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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address to the NUM Central Committee by Deputy General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi

18 March 1999

Comrade President - James Motlatsi and your members of the NEC
Comrade delegates to this Central Committee

It gives me pleasure - and you cannot imagine the feeling of being so honoured - to address the Central Committee of the NUM. This is an historic day for me as a person. As a former member, shaft steward, leader and organiser of the NUM, I find it extraordinary that I return home today, not only to pledge my solidarity with the NUM, but to address its leadership. I am a former member of this Central Committee, I am your own product. Naturally, this brings back old memories of pain and triumph - of the bad and good times I shared with many of you as a member of the NUM.

Comrade Masenya, your organiser in Klerksdorp, sent me a copy of the report I compiled as the Branch Secretary for Vaal Reefs South branch for the period 13 December 1985 to 02 December1986. When I read that report my heart was filled by a sense that even though we still have a long road ahead of us we have made important gains

since that time. In the report we indicated that we were refusing to conclude a recognition agreement because we were insisting that that a clause be inserted that outlaws discrimination on basis of race, colour, sex or national origin in the company.

We all know that last year our democratic parliament passed the Equity Act which not only outlaws this type of discrimination, but that forces companies to take measures to correct imbalances created by these discriminatory practises.

Your Central Committee takes place at an extremely important time. It is seventy-five days before the second democratic elections. It has been eight days since the departure of Mbuyiselo Ngwenda - the General Secretary of the NUMSA. The Central Executive Committee of your giant federation, COSATU, meets at the end of this month to map out the way forward in the light of new challenges brought about by the forthcoming elections.

Retrenchments in the mining industry as well as in the rest of the economy continue unabated.

I am mentioning just a few of the challenges with which this Central Committee must grapple.

Let me begin by paying tribute to Mbuyiselo Ngwenda who will be laid to rest on the 21 March 1999 in Port Elizabeth. I do so knowing that one of the achievements with which he, together with your leadership, effectively dealt, is this perception of rivalry between NUMSA and NUM.

Mbuyi belonged in a class of his own. A complete revolutionary, an organic intellectual, a communist, a fearless worker leader, an educator and a tireless campaigner to improve the lot of workers and the working class. As we celebrate his life, we mourn and are saddened by his untimely departure. A selfless character who was prepared to sacrifice his life on matters of principle, unlike some of our new generation of careerists who say and do things so that those that they think are powerful will put them in good books.

Mbuyi understood that whilst he was a leader, he belonged to a collective made up of millions of individuals who must contest their ideas within the organisation. A frank debater who was not scared to say his piece for fear of being opposed. We are smarting from this terrible loss and hope that Mbuyi’s spirit is with us in this Central Committee and shall for ever be with us to guide us in this difficult time in our struggle to better the lives of our people and for our total emancipation. Lala ngoxolo Mbuyiselo.

On the 21 March 1999 we shall also be unveiling a tombstone of one of the outstanding revolutionaries this century has ever seen - the first President of COSATU and first Vice President of NUM - Elijah Barayi.

There can be no better monument for Elijah Barayi, Mbuyiselo Ngwenda, Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo, Sam Ntambane, and thousands of others, than ensuring a decisive ANC victory in the coming elections so that we can continue to transfer power to the people and consolidate the gains we have made. There is no better way to remember them other than to build socialism now. This is our revolutionary task and we cannot fail them.

We need to emerge from this Central Committee more resolute than before, to work tirelessly in our workplaces and communities where we live so that this historic mission - the National Democratic Revolution - is not jeopardised.

In any difficult situation, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture because of short-term setbacks. That big picture is the consolidation of the gains we have made in the struggle to transfer power from the minority to the people, and ultimately to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Frankly, these elections are about ensuring that we do not return to the ‘Egypt of Pharaoh’. They are about ensuring that we do not get apartheid and national oppression in a disguised form, simply because we are upset about setbacks on other fronts.

Workers will be the first victims if the ANC current majority is weakened in parliament. The opposition parties are on record, and they do not mince their words on the need to purge the rights and gains we have made in the transformation of the labour market.

On a daily basis, the IFP, DP, NP, ACDP and even the PAC use the so-called labour market flexibility and the need for job creation to launch a systematic attack on workers rights. Some of them do not even understand the debate of labour market flexibility - they simply follow the tune of the bosses.

Some of them, however, know and have read ILO reports including the recent one that categorically state that our labour market is sufficiently flexible - even when compared to other developing economies. They choose to ignore these facts. The reason why they will not comment when these facts are brought to their attention is not difficult to find.

They labour under the wrong view that repeating a lie with as much vigour as is possible will result in the translation of the lie into a truth. This they do, so that the unemployed view us as the enemies of Job Creation.

