The effects of political occurrences in the country have solidly manifested itself in the provincial arena as daggers came out in the aftermath of Monday’s Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) Workers’ Day activities in Polokwane. Alliance partners in Limpopo are seen to be at each other’s throats over one of the ruling party’s own being snubbed in the company of national and international role players.
Monday’s happenings in Polokwane as well as at venues in Bloemfontein and Durban where President Jacob Zuma and two of his staunchest allies, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and African National Congress (ANC) Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte, were reportedly prevented from honouring slots on the respective programmes when heckled by audiences, are perceived to have further widened the dividing rift between alliance partners.
Seen in the broader context of political dynamics, the events are reflective of the reality of the President and his support base fast losing popularity and alienating the masses.
It also contributed to an already dwindling partnership of alliance structures in the province hanging in the balance even more with the ruling party in Limpopo making known its dismay over Duarte being ridiculed during the gathering at Peter Mokaba Stadium. Prior to arriving at the stadium their leaders formed part of a march that preceded the rally.
Minutes after a mass of red converged on the Premier’s office in the city centre on Monday morning to hand over memoranda of grievances that took on a harsh tone, marchers witnessed Premier Stan Mathabatha – in his capacity as ANC Provincial Chairperson – ignoring custom to join workers and leaders of formations on their walk to the stadium. The First Secretary of the Embassy of the State of Palestine, Bassam Elhussiny accompanied Duarte in the front line, while flying his country’s flag. In a message of support at the start of the march he drew attention to the plight of political prisoners in his country.
The two memoranda handed to Mathabatha and Provincial Treasury MEC Rob Tooley highlighted a host of dated demands made on behalf of 190 000 members of unions affiliated to Cosatu in Limpopo. Taking to a makeshift podium in the street in front of the Office of the Premier, Cosatu leadership didn’t beat about the bush when stressing that the workers were instructing Mathabatha to address their demands as a matter of urgency.
The situation in Polokwane necessitated ANC Provincial Secretary Nocks Seabi, who participated in the march starting at Jack Botes Hall, to issue a media statement first thing on Tuesday expressing disappointment at Duarte being prevented from addressing the rally. In the statement Seabi emphasised that preceding the rally the ANC participated in the march as part of their unrelenting commitment to the struggles of the workers, which remained the core of their agenda for a better South Africa for all. Seabi further stressed that the ANC leadership in the province was not notified by Cosatu or any of its affiliates that they were not welcome to participate in the celebrations.
He continued stating that it was in honour of workers, some of whom paid the ultimate price that they had to all jealously guard the unity and cohesion of the alliance. “The ANC is the first to acknowledge that it is facing serious challenges and that as a result the alliance is at its weakest. However, and whatever the challenges, the ANC feels there is no issue of disagreement amongst ourselves which warrants this kind of disruptive behaviour which compromises the historical significance of May Day celebrations. It’s our view that intolerance and disrespect of our leaders only serves to allow enemies of our revolution to find space to disrupt our agenda for radical economic transformation. We are hopeful that Cosatu will find a way of rectifying this unwarranted behaviour.”
On Tuesday Cosatu Central Executive Committee (CEC) member and National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) First Deputy President Mike Shingange, who joined Cosatu Provincial Secretary Gerald Twala in signing and handing over the memoranda of demands to Mathabatha and Tooley, described the situation at the stadium as regrettable. Speaking to Polokwane Observer, Shingange said it was not something anybody could have anticipated and not anything the organisation or leadership could be proud of. The occurrence caught them all by surprise and they didn’t know how to manage it when it started. It would be up to Cosatu in the province to decide whether they wanted to investigate the issue, he mentioned. Shingange expressed the opinion that the action had stemmed from the political happenings in the country and ruling party leaders aligning themselves as a result. As alliance leaders they would have to deal with matters and communicate the message of unity, solidarity and discipline across all structures and political tolerance, he concluded.
Neither Twala nor South African Communist Party (SACP) Provincial Secretary Gilbert Kganyago, who was present during Monday’s activities, could be reached for comment.
Story & photos: YOLANDE NEL