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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, to the opening session of the COSATU - CTC Bilateral Conference

7 November 2000, Havana, Cuba

General Secretary of the CTC Pedro Ross and the rest of the CTC leadership and delegates to this bilateral conference
President of COSATU Willie Madisha and the leadership of COSATU here present
Comrades and friends

I together with the twenty-six other leaders of COSATU who are delegates to this august gathering want to express our heartfelt gratitude to the leadership of the CTC for the hospitality we have enjoyed since our arrival here. To us this represent yet another statement you are making. This clearly represents an important message to us and the organisation we represent, it is a indication of how important you take solidarity we in COSATU have with yourselves and your people. I want to on my behalf and on the behalf of the leaders here present and on behalf of our members and people thank you for this kindness.

COSATU is returning to Cuba, Havana. Some of us have been here a few times before, some are coming for the first time and we can not hide our excitement at the honour we have in our lifetime to come and pay homage to Cuba a country which enjoys such a deep seated respect amongst our people. Our presence here is not just about pursuance of the excellent bilateral relationship we continue to enjoy with the CTC, our being here should be seen in part to be part of paying tribute to revolutionaries past and present without whose contribution you would have not seen most of us here and our liberation struggle would still be continuing with little prospects of a success.

We are here as if we have not done so before to thank you dearly for the immeasurable contribution you generously made to our struggle to regain our dignity and freedom.

Your freedom and ours cannot be separated. Our own struggle was inspired by your 91 year struggle against agents of imperialism in the form of the Batista government. You were led by the commander in chief Fidel Castro Ramon. And I must add that comrade Fidel Castro represents and continues to be a symbol of freedom, love, selfless sacrifices for the human kind and is clearly the leader of the left forces who yearn for a world free of exploitation and oppression.

As you know the contribution of thousands of your peopleís soldiers liberated not only our country South Africa but most parts of Southern Africa and our continent Africa. Che Guevara will always be a symbol of this selfless Cuban peopleís contribution to the struggles of the humankind for dignity and self determination. In my office I hang a framed picture of Che Guevara with pride and know that, that picture symbolises the high esteem with which the Cuban people Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in particular are held by freedom loving masses of our people. The freedom of both Namibia and South Africa remain curved in the "battle of Cuito Cuanavale". Without this triumph of SWAPO forces assisted by Cuban forces there would have been no freedom for us.

What has fascinated us is that you did not end up supporting our struggle during the liberation phase only but have despite your own limited resources and immense challenges you face, in a true spirit of international solidarity continued to support our country as it begins to deal with the apartheid legacy. You contribute hundreds of doctors in our new struggle for reconstruction and development of our country. The Cubans are once again found in the trenches of this new struggle and in the most difficult part to do this work - our rural areas. On behalf of workers and our people we thank you very much for this continuing unwavering support.

COSATU remain committed to the struggle to attain socialism. We have repeatedly pointed out that we do not see a contradiction between the National Democratic Revolution and the struggle for socialism. In fact in our view, socialism can only be attained through the National Democratic Revolution. In the context of our country we do not see the struggle and the attainment of socialism as an event. Socialism will not fall in the sky like the manna. On a daily basis we are involved in a struggle to build elements of socialism and as we normally put it we want to in the belly of the capitalist beast build socialism. We are not however seeking to transform a capitalist system, we require a total political defeat of the system.

We are inspired by what you the Cuban people have been able to achieve despite an extremely hostile global environment within which you continue to wage your struggle for equity. Irrespective of the economic blockade that has lasted for fourty years, you have continued to make tremendous gains for the revolution. Today very few if any country can boast of your successes at the social front. Your literacy is standing at 95% with 13000 schools and free and compulsory education for all. You are not matched by any one when it comes to provision of free and high quality health care to all your people.

It is these successes which in the face of being ridiculed, COSATU continue to shout on rooftops for socialism to come. To us we have seen in Cuba that socialism does work. And we have seen in the USA and in South Africa as well as elsewhere in the world that the system of capitalism is not working. Billions of people starve and face grinding poverty. Billions have no access to health care and education. The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. The gap within capitalist nations and between the North and South continue to widen. Diseases, ignorance and hunger continue to condemn billions to the life of sub humans. This brutal system based on very low morals and rampant individualism cannot be the saviour of the human kind. It must be destroyed and replaced with a human system where all work hard for the common good of their country and people instead of the majority of people working hard to build few stinking rich fat cats whilst that majority lives in poverty.

This the COSATU - CTC bilateral conference must set aside time to analyse this global environment - the new type of colonialism hidden behind the dogma of so called free market in all its manifestations.

As you in no doubt are aware, in South Africa we still face immense challenges to reconstruct and transform our country in a manner that will ensure that the wealth of the country is shared by all. This is a daunting challenge in particular in the light of the huge problems our economy is facing due to mismanagement by apartheid and the successive illegal minority regimes. At least 38% of the active labour forces is unemployed. Poverty is wild spread with at least 51% of the population living in conditions of abject poverty. Millions have no access to running water and health care. About 60% of the population is illiterate. South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world - next only to Brazil. We literally have two nations living in one country to quote our President Thabo Mbeki. One nation is extremely rich and living beyond the means of the country and largely white. The other is black and extremely poor and continues to face humiliating experience of having to build this wealth which is consumed by its white counter parts. The list of these challenges goes on.

