There is a lot of noise in South Africa right now. It’s becoming hard to focus on what is principle and to detect what is posturing.
It is also an important period in our democracy where informed, reasoned public opinion is critical. We have to be vigilant and we have to be sceptical of all who express their opinions with threats.
Last week’s violent clash between Cosatu and the DA in Joburg is a good example of why we should always think twice before we form an opinion.
The DA decided to march to Cosatu House to protest against Cosatu’s opposition to a youth wage subsidy – something that is already ANC and government policy, and has already been budgeted for.
My suspicion is that this was as much a reflection of the DA’s genuine concern for the unemployed youth as it was a strategy to shake its image as a party of the white middle class and to establish itself as a party concerned about young people and the unemployed. Protest politics and the use of Struggle symbolism is very much a part of the Zille plan to redefine her party.
Cosatu leaders prepared the ground for a violent confrontation from the start with the repeated warning they would “defend Cosatu House” – as if their headquarters were going to be physically attacked. The National Union of Metalworkers’ hothead Irvin Jim was most forthright: “Numsa is ready for them. We shall fight to the last woman and man to defend Cosatu and its leaders,” he said.
We know what happened during the march. I don’t think there is a single reasonable person in the country who believes the Cosatu allegation afterwards that the DA “arrived with a truckload of bricks” and that they – rather than Cosatu members – started the violence.
Afterwards politicians, political analysts and opinionistas, while condemning the violence, blamed the DA for being “provocative” and “reckless”.
What did the DA expect, was the chorus. Many, even a learned professor, talked of “class warfare”, of the DA being a proxy for “monopoly white capitalists’ assault on labour”.
Others mocked the DA for being liberal sissies who had their first taste of real SA politics.
The race card was liberally used – and Cosatu and its apologists, with Irvin Jim shouting the loudest, predictably called the majority black participants in the march stooges of whites, people with a slave mentality and people committing class and race suicide.
The SACP, led by Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande and Deputy Minister of Transport Jeremy Cronin declared: “What the DA had hoped to achieve is not different to what Dave Clive (sic) Lewis and Janus Walusz sought to achieve by assassinating Comrade Chris Hani, their aim was to plunge South Africa into a civil war.”
Who can ever take the SACP seriously again after a statement like that?
The principle here is that the DA’s protest march was completely legitimate and legal.
Like them or not, it is the official opposition in Parliament and is supported by a quarter of the electorate, including a growing number of black citizens.
The political focus of the protest was also completely legitimate.
Yes, perhaps it was “provocative”, perhaps even “opportunistic”, but if one excludes these motivations from political interaction there will be no democracy.
I can understand the fury of some Cosatu members at the audacity of a party that was not part of the former liberation movement to oppose the position of the biggest trade union, the representatives of most black workers.
But this is where leadership becomes important, and this is where Cosatu’s leadership failed completely, starting with Zwelinzima Vavi and Sdumo Dlamini. Leaders are supposed to give direction and to prevent lynch mobs.
Vavi and his fellow Cosatu leaders make sweet-sounding utterances on democracy and free speech, but they sat back and watched their members behave like Zanu-PF’s thugs. Their actions and attitude remind us of the ugly days of mass killings in the late 1980s and early 1990s when political groupings established “no-go areas” where political opponents were not allowed to venture.
Cosatu’s violence and the hatred reflected by their posters and their utterances (and those of the SACP) sent a chill down my spine.
Is this what awaits SA if (or when?) we get to a day when the ANC and its alliance with Cosatu and the SACP get beaten at the polls?
The evidence before me right now suggests that the tripartite alliance will probably do exactly what Robert Mugabe did when he and Zanu-PF lost the support of the majority of the voters in Zimbabwe.
It is this culture of violence, hatred and intolerance that all genuine democrats as well as political commentators and opinion formers should concentrate on, instead of ridiculing those who exercised their democratic rights and condoning the intolerance of the violators of those rights through soft condemnation.