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WHAT on earth were they thinking? The Cosatu supporters who threw stones at DA marchers in Johannesburg on Tuesday have not only dishonoured their movement; they have given the DA plenty to crow over.
Yes, it is very likely that the youth wage subsidy will, as Cosatu argues, lead to the erosion of workers’ rights and the replacement of older workers with lower-paid young workers.
Yes, the DA’s decision to march on Cosatu House in order to protest against the federation’s opposition to the subsidy – which is government policy anyway – was deliberately provocative.
Yes, there was violence on both sides. Cosatu supporters were among those hurt as DA members retaliated with stones of their own.
And no, what Cosatu supporters did yesterday to DA members is nothing like what the apartheid police did in 1976 to Soweto schoolchildren, whatever the DA’s Gauteng leader, John Moody, may claim.
But none of that really matters in the aftermath of the ugly scenes in Johannesburg city centre. Whatever the motives of the DA leaders and members, however provocative their stance, they have a fundamental right to express their opinions in street protests.
That right was won at great cost after battles of which trade unionists and trade union members, past and present, were at the forefront. Some lost their lives in just such battles.
For Cosatu supporters to deny anyone else that right today is scandalous. And for their leaders to suggest, as some have done, that the hostility displayed by Cosatu supporters was justified, is appalling.
Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi, to his credit, immediately declared that “Violence is completely unacceptable, from whatever side”, but other trade union leaders have been far more equivocal.
What a pity that Cosatu supporters did not restrain themselves to the symbolic defence of their Cosatu House citadel against the DA horde.
By physically attacking their political adversaries, those who started the violence – and those of their leaders who have failed to condemn them – have played right into DA hands.