COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi warned the ANC yesterday it was sitting on "a ticking time bomb that is starting to explode” and needed to get its house in order or face a revolt similar to the 1976 riots against Bantu education.
Vavi said the party had landed itself in a "very dangerous place” and needed to do some serious introspection to salvage its losses and improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
"South Africa as a country is sitting on a ticking bomb that one day will explode ... Another 1976 is waiting to happen,” he said.
"If we preoccupy ourselves with palace politics while Rome is burning, history will judge us equally and harshly.”
The warning was given a day after thousands of DA supporters marched on Cosatu’s headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
The march ended in chaos following violent incidents between DA and Cosatu supporters.
In a keynote speech at the trade union federation’s international policy conference in Kempton Park on the East Rand, Vavi said the ANC’s policies were failing the poor and unemployed.
Criticising some of the party’s recent controversial decisions – including the reinstatement of crime intelligence chief Richard Mdluli – Vavi said the ANC ought to focus on the poor and not on leadership fights.
The ANC will hold its elective conference in Mangaung in December, when President Jacob Zuma is expected to fight for re-election.
Vavi’s critique of the ANC was sparked by Tuesday’s march by DA supporters – mainly black youths – in protest against rising unemployment and the government’s failure to introduce a youth wage subsidy.
"A country that has this magnitude of unemployment in the midst of this opulence workers see every day, a country that tolerates for 18 years those kinds of inequalities to just grow and grow and deepen, and with the poverty that not only grinds but humiliates such a huge number of the population – we are sitting on a ticking bomb indeed,” he said.
Earlier this month, the International Labour Organisation issued statistics that showed unemployment in South Africa was at 23.9% and 70% of the unemployed were between the ages of 15 and 34.
Vavi warned if radical policy changes were not effected, the ANC could see the DA gaining more sympathy from the working class.
"If we don’t stop the real crisis, then those 3000 [DA marchers] will become 6000. It will eventually succeed. Eventually, all of us will be in very, very hot water in no time.”
In addition to the DA’s march, Vavi said the intensity of violent service delivery protests should be a sign South Africans were losing faith in the ANC’s policies.
"That ticking bomb is starting to explode, judging by the number of service delivery protests all over the country.
"Unless we break with what is currently unfolding – I’m not an alarmist – we may see [the events that have been] unfolding in Europe in the past two years being revisited here in South Africa.”
He said the ANC would have the opportunity to address these issues at its policy conference next month.
"It can’t be business as usual. We offer nice rhetoric but in practice we are not very different.
"We can talk about the Freedom Charter and this history and nice things we hear about now, but in essence there is no difference in the content.”
Cosatu – which was instrumental in pressuring the ANC into delaying the controversial e-tolls, which would have hit motorists hard – said unemployment was still too high.
"Is it not a reality that a growing number of those 72% unemployed [youths] in the country are beginning to lose hope because they have been waiting far too long?
"If they are losing hope, they find new heroes,” Vavi said, referring to the sea of blue T-shirt- wearing DA supporters who descended on the Johannesburg city centre on Tuesday.
He said the march was significant and nobody could claim the thousands of black DA supporters were ill-informed and there just to support "the white madam”.
Describing the march as a "very critical thing that happened”, Vavi said it boiled down to the fact that "an empty stomach has no ideology, has no logic, no rationality. [A] stomach is desperate.
"The significance of that march is far bigger because the DA has seen the need for itself to exploit this desperation of the most marginalised ... ”
While Vavi was launching his vitriolic attack, Zuma, in a response to a DA parliamentary question, confirmed Cosatu remained the stumbling block to the implementation of the youth wage subsidy scheme.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said: "This is a president who is afraid to make the tough choices that would benefit so many unemployed young people. So what is the hold- up?
"Why does [he] need to seek further buy-in from Cosatu?”