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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Address to the COSATU Special Congress by Terror Lekota, ANC Chairperson

18 August 1999

The Challenges of the Tripartite Alliance beyond the Basic Victory of 1994

Today once again we gather to affirm and celebrate one of the Alliance partners and its ever growing record of service to the people of South Africa. And given the recent overwhelming victory our movement achieved in the elections I take this opportunity to congratulate COSATU alongside other partners. The Alliance is living and leading!

To the leadership you deployed in the Provincial and National list , the shop stewards who gathered and went out daily into communities, and to the rank and file worker-bees of the federation we say:

Long live COSATU, long live!
Long live the spirit of comrade Barayi, long live!

The Purpose of this Special Congress - Quality Leadership

It is our understanding that this Special Congress has been called for the specific purpose of electing leaders to fill those gaps left by comrades deployed to the various legislative bodies in the recent elections . This is not an easy task. It is a responsibility that must be carried out with deep care and calculation. For those who will be elected will have to steer the federation though turbulent and even perilous political times. We express our confidence that this Congress is sufficiently experienced to discharge this duty with distinction.

Nevertheless a word of caution must also be directed to potential candidates. Consider carefully the responsibilities you take upon yourselves when you accept nomination. Indeed approach the matter with measure of trepidation. The membership invests in its leadership and is entitled to quality service. And this is an extremely demanding challenge if we may advise. As matter of fact only those who do not know the burdens and loneliness of leadership ( who do not know the demands of leadership) will go into dogfights for leadership positions.

But we are encouraged to see that the spirit prevailing in this Conference is a healthy one. Congratulations to the Congress and those who will at the end be elected. To them will fall the burden of assisting in resolving some of our difficulties.

The Primary Goal of the Present Phase of the National Democratic Revolution

We seek to deepen democracy, eliminate inequalities of race and gender through the transformation process we set in motion since our ascent to power. On this there can hardly be argument among us.

But as with many other situations the tricky part is the how part, and on this we have often often got ourselves tied in knots .

We behave in ways that provoke the question "Is the Alliance still intact ?" And quickly respond of course: "Yes!" But most times we leave the listener uncertain of the conviction of our positive replies.

The Alliance has always been Characterised by Contradiction!

The variance of opinion within the Alliance is not new. Policy debates within the Alliance would have been impossible over the decades without variation of opinion. The secret therefore was the art of handling such differences as emerged in the course of policy debates.

Within the ranks of the Alliance and in our respective organisations there was plenty of room for intensive debates . All kinds of opinions were expressed, including those of existing Policy positions. Nevertheless only consensus positions were aired outside the Councils and Committees of our organisations.

This was not, as some philistines would want us to believe, a Stalinist suppression of opinion. Rather it was control of the flow of accurate information . The masses of people who support our organisation cannot always be sure which is decided policy and which not, if all of our differing views are thrown at them. Such a state of affairs can only lead to confusion and ultimately anarchy.

At this stage of our revolution we need even more policy debates that ever before within the Alliance - but we need an even more responsible management of those policy debates.

Let us Differentiate between Tactical and Strategic Contradictions

The present debates in our ranks, whether on GEAR, privatisation or wages, are all tactical in nature. They are resolvable by ongoing debates amongst ourselves. This is so because they all take place against the backdrop of our agreed strategy - that we aim at deepening democracy, at eliminating inequalities of race and gender through the transformation process we set in motion on our ascent to power. Their resolution does not require conflict, such as was the order of the day when we faced up to the erstwhile apartheid regime.

Nor are comrades wrong when in an ongoing way they persist in drawing attention to weaknesses of GEAR and / or privatisation as we implement these policies. Only as we engage in this exercise can we retain those levels of vigilance which will make it possible for us to adjust tactics in time. Changing conditions make this exercise imperative> The leadership welcomes it, and our movement makes room for it.

We must move along this route because consensus on any policy position does not imply a hundred percent unanimity. Nor does it mean that such policy positions will totally succeed at implementation. Indeed the gap between the ideal and reality always produces shortfalls. Hence the need to revise policy from time to time. But then that process too has to be carried out primarily within the structures and discipline of our organisations. Above all it must be in the spirit of building for the future.

Discipline is a Crucial Factor in our Revolution

The recent trend, on the part of some highly-placed comrades, of ascending platforms or by other ways criticising or agitating against policies and actions of the movement, inside and outside Government, smacks of a lack of revolutionary discipline. This is particularly so because these critical voices have not been heard in the committees and councils of our structures, where they can be systemically analysed, tested and then adopted if they pass the test of debate.

This undisciplined approach has a number of negative consequences:

  • It confuses the mass based support of our movement;
  • it lends itself to exploitation by our opponents and opposition parties;
  • it creates a climate in which agents provocateur can thrive and advance their counter-revolutionary agendas.

Revolutionary Agendas

It is far too early for us to imagine that the relative stability our revolution has achieved so far means that we are out of the woods. The recent elections have revealed some worrisome trends. Beneficiaries of the erstwhile bantustans rallied to support of their former leaders, clearly hoping to recover the benefits of corruption of these earlier arrangements. Revolutionary unity and vigilance remain key requirements for our ongoing work.

May I repeat that the success of the revolution is our collective responsibility . While we pursue our sectoral interests and needs we must be guided by the deep realisation that we need a balance between the needs of pupils, university students, lecturers and teachers; between employed and organised workers, between unemployed and unorganised workers.

We must spread the resources of the nation to cover all these and other sectors of our society.