Booing of President Cyril Ramaphosa at May Day rally exposes cracks in alliance

The booing of President Cyril Ramaphosa at a May Day rally in Rustenburg on Sunday has been greeted with mixed reactions, with some labour unions saying the incident highlights the anger workers have towards the ANC.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the Joint Sitting of Parliament on Government’s response to the KZN floods. Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Published May 3, 2022


DURBAN - THE booing of President Cyril Ramaphosa at a May Day rally in Rustenburg on Sunday has been greeted with mixed reactions, with some labour unions saying the incident highlights the anger workers have towards the ANC.

Ramaphosa had to abandon the national Workers’ Day event, organised by Cosatu, after angry Sibanye-Stillwater workers disrupted the proceedings.

The National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union – the two biggest unions in the mining sector – have demanded an increase of R1 000 per month over the next three years.

Sibanye’s chief executive, Neal Froneman, said the company would not revise its final offer, as it could not sustain higher wage increases.

Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, spokesperson of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, which is an affiliate of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, said they were not “surprised” by the workers’ actions.

“There have been attacks on workers' conditions, benefits and wages, and the people who are leading the attacks are President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC administration that he leads,” she said.

However, the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), an affiliate of Cosatu, said it distances itself from the “anarchy” that ensued at the rally.

Sadtu general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said: “Sadtu finds it ironic that some workers among the crowd could behave in such an undignified manner at an event whose purpose is to seek, among others, to recommit the country to the constitutional principle of fair labour practices.”

ANC Head of Presidency, Sibongile Besani, said the incidents of booing were regrettable and not a reflection on the president.

“When the rally started, the first speakers made speeches in the midst of heavy interruptions. The president was asked to address workers, who raised the Sibanye-Stillwater strike.

“The workers were appreciative of the fact that the president heard them out. Thereafter, the president came to the podium but another group of workers interrupted him too. All these incidents of booing are regrettable. Therefore it is no reflection on the president.”

Political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said: “At a political level, this indicates a disconnect among members of the alliance. Cosatu failed to see this coming which suggests its disconnect with its own constituency.

“At the same time, workers are saying they are gatvol with Ramaphosa, his administration and the ANC. They see him as a stooge of white capital.

“At government level, the booing points to the failure of intelligence. A functioning intelligence machine would have seen this coming.

“Lastly, the booing of Ramaphosa speaks to the sense of alienation felt by workers and communities. In him they see a person who has sold his soul.”

Director at the School of Public Leadership at Stellenbosch University, Professor Zwelinzima Ndevu said the incident could mean that the centre “was no longer holding”.

“We are starting to see cracks within the alliance. We will remember that the downfall of President Mbeki started with the booing in KZN and with Zuma the same thing in the Free State.

“The situation also demonstrates that workers can no longer settle for empty promises, they want accountability and actions to be taken by those in charge,” said Ndevu.

Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said they did not condone the disruption, and described it as regrettable.

“We did not invite him as the president of the country but as the president of the ANC, an alliance partner. He knows the issues; when the public service matter went to court we asked if the court ruled in their favour, whether they would regard that as a victory. We said he must be careful of a legal victory…”

Pamla said Cosatu supported Ramaphosa when he wanted to become president and he was given a mandate, but he did not stand by the agreement. “Because of Covid, this was the first May Day rally where workers could gather and this is a big problem for him and his administration. What happened on Sunday is down to the policy choices that he and his administration have been making,” Pamla said.


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