Unashamedly, the opposition has borrowed a lie from Hitler’s propaganda theory which has it that "you must repeat and repeat and repeat and it will settle in the people’s minds as fact."

The bosses and their political representatives in parliament benefited immensely from apartheid as individuals and institutions. They yearn for the days when workers were treated as semi-slaves without rights. They yearn for the "good old days" when women and blacks were discriminated against, when they used prison labour on their farms. They even yearn for their migrant labour laws which made men and women to sign 36 months contracts, threw them into single sex hostels while members of the opposite sex were arrested for trespassing for visiting their loved ones in these hostels.

They are longing for the days when they could hire and fire at will. They want slavery and apartheid returned to the workplace under the guise of labour market flexibility. When the ANC government takes steps to address these inequities, they accuse it of causing unemployment and of caring too much about employed workers.

We must put the record straight that COSATU is not struggling to bring about rigidities in the labour market. We want room within every legislation for workers and companies to negotiate and have arrangements that suit their needs. These needs I am talking about should not mean undermining the need to have sufficient protections against exploitation. This is the type of a debate we are prepared to engage in. We are not prepared to enter into a debate about undermining rights and protections against exploitation under a false pretext called "labour market flexibility".

We welcome the stance taken by the ANC, particularly Minister of Labour, Membathisi Mdladlana, in this debate. We welcome the statements he has made in parliament on the need to have a minimum wage for vulnerable workers such as farm and domestic workers. We are happy that the ANC, through Minister Mdladlana, has now stated the need to amend section 189 of the LRA in order to make retrenchment a matter for mandatory negotiations instead of a mere information and consultation issue as it is currently the case.

This is one of the issues we lost during the negotiations that preceded the Job Summit in October 1998. We are delighted that once more, the ANC is proving beyond doubt that, while concerned about unemployment, it is equally concerned about the rate of retrenchments and job losses. It makes no sense to talk about job creation on the one hand while massive job losses continue unabated on the other.

This is yet another reason why workers should vote for the ANC on 2 June 1999.

COSATU believes that the democratic forces have made strides in the struggle to better the lives of the people, and to consolidate the transfer of power from the minority to the majority.

These gains include:

  • Entrenching worker rights
  • Bringing water to 3 million people
  • Housing for nearly 3 million people
  • Connecting 2 million households to electricity
  • Improving health care for the poor by building and upgrading over 500 clinics and providing free medical care for children
  • Transferring land with 68 000 households benefiting
  • Winning non-racial education, building 10 000 class rooms, feeding 5 million children and the children-to-teacher ratio has fallen from 40:1 to 34:1, and enrolment of students has increased by 1,5 million.

In this period it is easy for people to claim that there has been no changes. There are also extreme cases of people who say that it was better in "Pharaoh times back in Egypt." Yet these people, with extremely short memories, are normally in town in the early hours of the morning. Thus they forget, that only a few years ago they would be arrested when found in town after a certain time for the simple reason that they are black. They make these noises from flats rented in the middle of cities, where they would have been arrested for living only a short while ago. They say these things while swimming or using amenities that they would be arrested for using only ten years ago. And yet, they go around saying nothing has changed. Only a young fellow who never came face to face with apartheid can be forgiven for making such claims. If, on the other hand, an elderly person makes these noises, then this person needs extensive treatment for they suffer from amnesia (isifo sokulibala)

Comrade Chairperson, the ANC manifesto will be launched in the coming weeks. An election manifesto is a brief document that outlines the key programmes of the party. It is not a new policy direction - the RDP remains the cornerstone policy of the Alliance.

One of the errors we committed as the Alliance in 1994 was that we did not reduce the RDP to a five year implementable government programme with clear priorities and sequencing. The inaugural Central Committee pointed this out. We must ensure that this time we are not only satisfied about the existence of the RDP and a manifesto, but we go beyond and draw up an Alliance Programme for the coming term of office.

Unemployment is on the rampage in our country. When 37 out of 100 people are without decent jobs then you must know that you are facing an imminent catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. It is in this context that we have gone out of our way, to once again lead the entire society to find home-brewed solutions.

Thus the 3rd of March represents a symbolic date, but the struggle to encourage working people to donate their day's wage to the Job Creation Trust goes beyond the month of March 1999. I want to thank all of you who have been working hard to mobilise workers to back this call. I also want to thank NUM staff for agreeing to donate their day's wage to the trust.

Comrade Chairperson, what we cannot allow is a situation where, as trade unionists, we go all out to create jobs only to have our endeavours undermined by an investment strike of capital and by their eagerness to retrench thousands of workers.

