President Jacob Zuma booed and heckled by Cosatu members at Workers Day rally

President Jacob Zuma’s arrival at the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Workers Day rally has been met with booing and heckling as workers demand that he is prohibited from addressing the rally in Bloemfontein.

For the first time in its history, Cosatu had to end its main Workers Day rally without any of the tripartite allies being able to address workers.

Cosatu members booed and called for change as Zuma arrived, while the federation’s own president S’dumo Dlamini was also booed as he called for unity. ANC national executive committee member Naledi Pandor was also booed as she attempted to greet workers.

Cosatu members at the Logan Loch stadium are divided over its leadership’s decision to allow Zuma to address the rally – the president’s supporters and detractors had to be separated by marshals at the rally.

Groups of people wearing ‘100% Zuma’ t-shirts attempted to show the ANC president support through songs but this was drowned out by chants of ‘Zuma Must Go’.

The hostility shown towards the president by the workers follows a request by three Cosatu affiliates that Zuma not be allowed to address the rally.

Teachers union Sadtu, health and education union Nehawu and the Communication Workers Union sent letters to Cosatu’s national office bearers last week, protesting Zuma’s presence.

Last month Cosatu’s central executive committee publicly called for Zuma to step down as head of state, saying the federation no longer believes he is the right person to unite and lead the alliance and the country.

Cosatu has publicly backed Zuma’s deputy Cyril Ramaphosa to take over as president, with Nehawu requesting that Ramaphosa address the Workers Day rally instead.

Scheduled speeches have been cancelled as the rally organizers attempt to restore calm among workers unhappy with Zuma, and those who still back him.

But after the main rally was cancelled, ANC Free State chairperson Ace Magashule said the people who booed and heckled Zuma were bussed in from outside the province.

Magashule claimed the disruptions to Zuma’s speech had been planned and did not reflect the views of ordinary workers.

Cosatu workers also disrupted the Workers Day rallies in two other provinces; KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

The two events are addressed by Zuma’s close allies, ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete and deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Mbete’s speech was interrupted over dissatisfaction with Zuma and the ANC leadership in the province. As she attempted to speak, members of the South African Communist Party and Cosatu called for change and booed.

The SACP’s deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila was eventually called up to ask the crowd to stop the heckling.

“The chair of the ANC is not president Zuma and is not the ANC leadership in KZN,” Mapaila said.

SACP chairperson in eThekwini and the city’s former mayor James Nxumalo also pleaded with workers to allow Mbete to finish her address.

“Comrades, this is a Cosatu event, you are not going to come here and spoil it, please… Even if you’re angry you must not do what you’re doing now,” Nxumalo said.

Mbete warned those attending the Workers Day rally that their booing would make the ANC’s enemies “happy”.

“If we do this, we make our enemies happy. Of late, our enemies have even learnt that they can march. It’s us who have shown that our enemies can divide us,” Mbete said.

In Limpopo, Duarte was booed off stage and couldn’t deliver her address to Cosatu members at the Peter Mokaba stadium.

On the other end of the spectrum, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa was applauded by Cosatu members in Mpumalanga, where he addressed a few hundred workers in the rain.

Ramaphosa mostly focused on “worker issues” such as the primary tasks of a union and South Africa’s labour relations history. The ANC deputy pleaded with workers to continue supporting the ANC so it can bring radical economic transformation.

“Those who are deployed must not steal tax payers money,” Ramaphosa said to loud cheers.

In Gauteng, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe marched alongside other SACP and Cosatu members to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

In Cape Town, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize led Cosatu workers in song and finished his speech without any interruption, with workers cheering.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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