguration was the culmination of an arduous political campaign, a fight for survival and on a personal level, unwavering loyalty to his brother, comrade and friend.

This is the part that worried me. The fervour with which he supported Zuma raised doubts about his ability to criticise the new leadership when necessary.

Vavi has over the years earned the mantle as a thorn in the flesh of government and big business. Even when the Thabo Mbeki government ignored him and treated him and his union as recalcitrant adolescents, Vavi continued to be a loudmouth.

I asked him if his devotion to Zuma meant the end of his crusade as a pro-worker critic of government policy.

In the typical fashion of a politician - and in our country there is no difference in meaning between a politician and a trade unionist - he answered that he would stick to his mandate.

Fat chance, I thought.

I am happy to have been proven wrong. Vavi has stuck to his mandate.

The rationale of his criticism of government and the private sector is sometimes worth challenging - but when it comes to taking a stand against a leadership that he has been instrumental in elevating, he has outdone himself.

The trade union leader has had his finger on the pulse of every bubbling issue in our socio-economic milieu. From the doctors' strike to the municipal workers' protest, the Middle East conflict to the meltdown in Zimbabwe, the Caster Semenya fiasco, inflation targeting, Vavi has been busy indeed. And loudly.

His latest salvo against his own comrades is admirable. Cosatu has led the outcry against crass materialism and ministers splurging out on luxury wheels.

The union federation has gone as far as asking ministers to "kindly return" these cars.

It's like farting into the wind because powerful people are too proud to admit they are wrong - but that Cosatu and its leadership dared to make this call, is praiseworthy.

Vavi has rightly pointed out that "the tender is the new enemy of our movement ... it is crass materialism that is the most formidable enemy that we must confront and defeat."

The tripartite alliance is populated by members who support each other no matter what and thus they subvert their principles and logic itself.

Unbeknown to them, the greatest test of our integrity and maturity is to uphold good values even when it pits us against those we love and respect.

It is even more righteous to stand our ground, allow others to stand theirs, and still be civil and respectful.

This week as some alliance leaders tried frantically to water down a leaked Cosatu report that, among others, takes aim at politicians who have lucrative business interests Vavi stuck to his guns, demanding that they choose between the latter and serving the country.

Detractors claim he leaked this report himself and his criticism of government is designed to make the Zuma government look good.

If the government can withstand such a ferocious critique of its policies, then it is indeed a government that listens.

I'm sure Vavi is not a saint. His cruel ousting of Willie Madisha is the sign of a conniving, ambitious leader.

But politics is akin to classic Westerns in which the good guys fight the bad guys.

For now, Vavi is with the good guys. For the good of the country, may the good guys triumph.