We call on South African companies, some of whom have in the recent period formed a long queue to join the great trek to list their companies abroad, to show more patriotism for the sake of our country’s future. They must lift their investment strike and agree to a moratorium on retrenchment until we have negotiated amendments to Section 189 of the LRA as directed by the Minister of Labour.

We must give notice to the bosses that COSATU in the coming future is going to resist the retrenchment of workers with even greater vigour. We cannot allow that our democracy is undermined by unscrupulous bosses who put profits before the long term stability of the country. Those who plan to throw people onto the streets to face poverty and call it restructuring of the parastatals and of the public sector must know that we shall resist them all the way.

Tens of the NUM’s shop stewards have been murdered in the mines in this Rustenburg region. Comrades, it is not accidental that this is the case. The enemies of change and of our revolution understand that the NUM is in the forefront of ensuring that COSATU remains a revolutionary federation. Our history shows that it is your union, amongst others, that has ensured that COSATU remains in the family of the congress movement. For this you are going to pay heavily. The forces of darkness know that to break the backbone of the ANC you must start with the NUM to weaken COSATU.

It is not surprising that COSATU has increasingly come under severe attack from the UDM leadership. A look back in our history indicates that when COSATU was formed in 1985, the President and Deputy President of the UDM were both involved in the struggle to protect apartheid - one as a bantustan leader in Transkei and the other as a Minister of the National Party government. What is happening is that the enemy has realised that they cannot make inroads in the black community from within the National Party. They have now created a new shell called the UDM in order to do what the NP (their former employer) will never be able to do.

Let us again remind the UDM leadership that we know who you are, we know your stinking history, you can fool some of us but not the majority. Your campaign to force so-called UDM members out of COSATU affiliates will never succeed. Just as the campaign you, in your NP days in conjunction with the IFP, attempted to wage, and dismally failed, in KwaZulu-Natal - so will your latest attempts be shattered.

The Mouthpiece and UWUSA are one and the same thing. The difference is that the one was formed during the height of repression, while the other is being formed during a democratic order, but their intentions remain the same.

Chairperson, Distinguished delegates. You are meeting just seven months before the next millenium. This century has seen an unprecedented increase in the power of multinational companies and the consolidation of power by unelected institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. This has led to the general decline of working and living conditions of many residents of the world. The power of these institutions, happening in the context of a rampaging capitalist system, has led to the slow death of governments and now are involved in the race to reach the bottom first, as they compete to attract investments. The gap between the rich and poor nations is on the rise. Within nations the gap between the rich and poor is not declining.

On the home front we have not escaped the effects of this crazy competition for investment, that does not improve the standard of living.

COSATU cannot escape this impact on itself as an organisation. South Africa is a new democracy. This itself brings about many challenges to COSATU. The need to strengthen COSATU on every front cannot be over-emphasized. It is in this context that we, as the National Office Bearers, will propose to the coming Central Executive Committee, that we launch a campaign to consolidate COSATU for the challenges of the new millenium at a Central Committee or a special National Congress in August 1999. This campaign should run for two to three years - its main focus being the period between September 1999 and September 2000, which is the month in which we will hold our 7th National Congress.

The elements of the campaign are:

  • Mass Recruitment Campaign to be launched in September 1999.
  • Campaign to elect and train shopstewards with COSATU's NEDCOM developing generic shop steward training manuals on issues of the new millenium such as workplace restructuring as well as the changing role of shopstewards. This campaign should help us develop a data base of each workplace, the number of shop stewards and the training that they have been taken through.>
  • Campaign to accelerate trainingand build a second layer of leadership at branch and regional level. This should be a conscious campaign to train and develop leadership at this level so that they are empowered to deal with new challenges such as provincial legislative processes.
  • Campaign to train the national leadership. We have for years taken this area for granted and made an assumption that those elected for national leadership positions do not require training and development.
  • Speed up the process of moving to super unions or cartels.
  • Step up women development and gender consciousness.
  • Run few and sustainable and well coordinated campaigns. Such campaigns should help win us support both at factory and public level. In short we should run a campaign called a Jobs and Poverty Campaign - its key components being job creation and job retention, as well as an attack on poverty through the development of a comprehensive social security system. This campaign will have a number of facets such as:
  • Building and consolidating the unity of the three major federations, in particular between COSATU and NACTU into a single federation. This campaign should also be driven at industrial level through the kind of mergers that resulted in the formation of SATAWU.

I appeal to this Central Committee to back this campaign and put COSATU on a new footing as we begin this new century. This is essentially about going back to basics and regaining the traditions and culture that made COSATU the giant of the late 1980's and of the 1990's. The key challenge is to make COSATU a relevant giant in the new millenium.

I wish your Central Committee success.

Thank you.