Several marchers were injured in the melee, and a Mail & Guardian journalist was taken to hospital after being struck by a brick.
According to police estimates, about 2 500 Democratic Alliance supporters, wearing blue T-shirts, converged on Beyers Naude Square in the city centre to protest against the union federation’s opposition to the youth wage subsidy by marching to Cosatu’s headquarters in Braamfontein.
Cosatu affiliates, however, vowed to oppose the DA’s march, saying that it was an act of provocation against the working classes and signalled the beginning of “open class warfare”.
DA leader Helen Zille, youth leader Makashule Gana, parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane led the protest to Cosatu’s headquarters.
Meanwhile, at least 1 000 Cosatu supporters gathered outside its offices and along the end of the DA’s route in a bid to stop the marchers, bearing posters with slogans that included, “Zille is trying to Verwoert-erise GP and SA!!!”; “Futsek moron DA”; and “Beware ANC apartheid is back”.
“We are here to welcome the DA when they arrive,” Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said.
But the DA didn’t make it that far. Chaos erupted as the marchers entered Braamfontein, where Cosatu members met them head-on in a bloody clash on Jorissen Street.
According to M&G reporters on the scene, rocks and debris were seen flying from both sides, with police apparently unprepared for the violence.
Riot squad police officers were eventually deployed and a police nyala moved in to separate DA and Cosatu supporters, prompting complaints from aggrieved Cosatu leaders, who claimed the police were using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse their supporters while ignoring the DA marchers.
Cosatu’s supporters managed to stop the marchers before they reached their destination, but DA supporters were undaunted, and Zille addressed the crowd in Zulu, reiterating the party’s condemnation of Cosatu’s opposition to the youth wage subsidy.
Mazibuko told the crowd they were on the same side – fighting for economic freedom.
“I felt sad that South Africans, who fought for tolerance and freedom, couldn’t exercise those rights today,” she said.– Additional reporting by Sapa