As the rest of the world celebrated the international day for workers, popularly known as Labor Day, Monday, South African President Jacob Zuma had a rough day, after a crowd of opposition supporters jeered him and prevented him from speaking at an event organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
The rally, which was held at Bloemfontein in the Free State province, turned chaotic after the crowd started singing anti-Zuma songs, forcing the event organizers to end the rally abruptly, according to News24.
“We anticipated this as leadership. We met a week ago and discussed it, but we were ready to come and conduct ourselves in terms of our role as leadership,” African National Congress (ANC) chairperson Baleka Mbete said.
According to Mbete, the heckling was a part of an ongoing campaign against President Zuma by some members of the ANC to popularize themselves as the preferred candidates to succeed him when his final term in office comes to an end.
For example, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa received a hero’s welcome at the event and was once again endorsed as the preferred candidate to take over from Zuma.
In response, Mbete said, “This is about supporting a candidate, the ANC has not decided on candidate yet, none of us has preferences. We have not taken a decision yet.”
Ramaphosa later delivered his speech at another rally in Nkomazi, Mpumalanga, where COSATU members braved a heavy downpour to listen to his entire speech.
Speaking at the event, COSATU first Deputy President James Tyotyo endorsed Ramaphosa for presidency, saying he will not use public funds to build himself a private home, a direct attack on President Zuma who was found guilty of using millions of public money to upgrade his private home in Nkandla last year.
“As COSATU, we want to repeat it today, we say the President [Zuma] must step down because on daily basis he commits blunders. His blunders will make us lose the elections in 2019,” Tyotyo said.
Political analysts have interpreted the ugly scenes at the Labor Day event as a sign of division among ANC leaders.
Of late, many South Africans — including those in government and in the opposition — have been calling on President Zuma to step down, citing the numerous corruption scandals that he has been associated with.
Zuma’s final term in office is expected to end in May 2019.