The Cosatu strike of October 1 and 2 unleashed a massive round of analysis and debate in the media. Cosatu proclaimed it a success, government declared it a failure. Other analysts warned of an imminent break in the alliance because Cosatu had dared to challenge the ANC.
But the huge Johannesburg crowd that listened to its leaders seemed unconfused by the apparent contradiction of Cosatu challenging the ANC and untroubled at being labelled ultra left. They roared and whistled their approval for a Sasco speaker who announced that “if being ultra left means defending jobs and fighting against poverty, then we are proud to be ultra left.”
And when Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, reminded marchers that their right to march is there in the constitution “because we struggled to get it there,” the roar roared louder.
As Vavi continued to spell it out loud and clear to his captive audience, the groundswell of approval gathered momentum.
“When we exercise those rights we are not questioning the good intentions of government. We are not questioning their commitment to build a better life for all. We must be able to say we disagree – there is nothing counter-revolutionary about that.”
“We are not in the business of spoiling leaders. We participate as proud revolutionaries, we are not extreme leftists, we are committed to the goals of the Freedom Charter, the Reconstruction and Development Programme and the ANC Manifesto.”
“The ANC is not our enemy, privatisation, job losses and poverty are our enemies!”
But when ex-Cosatu general secretary and now Gauteng Premier, Mbhazima Shilowa took the stage to receive the memorandum, Vavi’s claim that the “ANC is not our enemy” was severely tested.
His blunder was to start by condemning the looting carried out by Cosas during their march earlier this year. From then on, as hard as he tried to convince his erstwhile followers that the ANC government was allowing for negotiations around privatisation through the National Framework Agreement and was committed to providing comprehensive social security, marchers just booed, jeered, shook their fists or jabbed their sticks in the air. It took the Cosatu leadership to cool the crowd and to call for order.
The crowd’s response gave new meaning to Vavi’s earlier words – “we may be extreme left, but we are many of us!”