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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Opening Address by COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to the OATUU 7th Congress

28 September 1999, Johannesburg

Comrade Chairperson
His Excellency President of the Republic of South Africa, Comrade Thabo Mbeki
Chairperson of the OAU for Labour and Social Affairs, Comrade Toivo Ja Toivo
Honourable Minister of Labour and Social Affairs from Sudan Ms Agnes Lukudu
ILO Executive Director Ms Chinery-Hesse
ILO Regional Director Mr Elias Mabere
Secretary General of the OATUU, Comrade Hassan Sunmonu
President of OATUU, Comrade Adiko Niamkey
Honourable Ambassadors from our Distinguished African States
Distinguished Invited Guests
Delegates of the 7th OATUU Congress
Leaders of COSATU and NACTU

I deeply cherish the honour bestowed on me to welcome all the delegates and distinguished guests in this august gathering – the 7th Congress of OATUU. Indeed, it is an honour that I share with the people of South Africa and the members of COSATU. That this congress takes places in our shores, is a realisation of an undertaking made by our erstwhile Assistant General Secretary comrade Sydney Mufumadi who is now the Minister of Provincial and Local Government Affairs.

On the other hand, the fact that we are hosting this Congress in South Africa demonstrates the stride we have made in consolidating our young democracy. I would be remiss if I do not take this opportunity to salute the gallant efforts and tireless struggles by our international friends to root out the evil monster of apartheid. We South Africans will forever be indebted to the plethora of organisations, progressive minded individuals and governments that supported us in our hour of need. The demolition of apartheid is testimony to what solidarity can achieve. Let me take this opportunity, to thank all of you for your steadfast and relentless support.

This congress takes place at a time when we are poised to enter the next millennium, also heralding the end of the 20th century. It provides us the opportunity to look back and evaluate our gains and losses as the working class. When surrounded by the apparent resilience of global capitalism the temptation is too high for capitulation, ignoring the sterling advances that the working class has made particularly in this century. Apart from a number of exceptions, we enter the next millennium as free people, free from the yoke of colonialism and its ravages. We are proud as South Africans to be counted among the free.

However, our freedom is under threat from both internal and external forces. The “New World Order” inaugurated by the collapse of the Soviet Bloc has proven to be the continued domination of the weaker countries by the powerful alliance of transnational corporations and the G8 countries. Globalisation continues to ravage the economies of developing nations reversing the gains scored in the post-colonial era. The powerful countries, supported by the International Financial Institutions, sometimes acting in concert with or on behalf of transnational corporations, dominate the discourse and dictate the terms of globalisation. The national sovereignty, which we fought dearly for, is progressively being eroded by un-elected institutions, which set the rules that you ignore at your own peril.

Africa is still haunted by the legacy of colonialism, exacerbated by globalisation and the debt albatross. Add to this, the tin pot dictators, civilian and military, who continue to plunder the resources of our societies.

Because of the twin evils of underdevelopment and racism, we are at risk of being a forgotten people. Against this background, I would like to echo the call by Comrade Thabo Mbeki, for Africans to reclaim their identity and chart their own destiny as succinctly captured in his call for the 21st century to be the African century. In addition, I share his recent call at the United Nations for a New World Order that is people centered and people driven. Unless the rising social polarisation is urgently addressed, the collective advances of humanity will be rolled back. There is a high potential for social instability if globalisation continues to reinforce inequality within and between countries.

To meet these challenges require strong organisation. I am deeply saddened by the state of affairs in OATUU. We need to assess the exact problems preventing OATUU to be financially self-reliant. We must emerge from this congress with a fresh impetus to build the financial capacity of the organisation. We cannot countenance a donor-driven or government sponsored trade union movement. He or she who pays the piper picks the tune.

In addition as part of organisational renewal we need to strengthen internal democracy and our grassroots structures. Our member should truly drive and own the decisions taken by our movement. Only a leadership afraid of democracy will desist from involving the membership in decision-making.

In a nutshell, this congress is a watershed congress, which will set the pace for repositioning the trade union movement in Africa. The challenge is not only to emerge with glossy resolutions but to also develop a vision to build the organisation and a commitment to mobilise the requisite resources. In addition, we must emerge from this congress with a fighting programme to deal with economic injustice and the continued subjugation of our people, albeit in a different form

Thank you, for agreeing to come over. This is your country, this is your freedom, this is your dignity that has been restored, this is your Africa and this is your home. I can only hope that you will enjoy your stay in South Africa.

Finally, let met express our profound gratitude to OATUU for the honour of hosting this 7th National Congress.

Thank you, chairperson.