Cyril can’t fill up the stadium either

Wednesday.

It’s May Day, Workers’ Day, the day working people around the world get the day off to celebrate themselves, rather than a holiday to mark the birth — or death — of some lahnee, or the invasion of somewhere.

May Day is a special holiday. It was only officially proclaimed in South Africa in 1995. Until then, the day was fought for, marched for, struck for.

Died for.

As usual, I haven’t been able to celebrate May Day myself, another one of the occupational hazards that come with journalism.

There’s only six days to go to the May 8 voting day, so instead of watching my 12-year-old playing in a five-a-side football tournament, I’m at Sugar Ray Xulu football stadium in Clermont township, waiting for President Cyril Ramaphosa to address Cosatu’s main May Day rally.

It’s been a rather long wait.

Despite the improved timekeeping at government and party events, which has been one of the hallmarks of Rampahosa’s New Dawn, kick-off has been delayed by several hours while the organisers wait for Sugar Ray to fill up.

I was last at Sugar Ray just before the ANC’s national conference in December 2017, for then party presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s final send-off rally. The stadium was packed then, a massive show of strength by the faction backing her.

I wonder where all the comrades from the NDZ faction are today? Surely they can’t still be sulking.

Today’s gig can’t kick off while the stadium is empty: this rally is meant to be a show of strength by both Cosatu and the ANC, particularly with polling day looming, so there’s no way Ramaphosa can be allowed to address empty pavilions.

The comrades have been arriving at a pitifully slow rate, more of a dribble than a trickle, so we’re not starting any time soon. There’s clearly a problem. Cosatu has taken a hammering in recent years. There’s been a drop in membership as a result of massive job losses, but, more glaringly, a loss of organisational muscle because of the split in the federation. The departure of the National Union of Mineworkers South Africa and other affiliates to form the South African Federation of Trade Unions has clearly taken its toll.

Cosatu, like the rest of South Africa, has been forced to pay a price for the ongoing war for control of the governing party.

There’s a fair amount of beer-in-hand debusing — it’s a public holiday, after all. A queue is forming at the shisanyama across the road from the stadium, just up from the ganja-smoking crew, who have set up shop in the buses parked on the side of the street. I head their way: I need to interview some rallygoers as part of my coverage. These comrades are likely to be more chatty than most, less likely to refer me to the provincial secretary for comment, so it makes sense to start with them.

I’m also starving.

The rally eventually gets going. It’s less than impressive. The crowd is receptive enough, but the entire event is desultory, as if people are doing what they are doing because they have to, or because they don’t know how to do anything else. The crowd is still thin. Perhaps the heat is the problem. Perhaps this is a result of the violent municipal workers’ strike that paralysed the city the day before in response to former Umkhonto weSizwe combatants being given preferential pay over members of the South African Municipal Workers Union in the same jobs.

Perhaps this is what happens when the Bosasa money dries up.

Perhaps.

Whatever the reason, there were way more red T-shirts in the Economic Freedom Fighters’s march against political killings and intolerance in Durban on Tuesday afternoon, than at Sugar Ray for the ANC-led alliance’s main rally for May Day.

If I were Cosatu — and the ANC — I would be worried about May 8 in general and the EFF in particular.

I have a date with the Fighters on Sunday for their closing rally at Orlando Stadium on the final day of campaigning. Their manifesto launch in Pretoria in February was massive, a real show of strength that hasn’t let up since, complete with drone cameras, so I’m game. The Fighters on the field at the launch were happy to see me, even after they found out I was from the media, and not one of them, so Sunday should be a blast.

The mobile goes.

It’s one of those spam numbers, but I’m bored, so I take the call anyhow.

It’s a recorded message of Helen Zille’s voice, somewhat hysterically exhorting me to vote for the Democratic Alliance and keep the ANC and EFF from giving away the land.

I start giggling.

You couldn’t make this shit up. I thought the DA had taken away Zille’s cellphone until after the elections.

Clearly not.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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