Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Photo: Matthews Baloyi

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has condemned the violence that claimed casualties among labour federation and DA demonstrators in Johannesburg on Tuesday – while DA leader Helen Zille has vowed to continue pushing for a youth wage subsidy, saying she will unveil a plan for this at Parliament on Thursday.

Addressing Cosatu’s international policy conference on Wednesday, Vavi referred to the bloody confrontation as “frustrations from both sides of the most marginalised sections of our society playing themselves out”: on the one hand, organised workers, “extremely angry and frustrated by poverty wages”, and on the other, “largely unemployed African youth… mobilised by a right-wing party”.

According to Timeslive, Vavi warned against the ANC's policies which, he said, were failing the poor and unemployed.


“South Africa as a country is sitting on a ticking bomb that one day will explode ... Another 1976 is waiting to happen. If we preoccupy ourselves with palace politics while Rome is burning, then history will judge us equally and harshly,” Vavi was quoted as saying.

“A country that has this magnitude of unemployment in the midst of this opulence workers see every day, a country that tolerates for 18 years those kind of inequalities to just grow and grow and deepen, and with the poverty that not only grinds but humiliates such a huge number of the population - we are sitting on a ticking bomb indeed.


“Unless we break with what is currently unfolding - I'm not an alarmist - we may see (the events that have been) unfolding in Europe in the past two years being revisited here in South Africa.”

For Vavi, the “pro-business and anti-poor” DA was trying to make political capital by appealing to the “born frees” – young South Africans who had not experienced apartheid – to challenge the political dominance of the ANC.

”If we don't stop the real crisis, then those 3 000 (DA marchers) will become 6 000,” Timeslive quoted Vavi as saying.

“It will eventually succeed. Eventually all of us will be in very, very hot water in no time.”

“The DA was demanding “that we should accept that the taxes we pay must be handed over to capital so that they can employ young workers as part of a strategy to address the youth unemployment crisis in the country. What nonsense,” Vavi said.

But Zille was adamant.

“We are going to persist with calls for the youth wage subsidy,” she said. “We want it front and centre.”

Zille dismissed as a “red herring” suggestions that the stance taken by the DA was making impossible any compromise between the government and labour.

Zille said Cosatu had been shown up to be intolerant and holding policy positions “designed to keep the youth marginalised”.

She would not give details of the plan she was to unveil on Thursday.

The DA said it marched on Cosatu House to try to compel the union to stop opposing the youth wage subsidy, which the party believes would create about 400 000 jobs.

Cosatu says such a subsidy would exploit the youth, while employers would fire older workers to create space for them.

Analysts were critical of the DA and of Cosatu.

Professor Steven Friedman said the DA had intended to provoke Cosatu as part of its effort to discredit the federation and imply it was responsible for the lack of job creation and the high unemployment rate.

“Cosatu made a serious error in allowing its members to cut off the march because it sent out a message that (it is) intolerant.”

Friedman said Cosatu’s mandate was not job-creation, but to protect the interests of workers.

Zwelethu Jolobe, a politics lecturer at UCT, said the march had shown the DA was capable of street politics, which it was not known for, and where the battle lines were drawn on the wage subsidy issue.

Political commentator Keith Gottschalk said the DA was well within its rights to march as Cosatu had been the biggest critic of the youth wage subsidy – even after the proposal had gained the government’s backing and after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan had allocated funds for its initial implementation. - Political Bureau, IOL


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