/ 15 May 2012

Red versus Blue: The broken side of protest

The DA says it will take legal action against Cosatu leaders for what it calls intimidation
The DA says it will take legal action against Cosatu leaders for what it calls intimidation

Supporters of Cosatu and the DA clashed in Braamfontein on Tuesday during what was meant to be a march against the union federation’s position on a youth wage subsidy. Rocks were hurled from both sides as police were called in to break up the groups.

DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane released a statement later in the day condemning the violence against his supporters and blamed Cosatu.

“They didn’t deserve to be attacked for supporting a policy that would create jobs and change lives.”

He added: “Cosatu’s conduct today was anti-democratic and has no place in South Africa”.

Maimane also slated Cosatu’s failure to respond to the violence and claimed perpetrators took their cue from Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim’s declaration that the march was the beginning of “open political warfare”.

Some Cosatu members waved banners reading “Enough is enough with Slavery. To Hell with Labour Brokers and Slut Zille” and “Corrupt DA won’t stop brokers”.

Outbreak of violence
Several marchers were hurt in the melee in Jorrisen Street, as well as Mail & Guardian journalist Nickolaus Bauer, who was injured by a flying rock.

“Cosatu got very agitated when (DA leader) Zille began talking and after her speech the rocks began from both sides … the brick hit me in the head and my legs gave out. I blacked out and when I came to I tried to get to my feet and saw blood on the floor – a photographer helped me to safety,” said Bauer.

He said it was impossible to say which side was responsible for the outbreak of violence but added that both sides were provoking the other.

According to police estimates, about 2 500 DA supporters, wearing blue T-shirts, converged on Beyers Naude Square in the city centre for the march.

Cosatu affiliates vowed to oppose the DA’s march, saying it was an act of provocation against the working classes.

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 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.

Reaffirming stance
Amid the chaos Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi addressed the crowd. He used the opportunity to reaffirm the federation’s stance on a youth wage subsidy.

He said a subsidy would use workers’ tax money to further enrich company bosses and had to be opposed.

“What will happen is when workers get old, bosses will throw them into the street,” Vavi said.

He said youth receiving the subsidy would also not receive a full wage.

“We demand equal pay for work of equal value.”

He said protests should rather be aimed at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, where CEOs and company enjoyed the fruits of South Africa’s wealth.

Vavi jabbed at DA leader Helen Zille, saying DA supporters had learned to toyi-toyi by watching real workers on TV. – Additional reporting by Sapa