President Jacob Zuma has come out very strong against the militarization of the country’s workers’ federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, warning that there will be dire consequences if the federation continues to, as he says, unravel. He was speaking in Durban on Friday to mark Workers’ Day.
President Zuma told the workers that the tension within COSATU could lead to the members killing each other if nothing is done. In an emotionally charged speech in which he resorted to IsiZulu, Zuma told those gathered that the war that they were faced with within the federation was one with people that they could not see. He added that these people were controlling their comrades from behind. He described the former comrades as the people with whom they fell and rose as they worked together who had now turned against their own kith and kin. “Now even the vision is no longer the same. It means we can even kill each other,” he concluded.
This is as close as President Zuma has come in recent times to admitting the theory that a third force was at play in the conflict that has been playing itself out in the powerful and massively supported COSATU which has, in the recent past, led to the elimination of Zwelinzima Vavi. Vavi, who was the workers’ federation’s Secretary General, was expelled in a vote that was not attended by some of the Unions in the federation following his suspension. Another member union within the COSATU, the powerful National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa also voted to pull out of the federation at about the same time, citing unfair representation by the member of the tripartite alliance within the ANC.
Things got to a head on Friday as both sides of the split sought to hold rallies within the same town to mark Workers’ Day, that is, in Durban. The police had to stagger the times to ensure that the two groups do not meet, which would have resulted in serious clashes. While one rally was hosted by COSATU and addressed by its president and President Zuma, the other was addressed by the two Secretary Generals, Irvin Jim of NUMSA and expelled Secretary General of COSATU, Vavi. Jim said they had organised a challenge rally to the one by COSATU in order to save President Zuma embarrassment.
This state of affairs cannot bode well for all the workers that the organisations claim to represent. President Zuma’s words come not long after the country has just managed to quell the violence that had been directed at foreign nationals, purportedly after the words of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s words in which he called on ‘ants’ to be removed and for foreigners to return to their own countries. He has denied that his words were responsible for the violence that followed and has held an Imbizo to quieten things down.