There was a whole lot of scaremongering going on at Cosatu’s May Day rally, which was officially aimed at celebrating the 30th birthday of the labour federation and campaigning for the local government elections in August.
Unofficially, it was a platform for President Jacob Zuma to reaffirm his strength, make a show of the unity in the alliance, and to diss Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema. Just the previous day, Malema warned Zuma that he could be unseated by his own soldiers should he refuse to step down.
Even though the rally, held on Sunday on an open piece of field in Pretoria’s Moretele Park Resort, got off to a late start, the field was full of supporters in red Cosatu and SA Communist Party T-shirts and yellow ANC T-shirts.
Not far away, in Tembisa, former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and breakaway metalworkers’ union Numsa, held a rally to mark the birth of a new labour federation.
Zuma outlined a number of dangers that South Africans should be afraid of:
1. The capitalist system wants to silence the voices of workers, so “the struggle continues” and workers must organise.
2. Some dangers are invisible: “The suppression and oppression of workers take certain forms. At times it is very harsh, at times it is camouflaged by certain things,” he said. “We are in a challenging situation in South Africa.”
3. Opportunists in the ANC alliance’s own midst are out to take over the revolution like they have done in other countries: “This can happen in this country, by the very people you thought were with you and yet they were not with you. You need to appreciate this because some of the voices that are very loud are the people that are with you here. That are people who have begun to give a different interpretation to the revolution.” (It is unclear who was referred to here, but Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile, who has called for Zuma to step down, sat on stage as if under duress, and his introduction of the president was not elaborate.) Also present was SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, whose party said Zuma’s apology was not enough. This was after the Constitutional Court judgment that he failed to uphold the constitution by failing to comply with public protector remedial action to pay back a portion of the taxpayers money used for security upgrades at his rural Nkandla homestead.
4. Any other party will ruin this country: “Workers’ rights are enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa, the right to fair labour practice, the right to form labour unions, the right to strike and picket, our Constitution says we should do so as workers. Would these laws be there without the ANC government,” Zuma asked as the crowd responded: “Noooooo!” “Without the ANC in power, this country will be in big trouble.”
5. Unity in the alliance is important: “Comrades, the achievements we celebrate today regarding the worker place, we do so because of the mutually beneficial relationship in the alliance,” he said. The “vanguard of the workers must be organised and work with the workers, including shaping the thinking of the workers, but also work with the national movement, the ANC, so that each of these will protect the other in one form or the other. We need one another more than we think we know.” The ANC is progressive because of the SACP and the workers, and worker-friendly laws are piloted in Parliament because of the ANC.
6. Cosatu members must vote ANC, or else: “It should not be debated whether Cosatu members vote for the ANC or not, well that (the ANC) is the political side of Cosatu. Because it is only when Cosatu and the Party (SACP) vote for the ANC that the ANC can stay and we can push for a better South Africa, for a prosperous South Africa.”
7. Beware imposter unions that divide: “Anybody who claims to be representing the interests of the workers, in no way can undermine the unity of the workers, can divide the workers, in the name of caring for the workers, it can’t be.”
8. Let there not even be a debate whether Cosatu will campaign for the ANC: “It is during this year that we will see communities in our country renew their mandates to the local leaders. If you take what Chief Luthuli said (that the ANC is a shield and the trade union the spear in the hands of workers) this cannot be the business of the ANC only, it is equally the business of the federation Cosatu. There is no one who is inviting the other to come and help, it is our duty it is our mandate.”
9. Vote for quality services, not for those with no proven track record: “Don’t listen to people who dream whilst awake in this country,” he said to loud cheers from the crowd, “because there are so many who dream whilst awake. We therefore call on all workers to unite and rally behind the ANC in these elections. The unity of workers is paramount for the victory of the ANC in these elections.”
10. Beware the barrel of the gun: “We also noted in the political environment the existence of some desperate elements who seem hell-bent on promoting anarchy and chaos in our beautiful country. The people of our country must isolate political parties that advocate the use of violence in a free, peaceful and democratic South Africa. We worked very hard to create peace and stability in our country, lives were lost in the struggle for freedom, peace and democracy. We must not allow opportunists to take us back to the period of anarchy and destruction. We must also isolate and shun parties that promote disunity and divisions within our country. Let us isolate and shun parties that promote thuggery and chaos. South Africans want to live in peace and harmony anarchists and those who support them have no place in a democratic SA,” he said to applause.
11. The ANC needs power: “We are not just voting for the sake of it, the vote constitutes the power. If it is said this organisation is in power, it is put there by vote, and the vote therefore constitutes the power. If you don’t vote or encourage people to go and vote you are in fact interfering with the power of government. A vote is a power. That is why we must ensure that we deploy ourselves all over the country to ensure that all citizens are out to vote for that is where the power lies for us to change conditions in this country,” he said. “We need to maintain the level of two-thirds, because it means if you have two-thirds, you have the power to change the country. If you have what they call small margin, the power is very little, you can’t do anything. So therefore to vote for the ANC to have bigger power to change what they see as an obstacle is absolutely important.”
12. Those who “talk too much” will be dealt with: “We must not leave power, because if we leave power, this country will be in the hands of chaotic people, anarchists, and we will be in trouble. And there will be no forward movement, and you must know that in every country, in the world, the majority of people is the working people. We are going to start campaigning, we are going to deal with people who talk too much and explain to the country who they are, what are they trying to do. We are going to deal with everything that is being said,” he said. “A campaign is going to move through the country. Opportunists and reactionaries will be explained. Our country is faced today by counter-revolutions in many guises and we have to expose them for the people to know who they are.”
Some of the May Day rally’s other speakers also had warnings:
- The SA National Civics Organisation’s Richard Mdakane warned that “neoliberals and their counterparts are conniving to reverse workers’ gain”. He went on to say vote for the ANC because other parties don’t have the experience of running the country, and without the alliance there was no future.
He then reassured Zuma that the masses wanted him to stay put.
“Even if you volunteer not to govern the country, they will march to Luthuli House to demand that you govern the country, because nobody else is capable,” Mdakane said, eliciting a faint smile from the old man.
- SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, whose organisation has been calling for Zuma to go, did not let any of that show. Speaking about the alliance and South Africa as a whole, he said: “We are here at 22 (years of democracy), we are still together, but we should not relax because the threats to our country and our revolution are still very big.”
He said the revolution was “under attack” in virtually all the Brics countries. “That is why, comrades, it is important that we must not gamble with the unity of our alliance.”
He said despite “challenges”, Cosatu had been stabilised, and the leadership had to be congratulated for “protecting Cosatu through this difficult time”.
But Zuma deliberately ignored to mention any word about state capture, something both Cosatu and the SACP have been vocal about. Zuma’s family friends the Guptas are one of the key targets of the ANC-led alliance campaign against state capture. Zuma’s son is a director in a number of companies owned by the influential Gupta family.