Jacob Zuma has backtracked on a call for greater flexibility in the labour market, according to union federation Cosatu.
Taken to task by the union federation over his words, Zuma had declared he was "prepared to lay down his own life in defence of labour laws in South Africa", Cosatu's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said yesterday.
"We will hold him to that," Vavi told a media briefing in Johannesburg.
Zuma, who is ANC president, was elected to the position at the party's Polokwane conference in December last year with strong backing from Cosatu.
The Financial Mail (FM) reported last week that Zuma said in an interview he believed that labour regulations, including minimum wages, meant to guarantee workers' rights, had the unintended consequence of "counting out the poorest of the poor".
"The trade unions are a reflection of the first economy ... the second economy is in fact neglected by all of us. Is it not possible to have the flexibility to address both the first and second economy?" the FM quoted him.
Vavi said yesterday that after the December conference the labour movement had "kept quiet" and "kept patting each other on the back", but it had now become clear that the gains made in Polokwane had to be defended.
Statements made by the new ANC leadership, like the one Zuma made to the FM, could be used by the right wing, he said.
Vavi said that after discussions with Zuma about the matter, the ANC president had agreed that his "phrasing and packaging" had caused him to be misunderstood.
Vavi said when leaders made mistakes in interpretation, they would be taken on in the context of that interpretation.
Vavi also again called on the National Prosecuting Authority to drop all charges against Zuma, and for Zuma to be reinstated as deputy president.
"We still hold the view that this is nothing else but a political trial," he said.
"Steps must be taken to stop these continued shenanigans and use of state institutions to pursue political objectives."
Zuma is to stand trial in August. - Sapa