A crowd of around thousand workers gathered to celebrate International Workers’ Day at a Cosatu rally held in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. And in what was meant to be a last push for a local ANC victory as well as a display of unity in the tripartite alliance, President Jacob Zuma was referred to only twice while Marikana and Nkandla got no mention at all. By MARIANNE THAMM.
While the middle-class residents of Cape Town were up early on May Day cycling in tandem through the dappled autumnal sunlight that bathed leafy suburbs, about 1,000 of their working-class counterparts (at least those not serving coffee at the local Vida e Café or wedged behind the tills at the local Woolworths) gathered at the Khayelitsha Stadium to celebrate International Workers’ Day.
The route from the suburbs to Cape Town’s largest township highlights the divides and inequalities of the city and the province. Smooth tarred roads, with few, if any, ANC posters and brilliant for cycling, lead onto the N2 highway.
Around 30km on is the Mew Way turnoff to Khayelitsha, where taxis dodge nasty potholes and loose gravel. Corrugated iron shacks and small businesses selling second-hand building material and mattresses are packed up close to the main road. There is not a tree in sight.
Curiously – only seven days before voting on 7 May – there were few DA posters in evidence on lampposts while distinctive, red Cosatu posters advertising the May Day Rally lined the roads leading to the stadium.
In the 2009 national election in the Western Cape, the DA secured 51.4 percent of the vote, followed by the ANC with 31.5, COPE with 7.7 and the now extinct Independent Democrats with 4.8. So, while the DA might be confident of a victory, it is not yet in the bag and one would expect a stronger presence so close to voting day.
Of course, Cosatu’s main and most important event was taking place elsewhere in the country at the Peter Mokaba stadium in Limpopo where President Jacob Zuma was due to speak along with Cosatu President, Sidumo Dlamini, SACP General Secretary, Blade Nzimande, and SANCO President Richard Mdakane.
In the Western Cape, where the ANC is in opposition, the party sent Treasurer General, Zweli Mkize, an odd choice as he still enjoys not much support outside of KwaZulu Natal.
By 11.30am Cosatu Regional Secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, was on the field surveying the crowds who had begun to slowly trickle in. The event was due to start in half an hour and the numbers were, quite frankly, not looking good. And while most workers were wearing red Cosatu t-shirts, there were few ANC t-shirts emblazoned with President Zuma’s face. Most of the yellow t-shirts on the field either featured Nelson Mandela or simply ANC colours.
This speaks to the dilemma some ANC activists in the province have faced while campaigning door to door in the city’s townships. Wearing a t-shirt featuring the president has not always guaranteed a warm welcome. Potential voters, say activists, were much more open to persuasion when canvassers wore only ANC colours – visibly separating the 102-year-old party from its current leader.
The crowd was good humoured as adults spread out blankets and children danced to music or played football on the periphery. A Rastafarian selling biscuits briskly plied his trade while multi-tasking, picking up any litter he came across and stuffing it in his backpack.
There was momentary excitement when about ten young white people dressed in ANC t-shirts alighted from a van. How wonderful, someone remarked, that white Capetonians had come to show solidarity with the workers. But the excitement was short-lived when it turned out the pale visitors were in fact a group of Dutch students out doing “research” in South Africa.
The rally kicked off with the Domestic Workers’ Union choir who performed a rousing rendition of the anthem “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that’s why I’m a union man”.
The afternoon’s proceedings were chaired by Cosatu Western Cape Chairman, Dan Melapi, who dedicated the day to “Chris Hani and other fallen heroes” and who suggested it was time to “get rid of the tyrant, racist regime let by Zille”.
“We accidentally voted for the DA in this province. We want to reverse that mistake. The struggle is not over. Khayelitsha used to be a stronghold but we have seen a drop in numbers,” Melapi told the crowd.
He reminded those gathered that an abstention was in fact a vote “against the ANC” and that it was time to give the party a chance to lead in the province.
Melapi said that apart from the DA there would be others who “will mislead you”.
