The divisions in the tripartite alliance over the ANC’s succession battle played out at Cosatu’s nationwide May Day rallies with President Jacob Zuma and his “allies” booed while his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa was cheered and welcomed.
Ramaphosa was once again endorsed as the preferred candidate to take over from Zuma.
Zuma, African National Congress national chairperson Baleka Mbete and deputy-general secretary Jessie Duarte faced a torrid time in front of the labour federation members.
Zuma faced the worst embarrassment since ascending to ANC presidency in 2007 when unrelenting Cosatu members heckled and chanted anti-Zuma songs in his presence.
This forced the federation to prematurely end its main Worker’s Day celebrations in Bloemfontein. In an unprecedented move all speeches were cancelled and the event abandoned.
In Durban, Mbete tried to put up a brave face and continued with her speech despite repeated boos from the crowd who gestured for her to leave the stage.
They chanted “Gupta” and despite attempts by SACP second deputy-general secretary Solly Mapaila and local leaders to calm the crowd. Responding to the rejection Mbete claimed that national ANC leadership expected the hostile treatment.
“We anticipated this as leadership. We met a week ago and discussed it. But we were ready to come and conduct ourselves in terms of our role as leadership,” she told News24.
Duarte didn’t have a good day at the office either with the crowd barring her from addressing them. Gathered in Polokwane in Limpopo, Duarte was booed by hundreds of Cosatu members when she was introduced to speak.
She told News24 afterward: “This is about supporting a candidate, the ANC has not decided on candidate yet, none of us has preferences. We have not taken a decision yet.”
This was in sharp contrast to Ramaphosa, who was again affirmed as next ANC president at the rallies that went ahead. Cosatu leaders who spoke said they will work the ground to ensure he was elected as the next ANC president.
Ramaphosa delivered his speech in Nkomazi, Mpumalanga during a heavy downpour with Cosatu members rooted in the rain listening to his entire speech.
Cosatu’s first deputy president James Tyotyo said government would not need to build him a home-an indirect jab to government spending R250m to upgrade Zuma’s private Nkandla home.
“He will not steal government money. Government will not build him a house because he already has his own house. As Cosatu we want to repeat it today, we say the president [Zuma] must step down because on daily basis he commits blunders. His blunders will make us lose the elections in 2019,” said Tyotyo.
Ramaphosa for president
At the Gauteng Cosatu rally general-secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said they will campaign to ensure Ramaphosa takes over the ANC presidency.
“We as the workers want Cyril Ramaphosa to be president, we will elect him in December,” Ntshalintshali said.
Political analyst Susan Booysen said the events were a “watershed moment for the ANC and the Zuma faction within the ANC in particular as they were rejected by a key constituency of the ANC”.
“We didn’t see an outright rejection of the ANC, we saw people like Cyril Ramaphosa being welcomed in Mpumalanga and that was in contrast to Zuma, Mbete and Duarte – they met a groundswell of angry rejection and it was not white, it was not middle class. This was rejection from the heartland of the ANC,” Booysen said.
Booysen’s view was echoed by Professor Somadoda Fikeni: “This collapses the view that people who do not support the president are either middle class, monopoly capital or racists. It shows that you have a cross-section of people for a variety of reasons who are unhappy,” Fikeni said.
Cosatu was at the forefront of ensuring that Zuma was elected president in 2007 at the Polokwane elective conference and pushed for Mbeki’s recall the following year.
However, they now want Zuma to go after he reshuffled his cabinet without consulting them. They have also not scored any major policy changes under Zuma’s administration including their call for e-tolls to be scrapped, labour brokers to be banned and radical changes in the economy.
Booysen said while it was early days in the succession battle, the Worker’s Day events were a major setback for ANC NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign for the ANC top spot.
She is backed by Zuma and his allies-the ANC Youth League and Women’s League.
“Things can always turn again, but today from groundswell of anti-Zuma reaction there was in part succession battle being decided. It may turn again, but today’s indication it was devastating setback for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Zuma,” Booysen said.
Fikeni said the anti-Zuma group were using the same tactics applied by Zuma supporters.
The ANC Youth League recently booed and disrupted speeches by former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and Mapaila’s address during a Chris Hani memorial.
“Remember for some time it’s been well organised, pro-president booing down opponents; other side has now taken the same tactic, to show displeasure. It may then degenerate into no-go areas; you choose areas assured of supporters, or may lead to disruption of June or December conference,” Fikeni said.
The ANC earlier blamed alliance leaders for “prematurely speaking on leadership preferences” for the chaos that led to Zuma being prevented to speak.
Spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the incident should not be allowed to happen again.
“This is precisely the reason why we have cautioned Cosatu and other alliance structures including our leagues against premature announcements in public because they have an impact and bearing on our efforts to foster unity,” Kodwa said.