Picture: AFP
Picture: AFP

The May Day rally was supposed to be the moment where President Jacob Zuma cashed in on his rhetoric to demonstrate that he was still the champion of SA’s workers.

The setting was supposed to be favourable: a May Day rally in Bloemfontein, heartland of premier Ace Magashule, a member of the "premier league", which had stood by Zuma through thick and thin. At Zuma’s side was another loyal lieutenant, Sdumo Dlamini, the Cosatu president. Cosatu had not too long ago announced that it wanted Zuma to go, but thanks to Dlamini he had been invited to address the rally as its keynote speaker.

What could go wrong?

Well, quite a lot, actually. By the end of it, nobody — not Zuma, not Dlamini, not any ANC leader — had been able to address the rally.

What Cosatu and Zuma had not factored in was the extent of grassroots dissatisfaction with Zuma and the way the union leadership were behaving. Dlamini’s efforts to rouse the crowd with the usual slogans ("I am alive!" and "Amandla") merely led to more booing and calls on Zuma to leave.

Zuma’s spin doctors tried to make out that there had been some sort of contest between Zuma supporters and detractors in the crowd, but video footage clearly shows that the overwhelming majority were against the president.

Zuma, by now a veteran of disruptions in parliament by the EFF, appeared calm and even allowed himself a chuckle. But while the EFF is outside the ANC tent, Cosatu’s rejection suggests that his enemies are now inside the camp.

Meanwhile, in Zuma’s Durban heartland, Cosatu’s former leader, Zwelinzima Vavi, addressed a rally in his new hat as head of the new SA Federation of Trade Unions.

In Mpumalanga (also the political property of the "premier league"), Zuma’s rival, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed another Cosatu rally. He was permitted to speak and was loudly cheered.

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