DA march on Cosatu an ill-advised gamble: iLIVE
It was painful to see young people bleeding and hurdling for cover on the streets as violence broke out in the march by DA supporters outside COSATU House last week.
I hope that when the spin doctors, propagandists and strategists of the Democratic Alliance do a post mortem of the DA’s march they will be frank to admit that it was an ill-advised gamble and an unmitigated disaster, not to be repeated.
The issue of youth unemployment raised by the DA is a very important issue of concern to all (including political parties).
The ANC has taken this matter of unemployment seriously and empowered government to take the necessary steps to fight youth unemployment. The ANC led government has made and implemented many policies to fight poverty and unemployment, especially the youth who make up an overwhelming majority of the unemployed. President Zuma’s government announced a youth wage subsidy policy, as a way of stimulating the employment of young people and made a commitment through a budget put aside the for it.
I support the youth wage subsidy. I do not believe it should be delayed. I do not believe government has given up the policy because of Cosatu objections.
The source of the problem for the DA was the attitude of Cosatu in opposing the wage subsidy policy. This was the basis for the march by the DA. I am however questioning the correctness of the march to Cosatu House as a political tactic used by the DA.
Cosatu, on the other hand has expressed reservations on the matter of wage subsidy in numerous public statements. Cosatu's concern has been about the possibility of abuse of the concept to introduce casualization of workers. Similarly Cosatu has denounced the labour brokers.
Noting the reservations of Cosatu, the ANC-led government has tabled these matters at the Nedlac platform. Nedlac is a multi-stakeholder forum to mediate through issues that may raise concern amongst stakeholders (government, business and labour) in order to help them find an amicable solution, at least, or lead to a binding solution, in the interest of the country. Nedlac is the correct platform to resolve such matters.
Needless to say that there are numerous areas in which the ANC may differ tactically with Cosatu as partners in the Alliance such as on the matters mentioned above. Many times the two argue in public, leading commentators to prematurely predict or erroneously conclude that, for the ANC-led Alliance, the end is nigh.
Between the ANC-led government and Cosatu, there are many a time where disagreements are observed. Such is the relationship between the state and the Labour Unions. The role of the government is to administer government policy in the interest of the broader society. Sometimes group interests (e.g. workers’ or business interests, etc.) intervene and it is for government to find the best way to ensure that the interest of the greater public is protected, including the use of statutory forums such as Nedlac. Such has been the situation with the issue of labour brokers and the youth subsidy.
Both the DA and Cosatu are entitled to the views they hold.
Of course, all political parties have their different views on each of these and many other subjects, in which various players have public debates and disagreements. I must say, it is always commendable and less of headache if everybody agrees with government policy, especially the DA. Though the DA supports government on the issue of youth wage subsidy, this is not always the case, in fact, it hardly ever is.
Because the matter is serious, it is unacceptable for any political party to try and cash in on quick support by playing on the emotions due to the desperation that our youth face as the DA has done with the march.
Could it be that there are parties that have not learnt from the violence that engulfed our country in the eighties and nineties to always avoid confrontation that may lead to violence?
There are many decent options available in a democratic country. The DA could have hosted a bilateral meeting with Cosatu or engaged Nedlac to make a presentation or approach government apart from the public statements they have continued to make. On matters of concern to business, government always listens to concerns of the private sector. Government does the same with workers. Everyone makes representations and government considers the representations and dispose of the matter in the best way possible. The DA is the main Opposition Party with access to all Ministers and the President. Parliament is the most legitimate platform to resolve all political differences to avoid violent clashes on the streets. The DA could have also gone to court as they seem to be eager to do on every other issue in which they disagree with the government.
We must also categorically condemn the violence that occurred when DA and Cosatu supporters clashed on the streets. No amount of explanation will make it acceptable and it was good to see that both parties involved condemned it unreservedly.
People have marched to government institutions because they are connected to these public institutions by virtue that as voters they have a stake in how public matters are managed. Sometimes, members of an association or political party may march to the offices of their own leaders since they are associated with the offices as members. Not that they are always welcome, but it is understandable when they do it.
Cosatu is a highly influential stakeholder in labour matters, but Cosatu in this matter of youth wage subsidy is a complainant, not a decision maker. Just how any sober party can march against people, who, at worst, have expressed an opinion or objection, but have no executive decision to make, is puzzling. The anger of DA against Cosatu does not change the fact of executive decision making processes. Even the less smart in the DA should have realised that.
