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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address of the COSATU General Secretary to the SADTU National General Council

7 November 2007, Randburg Towers

President Willie Madisha and General Secretary Thulas Nxesi
Members of the National Working Committee
Members of the NEC
Leaders of SADTU from provincial and regional structures who constitute this NGC
Leaders of COSATU unions present
Leaders of our alliance formations
Comrades and friends

I am honoured by your invitation to this important structure of the union. Greetings to all of you from your Federation`s Central Executive Committee.

SADTU, with 240,000 members, is by far the largest union of educators in our country and the second largest union in the country. It remains one of the most militant in COSATU, with a vibrant organisation that indicates its adherence to democratic traditions that distinguish us from the rest.

SADTU`s size and strength also demonstrate that the union has been able to keep the main body of its members happy and united. I am aware that I am speaking in general terms. I have come across instances where we have not managed to service our members well, where unity has on occasions dodged us and where we have allowed destructive cliques and factions to take root. I formed part of the COSATU intervention through a commission that led to that historic bosberaad of the NEC in 2003. I know how difficult the situation was then. I am aware that new challenges have emerged and we are not out of the woods.

Having said all that, I have no doubt that despite all these challenges the union continues to be a beacon of hope, not only to members and colleagues in the Federation, but also to all members of our alliance and to our people across the length and breadth of our country. In the current political situation, again your cadres on the ground are playing a critical role in ensuring that our revolution stays on course.

On the education front, we celebrate that, with SADTU playing a critical role, we have made tremendous progress in integrating the separate apartheid systems and ensuring more equitable educator/learner ratios across the country. There is no doubt that the conditions of both learners and educators have improved with better access to education by our communities.

Yes, it`s true that massive inequalities persist. Only 12% of Africans who take matric get a university exemption, compared to half of white learners. This racial divide reflects deeper class problems. Black learners who can afford a Model C school pass matric; those who can only afford historically black schools are fighting an uphill battle.

The factors behind these inequalities are historical. They have to do with our subjugation and impoverishment during the decades of apartheid and colonialism of a special type. Factors that speak to this history include the appalling quality of buildings in historically black schools, close to half of which still lack electricity.

We would have liked to see progress in addressing challenges moving faster than we have seen thus far. We continue to witness lack of textbooks and papers; the failure to develop a progressive curriculum; and the absence of consistent teacher training.

School fees maintain deep class differences between schools in the leafy suburbs and those in the townships or, even worse, in rural areas. Discrimination is no longer based on the pigmentation of the skin but on economic factors. Working class children can simply not afford the school fees charged at the former whites-only schools, most of which are now Model C.

I say all these things to underline the fact that SADTU must strengthen its organisation even further. We must redouble efforts to build a strong, vibrant organisation. The precondition for that is to build our capacity to develop policies, to develop programmes to train our site stewards and leadership so that they can lead members even more effectively.

Above all SADTU must maintain and deepen its levels of unity. Again unity does not mean embracing foreign traditions or sweeping dirt under the carpet. Rather, it means that as we confront the challenges we don`t forget our responsibility to our members, to COSATU, our alliance and country.

Let me take this opportunity this opportunity to once again explain why COSATU`s 9th National Congress and the recent 4th Central Committee came to the conclusions that they did. This is important because it has become clear that our basic messages have been distorted in poisonous and on occasion polemical debates.

The media has either not understood our basic proposition or report in a sensationalist fashion that eventually, unfortunately, leads to the misrepresentation. This may rob those who do not sit in our structures of the opportunity to understand these complex policy propositions.

COSATU for many years has held intense debates about the trajectory of the post-1994 society and the state of the Alliance. We have commissioned papers, convened political schools and workshops.

Through these processes we have to the best of our abilities clarified our vision and confronted differences that existed amongst ourselves. Eventually delegates at the National Congress decided that the struggle must continue albeit under different circumstances.

Whilst our situation as workers has changed and in many areas improved, we have repeatedly pointed out why we think the first decade of democracy favoured capital in economic terms.

In this regard we have pointed out that we are facing extreme levels of unemployment. Yes, job creation has increased over the past few years. But the numbers and the quality of the jobs do not give us hope that we can realise even the modest goals of halving the 2004 levels of unemployment and poverty by 2014.

They are created in sectors where jobs have been largely casualised and workers offered no benefits. Sectors that used to have most of workers in permanent jobs with benefits but have begun to replace them with sub contracted and atypical forms of employment. Our wages have been kept low despite our heroic attempts to improve them. Levels of poverty remain extremely high and inequalities are growing.

It was with all these factors in mind that we declared that the second decade of democracy must belong to the workers and the poor.

Under this situation, it is our view that the only way to succeed is to build the independent power of the working class; build a united ANC committed to fundamental transformation of the economy; and ensure the Alliance is the centre that drives transformation.

Conservative economic policy of the mid-1990s spawned an undemocratic culture that crept into the movement, the alliance and society overall. The right to decide the economic future of this society was preserved for an elite few. We remember the day when GEAR was announced as a fundamental policy of the ANC that would not be negotiable. We knew that no ANC branch, region, province and even the NEC had been consulted on it. We knew that the Alliance had not been adequately consulted.

In order to ram this essentially neo-liberal paradigm down the throats of the ANC members and the Alliance, the politics of scare mongering, fear and patronage, and the use of labels to silence critics replaced the rich democratic traditions that are the hallmarks of our movement.

Decision-making was preserved for cabinet, with our movement and the alliance, and indeed the rest of society, tail-ending decisions made by the executive. The economic policy door was firmly shut. Of course once this was successfully prosecuted, what followed was the introduction of this new style of doing things on all fronts.

