'Hamba, Gwede': Mantashe booed off stage at Cosatu congress

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Gwede Mantashe was booed off stage. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)
Gwede Mantashe was booed off stage. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)
  • ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe received a frosty reception on the first day of Cosatu's elective congress.
  • Mantashe was attending the event to deliver the ANC's message of support.
  • Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi pledged support for the party's president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe was booed off the stage at Cosatu’s 14th elective congress on Monday.

Mantashe was meant to deliver the ANC’s message of support as ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa opted to attend an event in honour of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in Soweto. 

As Mantashe went on stage to deliver the message, hundreds of delegates left their seats, walked to the front of the venue and started singing loudly. 

Delegates sang “Asinamali (We have no money)” and “Hamba, Gwede (Leave, Gwede)” until he was forced to get off the stage. 

The entire conference descended into chaotic scenes, with Cosatu leaders calling for an adjournment until after lunch.

The congress had begun on a different note, with Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi giving a vote of confidence to Ramaphosa’s administration. She said a continued partnership with the embattled governing party was still the only way to defend workers’ rights.

“ANC and the SACP, with all of their challenges, their strengths and their weaknesses, remain the most progressive and relevant political formation to drive the demands of the working class," Losi said.

She reiterated that workers “shouldn’t be fooled by the peacetime slogans of the opposition parties”, trying to lure them into dropping the ANC in a bid to oust the ruling party in the 2024 national elections. 

Losi said:

They [opposition parties] were nowhere to be seen when workers had to go on strike in Durban in 1973 or when Cosatu House was bombed in 1987, nor were they to be seen when the UDF was banned.

She added that “these very same opposition parties have consistently voted against our progressive labour laws in Parliament".

“They have promised to repeal them if they are elected to government. They have stated unambiguously that they will scrap the minimum wage, end collective bargaining, remove protections from unfair dismissals, slash the salaries of and retrench public servants, and sell all our SOEs,” said the Cosatu president.

Losi was adamant that it was not by accident that Cosatu and its predecessor, SACTU, had come to form part of the tripartite alliance.  

“Workers deliberated on joining the alliance at length.  

“The alliance, like any marriage, has its ups and downs. However, with all its challenges, it remains the best vehicle to advance workers' struggles."

READ | Three public service unions reject govt's 'last chance' 3% wage offer

Losi said “the ANC is not perfect" and had “made serious mistakes” but was trying to atone for them.

“It [the ANC] is battling to cleanse itself of the demons of corruption and factionalism. It is contested by various class forces. Yet it had stood with Cosatu when we demanded the constitutional enshrinement of workers’ rights, the passing of our labour laws, and our many other progressive laws.”

Losi said the trade union federation and its affiliates had a duty to ensure that the governing party was actively cleaning up its house. 

“Our task is to defend workers’ hard-won victories. We must contest the ANC and the alliance to ensure that the voice of workers is heard and not sidelined. We must help to rid the ANC of criminal elements if it is to be saved,” said Losi.

She cautioned: 

If the ANC does not get its act together, deliver quality public services, tackle corruption, fix Eskom, save Metro Rail and Transnet, grow the economy, create jobs and provide relief for the unemployed, then we will face a repeat of the disastrous 2021 election results in 2024.

Losi said an ANC loss was not something that workers could afford.

“Winning the 2024 elections is not about ensuring jobs for comrades in Parliament. It is about defending the hard-won victories and rights of workers.  

“We cannot afford to fail. A government led by the opposition parties will spell the end of the many victories workers have achieved. A coalition led by the ANC will struggle to deliver the demands of workers. We cannot afford to gamble upon the rights of workers,” said Losi. 

Losi was on Monday nominated unopposed to again lead the labour federation movement. 

She received support from seven of Cosatu’s 11 affiliates. 

Losi enjoyed the backing of some of the federation’s biggest unions, including the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu), and the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa. 

Cosatu's first deputy president Mike Shingange looked set to retain his position, while general secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali, did not receive any nominations and Solly Phetoe was expected to replace him.

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