South Africa, Politics

May Day: Rally cancelled as crowd split over Zuma

By Greg Nicolson 1 May 2017

Cosatu cancelled its main May Day rally in Bloemfontein on Monday after the event was disrupted, with the crowd divided over President Jacob Zuma. Despite warnings, Cosatu and the ANC were adamant the president had a right to attend. By GREG NICOLSON.

A group of Cosatu supporters chanted “Zuma must go” and “Zuma must fall” after marching through Bloemfontein to the trade union federation’s Workers’ Day rally. One placard read “Zuma must rest in peace”.

The president, who was due to address the event, along with Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini and SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande, arrived and sat with the alliance leaders as his supporters gathered and drowned-out the anti-Zuma group.

As both groups continued to sing, despite repeated calls to allow the rally to begin, Cosatu Free State Provincial Secretary, Monyatso Mahlatsi announced there would be no speeches. A memorandum to employer representatives was signed before the rally came to an abrupt end.

“We have registered your concern,” said the MC, trying to quieten those disrupting the event. There were small scuffles between those for and against Zuma and a line of SAPS officers stood behind the barricade between the crowd and the president as they pressed against the fence.

Zuma briefly went into a car, apparently to make a phone call, and returned to sit between Dlamini and Free State Premier Ace Magashule, a member of the “Premier League”, which backs the president and is seen to support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next ANC leader.

The disruption was expected as it emerged last week three Cosatu affiliates had written to the federation’s general secretary requested that Zuma be replaced as a speaker by another ANC leader as Cosatu had called for the president to step down.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) and South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said Zuma should be replaced with a more “eligible leader”, suggesting Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who Cosatu has backed in the ANC’s presidential election race.

Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) has said Zuma is “no longer the right person to unite and lead the movement, the alliance and the country”. The unions worried that by addressing the May Day event, Zuma could cause further instability within the alliance and confuse members in the wake of Cosatu’s calls for him to step down.

The ANC said it was not worried about disruptions to the event as Cosatu had requested it to deploy members to its rallies, which were held across the country. Cosatu defended its decision to allow Zuma to speak by saying he would be addressing the rally as ANC leader and the trade union federation stood by its call for the president to step down.

Cosatu Free State Secretary Monyatso Mahlatsi said the speeches were cancelled after some comrades refused to stop singing, but the event was not a disappointment after Cosatu held a successful march. “The speeches and everything were just going to be a cherry on top,” he said.

Mahlatsi stood by the decision to host Zuma. “It was not a mistake because we as Cosatu cannot go to the ANC and dictate to them their activities,” he said. “The only sad thing is that politics took place in an event of workers.”

According to reports, ANC Free State leader Magashule said the anti-Zuma disruption was caused by outsiders and videos of demonstrators were taken and will be analysed.

Political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni said since 1985 it’s unprecedented for Cosatu to cancel its May Day rally and unprecedented since 1994 for the president of the ANC not to address the main rally. It was a mistake to invite Zuma and there would have been “whispers” to the ANC that the president should not attend, he said.

“It’s a counterintuitive, contradictory stance to say the president should step down because of his leadership of government and the ANC and then you try to split matters by saying he’s addressing as ANC leader,” said Fikeni.

ANC structures have been divided by the upcoming December elective congress and the president’s recent decision to reshuffle Cabinet. It’s exposed differences amongst factions and led to disruptions at events like late struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada’s Durban memorial, where the ANC Youth League interrupted speakers.

Fikeni said the ANC Free State’s decision to mobilise the Youth and Women’s League’s, as well as the Umkhonto We Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), was “hostile”. Such tactics might be seen as a sign of strength by factions, but it will lead to repeated use of the same tactics and create “no-go areas” for certain leaders. “This ANC leadership should have understood that,” said Fikeni.

Political analyst Professor Shadrack Gutto said Cosatu was divided over whether to allow Zuma to attend, but that he decided to speak at the event confirms the public sentiment that sees him as a “conqueror” who overrides positions of the masses. “The movement for ‘Zuma must go’ is growing throughout the country.”

He said the cancelled rally comes at a “very difficult moment” for the ANC, marking the party’s ongoing fragmentation and the fragmentation of the alliance. Calls for radical economic transformation won’t make a difference in the run-up to the 2019 elections, said Gutto, unless the ANC can accept the major divisions within society and respond by electing credible leaders and focusing on internal party reform. DM

Photo: South African state workers seeking higher wages take part in a strike in Johannesburg August 26, 2010. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

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