COSATU is spitting fire after reports that its alliance partner, the ANC, wants to take disciplinary action against the labour federations' general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

COSATU is spitting fire after reports that its alliance partner, the ANC, wants to take disciplinary action against the labour federations' general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.

Apparently what really got the ANC's goat were Vavi's public utterances about how President Jacob Zuma's government was soft on corruption, especially if it involves members of his government or any of the ANC-linked new political czars.

Yesterday Cosatu's central executive committee (CEC) came out in support of Vavi, saying his expressions represented its concerns. The CEC also warned that any move to discipline Vavi could spell the end of the tripartite alliance.

"Zwelinzima Vavi speaks as the voice of the workers and the poor, fully mandated by Cosatu, and will never be silenced by threats of disciplinary charges."

The committee went on to say that the concern it was raising was also out there in the public.

The newspapers continue to carry stories of allegations of corruption against ministers and we are still to hear President Jacob Zuma or the Cabinet announcing that these allegations will be subjected to investigation.

The committee expressed regret that the government has not inspired confidence through more decisive action against people perceived to hold power in the government.

"Perceptions, as a result of this silence or refusal to act, runs deep in our communities, that government is soft on corruption, in particular if it is committed by members of the Cabinet and-or senior party leaders or officials."

Driving its point home, Cosatu went on to say that the validity of its warnings was confirmed in an interview in the Sunday Times with ANC Gauteng provincial secretary David Makhura, who said "corruption within the party's leadership is a cancer that must urgently be 'rooted out' before it totally destroys the party".

This is serious stuff indeed. This happens in the same alliance which the parties involved in it previously vowed to defend with their lives "because of the historical revolutionary role it has played in democracy".

Speaking at the launch of a book on the developmental state by Omano Edigheji recently, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel reiterated the importance of the tripartite alliance.

He said the alliance brought an enormous political authority and mandate that the government needed if it were to implement its project of a developmental state.

Now we have a situation in which a key element of that alliance says it is prepared to walk away from this obviously important relationship because the ANC apparently wants to discipline one of its leaders.

For the man in the street this a very intriguing situation. The question being asked is whether, indeed, the ANC is prepared to forfeit such an important ally simply because the ally "spoke truth to power".

For this is what Cosatu's statement means in the public's understanding.

An important ally of the ANC has come up to say that the "emperor's slip is showing" when it comes to dealing with corruption.

Given this scenario, if indeed the ANC is considering taking disciplinary action, ordinary people must be afraid, very afraid.

They must be afraid because in their experience Cosatu does have the political "integrity" or "kudos" to challenge the ANC when it strays from the mission of the "national democratic revolution".

Unlike the rest of us, as it is often explained, Cosatu is an independent component of the ally that has the right to raise issues with its partners in the alliance - in the interest of transparency and good governance.

If rather than leading to some introspection and instead leading to sanction, what chance does ordinary people stand to express opinions on such weighty matters as corruption with government and the public sector.

The only hope for the man in the street is that all these reports about the ANC taking action against Vavi are figments of the media's imagination.

Because, if not, ordinary people must face the reality that this country is going the route of many post-colonial societies.

They must face the reality that, just like in post-Arab Moi Kenya, where under Mwai Kibaki the "Mount Kenya Mafia" took over, looting the Eastern African state's public resources - South Africa also has a new Mafia in charge.

And that just like in Kenya, disciplining Vavi would amount to be a warning from the Mafia that "you will not have grandchildren" - that is you will not survive in this tussle for the public coffers.