Cosatu Workers’ Day rally abandoned as tempers flare and fists fly
President Jacob Zuma may have faced his greatest embarrassment yet after being booed in Bloemfontein by Cosatu members, who came to blows as the ANC-alliance partner’s May Day celebrations ended in chaos.
The city that had welcomed a united ANC to the party’s Mangaung conference five years ago, said goodbye yesterday to disparate factions of the same movement.
Zuma arrived at Loch Logan Park in Bloemfontein in usual fashion – a little late and surrounded by men in snappy suits and earpieces.
He was expected to deliver the keynote address at Cosatu’s main May Day event to celebrate Workers’ Day.
Members from Cosatu affiliates NUM, Sadtu and Nehawu chanted: “Zuma se moer, Zuma must fall, Voetsek.”
Some carried placards reading: “Cosatu is dividing us. Declared that JZ cannot lead the country. But today they invite him to address. Who is fooling who?”
Zuma’s arrival was preceded by calls from several unions for him not to attend, as Cosatu had issued a call for him to step down as president.
At 8am, a fence was being erected to separate the crowd from a small stage in a corner of the park and plainclothes police and security were doing checks.
By 11am, the park had started filling up, with a long queue forming at the main entrance where bags were put through X-ray machines and people went through metal detectors.
By 1pm, a large number of workers were pressed up against the fence, screaming, singing and chanting “Zuma must go”.
They were held back by a line of men and women dressed in ANC-branded clothing while police officers with riot shields waited on the other side of the fence in case the crowd broke through.
The crowd sang and sang, finally leaving the Cosatu leadership with no choice but to abandon the event – without a single speech being heard.
To their left, another group sporting red T-shirts emblazoned with “100% ZUMA” on the back chanted and sang in support of him. Finally, tempers flared and fists flew. Zuma sat a few metres away from the brawl, at times chatting and smiling or watching the crowd. He left when the event was cancelled. Cosatu leaders tried in vain to bring the crowd under control.
Within minutes of Zuma leaving, ANC Free State spokesman Thabo Meeao claimed the disrupters had been bused in. “The briefing we have is that the majority of them were bused in from Kimberley to deliberately disrupt the rally.”
In Limpopo, ANC deputy secretarygeneral Jessie Duarte was also booed and stopped from speaking
ANC national spokesman Zizi Kodwa said it was regrettable such a significant, historic Workers’ Day was reduced to political leadership differences.
“It was a moment to celebrate really, but at the same time a moment to reflect on how we continue to unite workers to fight any form of exploitation,” he said.
“The day is not about President Zuma, but about the workers.”
Kodwa said the disruption could be linked to the ANC succession race.
“The incident is a consequence of what the ANC has been warning about, including the alliance partners, the leagues and all individuals who have prematurely announced in public their leadership preferences,” he said.
At the Bloemfontein park, resident Rebecca Matsika, 57, wearing a Ceppawu T-shirt, said she had not come to hear Zuma speak.
“We don’t have faith in him anymore, South Africa is crying. The workers are crying,” she said.
Lifa Mhlambe, who identified himself as the Thabo Mofutsanyana District secretary for the SACP, called those who had disrupted the event infiltrators, saying their T-shirts were not legitimate union garb.
– Additional reporting Zoe Mahopo and Ngwako Modjadji