We must however point out that Cosatu offices are a private property that belongs to its members and no government department operates from Cosatu House. Cosatu offices have nothing to do with DA marchers or government executive decision making processes.
Such a march therefore carries several risks which the leaders must take responsibility for as they decide on such a step. Whether or not Cosatu leaders agree to allow a march of political opponents and hostile marchers, rightly or wrongly, individuals in the membership may consider it as a hostile invasion and decide to take unauthorised action to defend their leaders and property. Considering the poor relationship between the DA and Cosatu, despite the unproven accusations of orchestration by Cosatu leaders, it is quite conceivable that the workers would see naked provocation and decide to confront the DA marchers.
I am not a member of Cosatu, but I found the DA public calls for DA supporters to join their intended march on Cosatu to be disturbing. Their statements were boastful and inflammatory with a potential to unnecessarily igniting violent clashes on the streets of Johannesburg. I can imagine how many Cosatu members would have been angered by this move that is without precedent in our contemporary politics.
Alternatively, there may be hooligans in the DA march that may act outside the party instruction, as such often occurs in these types of marches, leading to unpredictable consequences. In whatever way one looks at the DA march, it should have been avoided.
Many a time it has happened in marches that well prepared police may have individual police who may act wrongly or police get overwhelmed when crowds run amok and complicate the situation and things get out of hand.
Reports and comments in the media suggest that there were inadequate marshals to control the DA marchers. After the march has turned awry, I don’t even expect the DA to own up to the mess. If this were true, it could only be exposing the poor experience amongst the organisers. That means, experienced organisers would have anticipated the challenges and advised against the march. Many of us who are aware that the DA is new in this game are sickened by the display of misguided militancy of a party whose founders never ventured to challenge the real apartheid on the streets.
We must all condemn violence. But the question must be asked: Why is the DA surprised that there was a violent clash? This was no normal march! People were marching against another group of people after so much taunting by leaders in the media! It was bound to happen! In a clash, neither party can claim innocence as it takes two to tango. Nobody knows what insults and obscenity can be hurled by marchers to provoke the other side and vice versa. Hymns and choruses were last sung in a march by the religious leaders led by the South African Council of Churches in the eighties. Youth, particularly inexperienced youth are easily excitable under such a combustible environment and the leaders need to protect them from harm inherent in such instances. Leaders on both sides need to have been firmly in control.
John Moody a Gauteng leader of the DA was saying on SABC TV that this was like the Soweto uprisings in 1976. God forbid! The DA should not be allowed to be romantic about violence and death of people. In 1976 there was no democracy and apartheid provocation caused an explosion and the oppressed were butchered. It is sad that when we have worked so hard to reduce confrontational politics and discouraged inter-party violence, the Democratic Alliance has suddenly woken up to embrace it. Cosatu lost many supporters in the past in such clashes; the leaders should have warned against it and the march should not have been allowed by police.
The DA has opposed many decisions by this ANC-led government that Cosatu supported, but Cosatu never marched against DA. The DA has set a precedent that may prove dangerous. How then do you stop Cosatu from returning the favour and marches to DA offices?
Our friendliest warning to DA is: Beware the psychology of marches, you may either be provoked or lose control. Marching against another organisation considered a political opponent should be discouraged! In itself it’s a mark of extreme intolerance. That route leads to bloodshed and loss of life! It takes us back to confrontational politics which we thought we successfully left behind. From KwaZulu-Natal we were shocked and could not believe that at this day and age anyone can walk straight into such a trap when, at long last, we have learnt the art of open debate, the use of all formal institutions and having a smile and a cup of tea with someone whose views you disagree with.
A hostile march against an opponent’s private property is similar to a march against any private individual. It should not be allowed! Sad memories of the tragedy at Shell House are still fresh in our minds. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal publicly chastised the ANC Youth League when they staged such a march to the residence of IFP leader last year.
We must always remember that while each one of us has rights enshrined in the Constitution, each of our rights end just before the next person’s right starts. It would be interesting how many organisations can be welcomed with smiles as they march to DA offices, for whatever reason. I hope it never happens!
One day Helen Zille and her think tank will acknowledge that though it is correct to take up the issue of youth unemployment, their march against Cosatu is contrary to political common sense and smacks of political expediency. It should never have happened!