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Cyril Ramaphosa breaks silence after being shunned at May Day event

President Cyril Ramaphosa with Cosatu president Zingisa Losi and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande at a previous event. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

President Cyril Ramaphosa with Cosatu president Zingisa Losi and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande at a previous event. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 3, 2022


Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa broke his silence via his weekly newsletter about his hasty exit from the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Workers’ Day after he was booed and ultimately told to leave the Cosatu May Day rally by disgruntled workers.

It was mostly Sibanye-Stillwater workers, who have now entered the third month of their wage dispute, that refused to hear Ramaphosa’s May Day speech.

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The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) – the two biggest mine unions in SA – have demanded a pay increase of R1 000 a month over the next three years, similar to the amount Sibanye’s rival Harmony Gold agreed to pay its workers last year.

The mine rejected the R1 000 demand, offering an R800 annual increase, which workers rejected.

On Sunday, workers brought their demands to the Workers’ Day rally, where Ramaphosa was to address them. After the crowd booed Ramaphosa and refused to listen when he tried to address them, Ramaphosa was whisked away in a police Nyala and the May Day event came to an abrupt end.

On Tuesday, in his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa addressed the chaos, saying that while the main grievance appeared to be about wage negotiations at nearby mines, the workers’ actions demonstrated a broader level of discontent.

“It reflects a weakening of trust in their union and federation as well as political leadership, including public institutions.

“As political and union leaders, we have all heard the workers and understand their frustration,” he said.

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While committing to take the necessary action to improve their lives and their working conditions, Ramaphosa said that the government could not do it on its own and needed both labour and business to play a part.

“The wage grievances of the workers in Rustenburg deserve the attention of all stakeholders, employers and labour so that a fair and sustainable settlement can be reached. As government, we are committed to play our part.

“But the workers at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium also made plain what nearly every South African knows: the working class and the poor of our country are suffering,” Ramaphosa said.

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In his newsletter, Ramaphosa acknowledged that “significant” progress was made in improving the social and economic position of the poor and working class since the advent of democracy. However, he added that the growth of the economy has been undermined by the combined effects of the 2008 financial crisis, the sharp decline in commodity prices, state capture, corruption and poor governance.

“The challenges that workers face this Workers’ Day are many and the hardships they endure are great. The road ahead will be difficult and there is much work to do,” he said.

Ramaphosa’s newsletter received some flak online once it was published on Tuesday morning.

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Mzwanele Manyi, spokesperson for the Jacob Zuma Foundation and an African Transformation Movement (ATM) member, said Ramaphosa “missed the point”.

“So, you missed the point that those workers were in fact articulating a countrywide problem. Also, the manner in which you address crowds is condescending and irritating. Don’t address adults as if u are addressing kindergarten children. U stop short of saying ‘repeat after me’,” Manyi posted on Twitter in response to Ramaphosa’s newsletter.

Another Twitter user, @HlamalaniMongwe, predicted a tough upcoming election for Ramaphosa.

“What about public servants who have seen no increase in three years? We are going to meet in the ballot box. You will have to cook the results but you will not be getting any vote from workers of this country,” @HlamalaniMongwe tweeted.

Twitter user @Nonhlan09852265 said that it was not only workers in Rustenburg who had grievances.

“What about your civil servants? Do you know how we are struggling to make ends meet?”

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Political Bureau