The Oliphant is not even in the room

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

WE WERE pleased, here at the Ma­hogany Ridge, that Cosatu was go­ing out to bat on be­half of Jerome Rose, the MyCiTi bus driver who was dis­missed ear­lier this month for God­both­er­ing on the job.

Rose, you will re­call, had been a driver on the Cape Town- At­lantis route. One Fri­day he was given a ver­bal warn­ing to stop lead­ing pas­sen­gers in prayer af­ter one of them, a Mil­ner­ton res­i­dent, had com­plained about his be­hav­iour.

The fol­low­ing Mon­day he was at it again, ar­gu­ing that he was “a Chris­tian first – then a bus driver”. The next day he was given a fi­nal writ­ten warn­ing, but on the Wed­nes­day, Rose again started his work­ing day with prayers. The sus­pen­sion and dis­ci­plinary hear­ing came on Thurs­day, and the next day, well, he was, alas, just a Chris­tian.

Rose in­tends to ap­peal his dis­missal and Cosatu will be de­fend­ing him, its Western Cape sec­re­tary, Tony Ehren­re­ich, has con­firmed. “The City of Cape Town must stop its lib­eral non­sense that un­der­mines re­li­gion,” Ehren­re­ich said. “We are a God-fear­ing na­tion and have a right to prac­tise our re­li­gious con­vic­tions.”

He fur­ther sug­gested that the com­plaint from “one rich cus­tomer from Mil­ner­ton should be ig­nored as this city and its fa­cil­i­ties should not be used to pan­der to th­ese spoilt brats”.

Funny, but we were just think­ing the same thing. This, af­ter all, is the sea­son of good­will and stuff to all mankind. How heart­less then of the city to at this time dis­miss an em­ployee who, for all we know, could be suf­fer­ing from a men­tal ill­ness.

Per­haps Rose does be­lieve he has not only been called to de­liver pas­sen­gers to the shiny ter­mi­nus at the Civic Cen­tre but also to drop their souls off at the even shinier one at the end of their dreary pas­sage through this life.

Be­sides, given their sins, and ac­cord­ing to Ehren­re­ich they are le­gion, rang­ing as they do from cal­lously suck­ing the lifeblood from the poor of Du Noon and else­where to the cyn­i­cal flaunt­ing of bi­cy­cles along Otto du Plessis Drive, who can hon­estly say that Mil­ner­ton’s brats should not be in­cluded in com­muters’ prayers? They too, surely, are wor­thy of sal­va­tion.

But now that he has a bit of time on his hands, per­haps Rose could say a few prayers for Cosatu as well. Judg­ing by re­ports from their na­tional congress in Johannesburg this week, it would ap­pear the trade union fed­er­a­tion is in for some rough times.

Here, then, is a trou­bled house. The congress was the first with­out Numsa, the expelled met­al­work­ers’ union that was its big­gest af­fil­i­ate, and with­out its for­mer gen­eral sec­re­tary and poster boy, Zwelinzima Vavi.

Its pres­i­dent, Sdumo Dlamini, has warned that an es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions within Cosatu, in­clud­ing the all-too pub­lic squab­bling among its lead­ers, was weak­en­ing the al­liance with the rul­ing party – which, he said, spelt trou­ble for next year’s lo­cal elec­tions. “If we say to peo­ple the ANC is still rel­e­vant and ca­pa­ble of lead­ing so­ci­ety and has man­aged to deal with its is­sues of dis­unity, how will we do that with the way things are right now? How are we go­ing to mo­bilise our fam­i­lies? It’s not a good story to tell. It will be dif­fi­cult (to cam­paign).”

Agreed, a quandary. But why not stress the na­ture of blind al­le­giance, that it should not be ques­tioned? It’s worked in the past.

Fur­ther adding to Cosatu’s woes, how­ever, was Labour Min­is­ter Mil­dred Oliphant’s un­pleas­ant mes­sage to congress. Thing was, she said, gov­ern­ment was mostly gatvol of their strikes. They were bad for the econ­omy.

Strikes, she con­tin­ued, had be­come a “fash­ion state­ment”, un­der­taken merely to show off union sup­port, and really did lit­tle to fur­ther the in­ter­ests of work­ers.

As one com­men­ta­tor put it, “Peo­ple are just tired of work­ers re­fus­ing to do what they are paid to do, and of strikes go­ing on for­ever and ever.”

In fact, the more cyn­i­cal among us be­lieve the rea­son strikes are in­ter­minable is to spare work­ers the em­bar­rass­ment of re­turn­ing to work and dis­cov­er­ing they’ve been off the job so long they can no longer re­mem­ber what it is they do.

But what was most note­wor­thy about Oliphant’s speech was that it sug­gested a Da­m­a­scene con­ver­sion – at least as far as her own job was con­cerned.

Her crit­ics have grown hoarse from point­ing out her per­pet­ual ab­sences from labour com­mit­tee meet­ings and her re­fusal to give proper an­swers to par­lia­men­tary ques­tions. The prob­lem, they say, was that the Oliphant was not even in the room.

So what hap­pened? Why the sud­den in­ter­est in labour? Has Luthuli House put the fear of what­sit in her? Time will tell.

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