Ramaphosa receives warm reception at Cosatu’s May Day rally

President Cyril Ramphosa addresses the crowd at Cosatu's May Day rally in Port Elizabeth. (ANC via Twitter)
President Cyril Ramphosa addresses the crowd at Cosatu's May Day rally in Port Elizabeth. (ANC via Twitter)

The jubilant screams and cheers for ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa at Cosatu’s May Day rally were a stark contrast to last year’s heckling of then president Jacob Zuma, which eventually led to the cancelation of the event.

"This is the day when all of us, as South Africans, take off our hats and say 'thank you'," said Ramaphosa as he too removed his black baseball cap while addressing the trade union members.

"Thank you for all the work that you do… because in the end you are the people that make South Africa work," he declared.

"We say to you: 'We respect you; we love you; we support you; we want to continue walking this journey with you'."

Ramaphosa’s gesture inspired a warm response in the crowd.

Last year, Cosatu was forced to abort its main May Day rally in Bloemfontein on Monday after Zuma was prevented from delivering the keynote address.

At the time, the unrelenting crowd sang anti-Zuma songs which escalated when Zuma arrived at the venue. There was also a scuffle between supporters and those against Zuma. 

In an unprecedented move, after several failed attempts by provincial leaders to calm the crowd, Cosatu then announced an end to the 2017 event with no speeches delivered.

At Tuesday’s event Ramaphosa used his speech to defend the national minimum wage.

He said that while the stipulation of R20 an hour was not a living wage, it was a move which would lift 6.6 million workers who were currently earning below this.

"Even as we were negotiating this, we know this is not a minimum wage - but we said that we need to form a foundation, so that we can keep going up."

He said that if the minimum amount had been too high, too many people would have lost jobs and companies would have to close.

"The struggle for a living wage must continue but we must start somewhere," he asserted.

Ramphosa also paid tribute to the ANC’s alliance partners, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party – as well as the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco).

"We are grateful, that indeed we do have an alliance in our country because this is the alliance that takes South Africa forward."

'Services should continue'

Ramaphosa also said that while the right to strike had to be protected, important services had to be allowed to continue, and property that belonged to all citizens was not damaged.

"Recently, where there has been strikes and protests, we have found some workers have been preventing other workers from doing important work such as helping women to give birth or helping newly-born babies."

Moreover, torching vehicles and burning buildings was counterproductive, he said. 

"Let us also be careful not to damage the assets that belong to all of us.

"Let us have that humanity, that even when we are on strike, certain services are important."

Ramaphosa ended his speech by making a call for a single federation to govern all unions.

"As the ANC, we long and look forward to the day when the workers in our country will be united under one federation - so that we can have one country and one federation." 

He said that this would allow all workers to be "talking in one voice" rather than "talking against each other and marching against each other". 

Saftu gains power

The SA Federation of Trade Unions, a breakaway from Cosatu, has recently gained significantly in power in the sector; holding countrywide strikes last week.

Earlier, the SA Communist Party General Secretary Blade Nzimande told those gathered at Tuesday's event that while the party supported Cosatu, it would also reach out to other worker groupings.

"Cosatu is our ally but we are going to reach out to other progressive worker formations.

"You can’t have a trade union federation that goes on a strike by attacking other worker federations. That is against worker unity," he said.

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