South Africa, Politics

DA vs Cosatu, the day after

By Sipho Hlongwane 17 May 2012

True to its word, the Democratic Alliance has laid criminal charges against Cosatu leaders following the violence that marred Tuesday’s march. According to the DA, this is a fight over the rules of engagement. Cosatu says this is more nebulous politicking. The ANC says nothing. What’s going on? By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

After failing to get within a stone’s throw of Cosatu House thanks to the violence of red-clad protestors, even though they were legally permitted to do so, leaders of various DA formations promised to lay charges against Cosatu.

On Wednesday, the DA made good on its promise, and the national spokesman Mmusi Maimane, the DA Youth federal chairwoman Mbali Ntuli and DA Gauteng leader John Moodey laid charges of incitement of violence, intimidation and illegal gathering.

Photo: The DA’s national spokesman Mmusi Maimane, the DA Youth federal chairwoman Mbali Ntuli and DA Gauteng leader John Moodey laying charges of incitement of violence, intimidation and illegal gathering. DAILY MAVERICK/Greg Nicolson.

The charges are motivated by comments made by metalworkers union leader Irvin Jim prior to the march, wherein he made a veiled threat against the DA.

“Numsa wants to serve a timely warning to the DA and the vested white capitalist class interests it represents: they are embarking on a dangerous and unwinnable class struggle with the power of the black and African working class,” Jim said.

The DA avers that Cosatu had no permission to gather – about 1,000 people dressed in the red colours of Cosatu and its affiliate unions gathered outside Cosatu House to block the DA from getting close – and thus its leaders should be held responsible for an illegal gathering.

The DA will also be examining footage in an attempt to identify individual perpetrators of violence.

On the whole, the DA believes union leaders ought to be held individually responsible for failing to condemn, if not tame, the violence of the crowd that protested in their names.

“Numsa made strong statements that were incitement to violence. Irvin Jim spoke about our march as being an invitation to war,” Maimane said. “None of the union federation members were there on Tuesday. Why did [Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi] remain in his office as the violence escalated? They made no effort to stop the crowd or to condemn the violence. So why are they washing their hands of this?”

Maimane said the DA’s ultimate goal was to put the youth wage subsidy on to the negotiation table. But that couldn’t happen if the “other side” resorted to violence. “A crime was committed and surely it must be policed? We can’t let thugs get away with this. To be clear, I don’t mean that Cosatu are thugs. I’m talking about those who committed acts of violence on Tuesday,” he said.

The DA spokesman also said Cosatu needed to explain how such a large throng gathered without asking the police to do so, as is required by law. “Cosatu must clarify for all of us why their march was organised. They had no legal permission to do so. We simply fail to understand why this was permitted to take place.”

However, according to Cosatu national spokesperson Patrick Craven, there was nothing innocuous about Jim’s comments. “That is the kind of colourful language that has always been a part of the trade union movement,” he said.

Craven said the federation totally condemned the DA’s decision to lay charges against Cosatu. “This is an assault on the leadership of the federation. They cannot possibly be held responsible for isolated incidents that occurred. The DA should rather individually target those who allegedly carried out acts of violence,” he said.

He hinted that Cosatu might take legal action against the DA, but would not specify the type of action or the grounds for it.

Craven said the DA’s decision to lay charges means that the federation would never negotiate with them on the youth wage subsidy. He also said the discussion avenue was never open – a view that has been upheld by the DA’s claim that their efforts to initiate talks had been met with stony silence.

“The avenue of debate was always closed as far as we are concerned,” Craven said. “But we totally condemn this latest action and the doors are even more tightly closed now. We can never sit and negotiate with people who are taking us to court.”

Not unsurprisingly, the ANC Youth League has blamed all the violence on the DA. This statement is as close to a reaction from the ANC as we can expect. It is quite odd to have the main ally of the ruling party fight viciously to stop the main opposition party from demonstrating in favour of a policy of the ruling party without it intervening in any meaningful way.

Two DA captains have told iMaverick that Cosatu simply does not understand how the contestation of ideas occurs in a democracy. Maimane said the decision to report Cosatu to the police would mature the country’s political engagement. “Part of the way in which we debate politically is to hold public demonstrations,” he said. “And everyone is entitled to hold marches. Surely it must be in our new democracy that marches must be held legally and peacefully?”

DA Youth leader Makashule Gana said, “Cosatu seem to think that they have a monopoly on protests and that no other organisation can demonstrate.”

While the original issue – that of the youth wage subsidy – seems to have retreated into the background, the DA believes Tuesday’s action will have managed to convince the unemployed youth of the country that the DA has the right idea. Vavi was quick to ensure that the DA didn’t have that space all to themselves.

Speaking at the Cosatu international policy conference on Wednesday, he said, “The DA has identified the ‘born frees’ who are deeply marginalised as a base they should work on to challenge the hegemony that the ANC and liberation forces have enjoyed for the past 100 years.”

The rest of his speech was littered with worried references to the “liberation forces” and their ability to speak for the poor and marginalised of South Africa. The large number of blacks at the march who were there for the DA suggests that Vavi has reason to be worried. The ANC, for its part, seems completely unconcerned. DM

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Photo: The DA’s Mmusi Maimane laid the charges against Cosatu on Wednesday. DAILY MAVERICK/Greg Nicolson.


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