The comrades are up in arms

With the 2014 general elections a month away, expect tension to rise. This year’s vote is substantially different to the previous three elections in that the ruling party is not only warding off challenges from opposition parties, but that its governing alliance with COSATU and the South African Communist Party is being torn apart by internal divisions.
Most observers agree that the notion of a tripartite alliance was not a workable entity and that it was a matter of time before the hegemony broke up.
This dynamic was no better illustrated than by Sunday’s meeting in Durban where COSATU general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was supposed to make his first public speech after being re-instated by the court.
Shop stewards, union organisers and even ordinary members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and other aligned unions had planned to gather, but their intentions were disrupted when members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) also booked a venue at the same hotel.
There was no doubt among the hotel management and police summoned, that the actions of SADTU, and, allegedly, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), were intended to disrupt the pro-Vavi meeting.
Some fancy footwork by the hotel management and police ensured that the rival factions were kept apart by moving the NUMSA crowd upstairs. Complicating things is that some members of both factions wore ANC colours, and that it was impossible to stop dissenters from infiltrating the NUMSA meeting. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem at all. More of a problem was the no-show by Vavi, apparently due to a family emergency. Proceedings finally got underway two hours after the intended start with a veritable procession of leaders echoing the same message from the stage – that the NUMSA-aligned unions are set to take on the establishment COSATU, that a new political entity is being born, and that the ANC is irredeemably corrupt.
Proceedings ended at about 2 pm, but as the NUMSA crowd was filing out, they were confronted by their erstwhile comrades in arms, angry and resentful at being outmanoeuvred, and spoiling for a fight.
Enter the thin blue line of police, complete with riot gear, to separate the rival groups that eventually dispersed after much shouting and hurling of abuse.
Discipline in the NUMSA ranks was impressive. Marshals kept a tight rein on members who wanted to attack the opposition. A factor highlighted by a number of speakers who patted themselves on the back for restraint in the face of serious provocation.
The police behaved impeccably and their calm demeanour was critical in keeping a lid on the tensions.

Derek Alberts

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