In not even a thinly-veiled attack on the EFF. Melapi continued; “There are those wearing our colours. Those wearing berets. These people are abnormal. We are against those animals. They pretend to speak the same language. We accidentally recruited them because we trusted and believed they were one of us but they have shown us they are not.”
Next up was SACP Central Committee member and Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim, who told the crowd that this May Day was the most important one since 1994.
“It comes after 27 April, the 20th anniversary of our democracy and just a few days before our elections next Wednesday. This May Day is important not least because sadly the trade union movement and Cosatu in particular are divided. This is one of the biggest challenges we have had to confront since April 1994.”
Carrim reminded workers that they should not rely on leadership to bring unity but on themselves and to also remember that the country’s democracy “was won because of the popular struggle of all classes and strata of South Africans”.
The SACP, said Carrim, had three messages: “Defend working class gains, ensure an overwhelming ANC victory on 7 May and take forward the struggle for the radical second phase of our national democratic revolution as we committed ourselves to doing at the Mangaung policy conference of December 2012.”
He said workers also had to acknowledge that “whatever the problems in the ANC and government, whatever our unhappiness with the ANC and government, we have made huge progress”.
“These things that are being made possible are not being done by a benevolent government from above but from a class struggle from below. We cannot give the ANC a blank cheque. We support the ANC but we have to fight for more radical transformation.”
Carrim called for changing the structure of the economy away from mining, exports, minerals and the financial sector to more manufacturing and greater industrialisation.
He saved his parting shot for EFF leader Julius Malema.
“There are people who say vote for us. They wear our red colours and our red beret. But ask them, how is it they wear watches that cost over R500,000? Where does the money come from? How is it that they wear Louis Vuitton shoes and claim to speak for the poor? These people of the EFF, they want to nationalise, not to give to the poor and the working class. They want to nationalise so they can benefit themselves. This is nationalisation for the leadership of the EFF. As they have been doing so with tenders.”
Carrim called for a vote for the ANC in order to advance the “second phase of the revolution” a phrase that seems to have almost dropped out of ruling party rhetoric since Mangaung.
Marius Fransman, Western Cape ANC leader, who was not billed to speak, addressed the crowd, briefly acknowledging that the campaign this time had been “difficult and tough”.
Mkize’s address, which he delivered mostly in Xhosa, was a straight down the line campaign stump, telling the ANC’s “good story”, avoiding any references to the major crises that have bedeviled President Jacob Zuma’s presidency including most importantly Marikana (where workers were shot by the South African police) and Nkandla.
He invoked Mandela with an “Ah, Dalibhunga”, as well as Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu, Moses Mabida and Moses Kotane.
“What our forebears did before 1994 and what the ANC government has done in the past 20 years, and what the ANC-led government is doing in the next 20 years and the many years to come is one and the same programme, the same path. It is the same revolution we are taking forward. When you vote on 7 May that struggle continues.”
Mkize explained that the ANC was looking forward to a term in government where the National Development Plan would be “institutionalised”.
He told the crowd to rapturous applause that there were no alternatives to the ANC.
“In terms of its programmes, the ANC is the best. In terms of its policy, the ANC is the best. In terms of its history, the ANC is the best. In terms of its commitment to fight for the upliftment of the poor, the ANC is the best. In terms of entrenching and defending the rights of the workers the ANC is the best.”
And in many ways all this might be true. But in terms of delivery on its policies and holding its president to account, the ANC decidedly failed. And that is what may cost it at the next election.
One thinks again of a statement by Marx. (Not that one.) Groucho Marx. The saying which goes:
“Who are you going to believe – me or your eyes?” DM
Main Photo: ANC Western Cape Leader, Marius Fransman and ANC Treasurer General, Zweli Mkize at a Cosatu May Day rally in the Western Cape. (Marianne Thamm)
Photo 2: The Domestic Worker’s Union choir
Photo 1: Workers gather in Khayelitsha with Table Mountain as a backdrop in the distance.
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon