DURBAN - Already facing internal ructions ahead of a crucial elective conference, the last thing ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa wanted was disruption by workers at the Workers’ Day event on Sunday, May 1.
But this is what happened as Ramaphosa was prevented from addressing the workers as he was heckled by protesting Sibanye-Stillwater gold mine workers and had to be whisked away from the venue by police.
Here are five crucial developments that have taken place since.
1. Ramaphosa: In his weekly newsletter on Monday titled 'The workers have spoken, and we must listen', said: "These workers wanted to be heard. They wanted their union leaders and government to appreciate their concerns and understand the challenges they face. In raising their voices, these workers were upholding a tradition of militancy that has been part of the labour movement in this country for decades. As political and union leaders, we have all heard the workers and understand their frustration.”
2. Cosatu: The union said while they did not condone the disruption of the May Day event, workers had legitimate grievances over the government's failure to implement the public servants’ wage agreement and other promises. Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said: "What happened on Sunday is down to the policy choices that he and his administration have been making. We are in no position to predict what will happen at future labour gatherings, but his decisions will determine what will happen going forward."
3. Saftu: South African Federation of Trade Unions secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi said workers were justified in heckling Ramaphosa. Vavi said the ANC government had presided over the high unemployment rate, retrenchments and weakening workers’ rights. He said this needed to be taken into account to understand why workers at Sibanye heckled Ramaphosa. Vavi described it as a justifiable act of anger and a statement that needed to be made against the leader of the government that is cutting expenditure on healthcare and education. However, Vavi also called on the labour movement to put aside differences and unite to celebrate May Day.
4. EFF : EFF leader Julius Malema said his party wants to create its own labour union. “That union will never sell out. That union will always be on the side of the workers,” Malema said. “We are preparing to do a union and not a Mickey Mouse union, who is in cahoots and in bed with the employer,” he said. Malema said the party’s labour union would be bigger than Cosatu.
5. Sadtu: The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, an affiliate of Cosatu, condemned and distanced itself from “the anarchy that ensued at the rally to mark International Workers Day – May Day”. ”This unruly behaviour, sadly, led to the abandonment of the event which is celebrated not only in South Africa but worldwide.”
The union said while it condemned the booing of Ramaphosa, they were not oblivious to the challenges facing workers ’as we fight against the undermining of collective bargaining, austerity measures, rising food and fuel prices, job losses and high unemployment figures’.