I am talking here of the closure of democratic space, the use of state institutions to sort out internal political differences or even leadership contests, the use of media to promote factional battles, the increasing sidelining and muzzling of parliament as an independent institution, the blurring of the lines that should exist between the executive and the judiciary, etc.

It is this combination of political and economic factors that led to COSATU over and over again to issue statements indicating its deep concern about the trajectory of the NDR. One of the conclusions of the congress is that:

" Whilst the historic constituency of the ANC remains the black working class, and the poor majority, the national leadership of the ANC is increasingly becoming capitalist and middle strata in composition and character. Furthermore the ANC is also dominated by cadres drawn from the state and that there are far too few cadres from outside the state. Working class leadership has been weakened within the national leadership structures of the ANC."

Against this background, the congress resolved that we must combine the tactic of swelling the ranks with actual grassroots struggles, and build maximum unity of the working class. In many respects this was a watershed congress and has plunged COSATU into uncharted territory.

The decision to demand an Alliance Pact for transformation does not arise out of a confused and politically immature working class. It is a serious political intervention by the working class. It seeks to ensure that we return to the historical conceptualisation of the NDR as a transformative project that goes beyond deracialisation of political, economic and social power.

Faced with all these challenges, workers said the struggle continues albeit under different conditions. But more importantly the workers` parliament said categorically and more emphatically than ever before, that the current status quo in both economic and political terms is simply not sustainable.

So what is the proposed Pact? The COSATU congress resolution called on the Central Executive Committee to develop "a set of policy objectives . to measure the extent to which the ANC is able to shift to represent the interests of the working class." The congress then said criteria to measure this shift should include:

1. Implementation of nationalisation provisions of the Freedom Charter,
2. An end to privatisation and commercialisation/commodification of service delivery,
3. Adoption of an economic policy that ensures redistribution of wealth to the poor, and
4. Abolition of legislation that is not worker-friendly.

Further the congress states that these criteria "must include measurable outcomes, with specified timescales so that by June 2008 we are able to assess the extent to which these criteria have been met"

The ANC will convene in the 52nd National Conference in December to finalise its Strategy and Tactics; adopt broad ranging resolutions and elect a new leadership.

Let us emphasise that only the ANC members through their branches have a right to do so. COSATU`s interest in the conference is informed by our interest in retaining the ANC as a progressive left movement biased towards the working class. Further, we have an interest in ensuring that it pursues a far bolder programme to transform our society from its colonial basis.

Is it true that the 9th National Congress resolution marks a departure from COSATU`s historical position of avoiding intervention in internal ANC leadership questions? The COSATU Congress has taken the unprecedented position that the Federation must take a stance on this matter.

We have since developed criteria and principles to interpret the resolution, and to clarify why workers should take an interest in this matter. The broad aim of this is to ensure that the ANC and its NEC are not only representative of its constituencies but also lead us down the path of a radical change that is so necessary in our society. Thus the criteria that we have developed include:

1. Commitment to the radical NDR and thorough-going transformation
2. Proven commitment to the Alliance
3. Commitment to the unity of the ANC and the democratic movement
4. Commitment to make this decade truly a decade of workers and the poor
5. Internationalism based on historic position of the ANC that is anti imperialist
6. Working-class leadership

We have used these criteria to identify the top six and most senior positions of the ANC, which is public knowledge. Again let us emphasise we did not arrive at this list because every individual fully complies with every point of the criteria. The collective, when taken together, comes closer to the criteria. In the political world purist propositions hardly ever exist.

Most important, the list of people we have identified does not mean an end to the struggle. We shall maintain a militant and independent COSATU and working class irrespective of who is the President of the ANC. We are not doing all this so that our leaders can get the possibility that they may have not received in the past to become Cabinet Ministers.

We believe in our own strengths as an organisation and the strengths of our policies. We believe in a more open debate and contestation on ideas and policies to address the plight of the poor. Our policies will reign supreme. All we want is the creation of a better environment with greater tolerance of different opinions. But most important we want an ANC whose leadership, just like its membership, will have sympathy with workers and the poor.

Accordingly the people we have identified are not the messiahs. COSATU does not believe that this or that individual or collective alone is capable of changing society. The masses of our people must remain at the centre of our transformation agenda.

So even if those we have identified are not elected, COSATU remains committed to the alliance and will work constructively with the new leadership. However, our members have made a serious call that it cannot be business as usual in the alliance and on the policy front. We need policies to accelerate transformation and ensure large-scale empowerment of our people through jobs, redistribution of assets, income and other poverty eradication strategies.

Yes from that stand point we want change. Yes maintenance of the status quo will lead to the destruction of the Alliance and the liquidation of our revolution itself. Yes we want change not of leadership alone but more importantly of political direction and policies.

We await with great anticipation the outcome of the ANC`s 52nd National Conference. We are encouraged by the resolutions passed in the recent June Policy Conference.

These draft resolutions taken together represent a shift to the left. If implemented they will go a long way to eradicate the economic and social legacy of apartheid. They will go a long way in closing a period of intense divisions that we have seen since 1996.

We are also encouraged by some of the draft organisational resolutions that will help deepen internal democracy in the ANC.

The challenge as we proceed as members of the ANC to Limpopo is not just to be preoccupied by leadership contests but to ensure whatever leadership collective is elected implements the progressive resolutions adopted in the June Policy Conference. Having said that, we need a collective that is loyal to the new direction represented by the resolutions.

I wish to this NGC the best of luck as it confronts these challenges. The union membership and your mother body COSATU look forward hearing how you addressed these challenges. You dare not fail them and us.

Amandla ngawethu