Political tensions cast ugly pall on labour movement
By Nsikan Ikpe
The long-running political crisis in South Africa resurfaced Monday when rival factions brought their disagreements with them to the celebration of the 2017 Labour Day across the country.
As could be seen by observers, divisions in the tripartite alliance over the ANC’s succession battle played out at Cosatu’s nationwide May Day rallies with President Jacob Zuma being booed and ridiculed while his deputy, the ‘COSATU homeboy’ and indeed its former Secretary General, Cyril Ramaphosa was being widely cheered.
And as was to be expected, Ramaphosa was once again reaffirmed and endorsed as the preferred candidate to take over from Zuma by this most influential ANC affiliate.
Indeed, analysts say that Zuma, whose troubles had indeed intensified since sacking his very popular Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, weeks ago, faced the worst embarrassment since ascending to ANC presidency in 2007 at the rally when unrelenting Cosatu members heckled and chanted anti-Zuma songs to his face.
To give him some leeway to wriggle out, the organisers prematurely ended the main Worker’s Day celebrations in Bloemfontein. It was indeed a most unprecedented move, with all previously scheduled speeches being cancelled and the event abandoned.
In the Durban episode, Zuma ally, Mbete tried to put up a brave face and continued with her speech despite repeated boos from the crowd who gestured for her to leave the stage.
They continually chanted “Gupta” and other invectives despite attempts by the SACP second deputy-general secretary Solly Mapaila and local leaders to calm the crowd. Responding to the rejection, Mbete asserted that the national ANC leadership had indeed expected the hostile treatment!
“We anticipated this as leadership. We met a week ago and discussed it. But we were ready to come and conduct ourselves in terms of our role as leadership,” she stated to correspondents
Yet another Zuma ally, Duarte didn’t have a good day at the office either with the crowd barring her from addressing them during the celebrations in Polokwane in Limpopo. She was booed by hundreds of Cosatu members when she was introduced to speak.
In her response, she cut through the chase and put the issue in perspective: “This is about supporting a candidate, the ANC has not decided on candidate yet, none of us has preferences. We have not taken a decision yet.”
But while the Zuma crowd were taking a beating, there was a sharp contrast in the case of Ramaphosa, who was again affirmed as the next ANC president at the rallies that went ahead. Cosatu leaders who spoke said they will work the ground to ensure he was elected as the next ANC president.
Indeed, Ramaphosa himself delivered his own speech in Nkomazi, Mpumalanga during a heavy downpour with Cosatu members rooted in the rain listening to his entire speech.
In a caustic barb, Cosatu’s first deputy president James Tyotyo said government would not need to build him a home-an indirect jab to government spending R250m to upgrade Zuma’s private Nkandla home.
“He will not steal government money. Government will not build him a house because he already has his own house. As Cosatu we want to repeat it today, we say the president [Zuma] must step down because on daily basis he commits blunders. His blunders will make us lose the elections in 2019,” said Tyotyo.
At the Gauteng Cosatu rally general-secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said they will campaign to ensure Ramaphosa takes over the ANC presidency.
“We as the workers want Cyril Ramaphosa to be president, we will elect him in December,” Ntshalintshali said.
Political analyst Susan Booysen said the events were a “watershed moment for the ANC and the Zuma faction within the ANC in particular as they were rejected by a key constituency of the ANC”.
“We didn’t see an outright rejection of the ANC, we saw people like Cyril Ramaphosa being welcomed in Mpumalanga and that was in contrast to Zuma, Mbete and Duarte – they met a groundswell of angry rejection and it was not white, it was not middle class. This was rejection from the heartland of the ANC,” Booysen said.
Booysen’s view was echoed by Professor Somadoda Fikeni: “This collapses the view that people who do not support the president are either middle class, monopoly capital or racists. It shows that you have a cross-section of people for a variety of reasons who are unhappy,” Fikeni said.
Cosatu was at the forefront of ensuring that Zuma was elected president in 2007 at the Polokwane elective conference and pushed for Mbeki’s recall the following year.
However, they now want Zuma to go after he reshuffled his cabinet without consulting them. They have also not scored any major policy changes under Zuma’s administration including their call for e-tolls to be scrapped, labour brokers to be banned and radical changes in the economy.
Booysen said while it was early days in the succession battle, the Worker’s Day events were a major setback for ANC NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign for the ANC top spot.
She is backed by Zuma and his allies-the ANC Youth League and Women’s League.
“Things can always turn again, but today from groundswell of anti-Zuma reaction there was in part succession battle being decided. It may turn again, but today’s indication it was devastating setback for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Zuma,” Booysen said.
Fikeni said the anti-Zuma group were using the same tactics applied by Zuma supporters.
The ANC Youth League recently booed and disrupted speeches by former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and Mapaila’s address during a Chris Hani memorial.
Remember for some time it’s been well organised, pro-president booing down opponents; other side has now taken the same tactic, to show displeasure. It may then degenerate into no-go areas; you choose areas assured of supporters, or may lead to disruption of June or December conference,” Fikeni said.
The ANC earlier blamed alliance leaders for “prematurely speaking on leadership preferences” for the chaos that led to Zuma being prevented to speak.
Spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the incident should not be allowed to happen again.
“This is precisely the reason why we have cautioned Cosatu and other alliance structures including our leagues against premature announcements in public because they have an impact and bearing on our efforts to foster unity,” Kodwa said.
South Africans do not have to vote for a new president until 2019 but the contest has presently become very fierce even now given that whoever clinches the ANC party leadership at Managung in December will be in pole position to win the substantive polls when they are due then.
This is on account of the fact that the ANC has dominated the nation’s political space since the end of apartheid as well as the fact that despite the massive infractions allegedly committed by serving President Jacob Zuma, the average black voter in this black-dominated country yet considers the party of Nelson Mandela as his natural berth.