We have in the first six years of the democratic rule made strides to address this apartheid legacy. One million houses have been built, two million have access to electricity. Four million have access to clean running water, three million have access to communication, two million have benefited to the land reform programme, many more have access to health care with five hundred clinics built or upgraded. Children that are six years and below as well as pregnant mothers have access to free health provided for by government institutions, children from communities trapped in the poverty are provided with a meal that allows them to concentrate to their work, and etc. Above all this we have our freedom and continue to enjoy the fruits of the progressive constitution that protects our rights including the right to join trade unions and to strike.

We obviously are extremely proud of these achievements. The second democratic elections held in 1999 as well as the local government elections on the 05 December 2000 reminds us of these achievements as well as the remaining challenges.

The major drawback is that this transformation is taking place within the ambit of the anti developmental capitalist system. To rub salt to this wound and in a manner that shifts the balance in favour of a free market fundamentalism a neo liberal macro economic strategy called Growth, Employment and Reconstruction (GEAR) has been introduced with no consultation even within the tripartite alliance of COSATU, ANC and SACP. This programme continues to be extremely popular within business and has been hailed by the un-elected financial institutionís bureaucrats and leaders alike as step to the right direction. To us this programme is a single most serious threat to our match to effectively transform our country to serve the needs of the majority - the working class. Whilst the confidence of the business is on the rise, the confidence of the working class and other progressive forces is on a downward spiral. The gains that we boast of as the achievements are now under threat as government spending is slashed in conformity with ideologically driven low deficits, low inflation driven by high interest rates, rampant privatisation and the overall removal of the state from the economy.

We are here as part of the agreement we reached with you in April 1998, when comrade Pedro Ross led an impressive delegation to our country. We could not return this visit last year (1999) as a result of the second democratic elections in our country that also forced us to convene a special National Congress to replace some of our leaders elected to the democratic parliament. So yes, most of our time had to be taken up by concrete suggestion of how we can take forward all elements of what we agreed to do in 1998. We are the first to admit that outside few cases, we have not given a concrete expression to this bilateral relationship between our national centers. We have an opportunity to over the next three days and during our stay for the world meeting in Solidarity with Cuba, ensure that we develop strategies to implement our joint programmes in manner that deepens our friendship and solidarity. The same applies with our affiliates. I am happy to inform you that almost all our nineteen affiliated unions are represented at the most senior level. During this conference and during our stay here we hope that our affiliates will have time for their own bilateral discussions with their counterparts in the CTC.

One of the concrete ways of ensuring that we have much practical work and little talking is to ensure that our International Relations Departments are constituted into a formal commission that must be in communication with one another in three months intervals to evaluate progress and remind each other of the commitments we shall make to one another at this bilateral conference. We can no longer afford to limit our friendships and solidarity to the random invitation to conferences and workshops. We need more concrete work in between these conferences. Cuban trade unions need the solidarity of their South African counterparts and people, just as the South Africans trade unions need the support and solidarity of the Cuban people and trade unions.

Comrades and friends, on Friday is the beginning of another milestone world meeting in solidarity with Cuba. Most of us will remain for this conference as well. I want to apologise that I shall not have the honour of attending the conference for all its duration as I have to leave in the evening of the its first day.

COSATU is disgusted that as we begin the 21st century, the imperialists in the United States of America ís government continue hold the Cuban people to ransom for their unwavering support of their revolution and gains as well as their choice of a political and economic system - socialism. The USA government agents sponsored the kidnapping of the Cuban child Elian Gonzalez as part of their absurd attempt to blackmail the Cuban into abandoning the goals of the revolution. This fourty year long blockades which has denied the US citizens their right to visit Cuba, stopped oil supply, prohibited US sales, banned medical supplies, suspended shipment supplies in respect to sugar, etc shows the contempt with which the US government holds for freedom, liberty they espouse to be guardians off. To them freedom and liberty is only good in so far as it complies with their low morals and ethics and in conformity with their inhuman capitalist system. These dogs of war have used every trick in the book to suppress a small country whose only defence is the determination of its people. This has so far dismally failed to intimidate the Cuban people. Clearly the only grudge the US government has with the Cuban people is that the system of socialism they hold so dearly to their hearts and which has provided them free health, education and other services is a threat to the hegemony they seek to impose to the world - the system of capitalism which is based on the principle of the survival of the fittest and or dog eat dog mentality.

It is heartening to note that the majority of the American including the outgoing President and the majority in the congress are simply tired of this naked stupidity. I participated in the worker ís match against the world trade organisation that held its 3 rd Ministerial conference in Seattle in November 1999. I could not believe my eyes when I saw thousands of workers carrying Cuban flags calling for the lifting of the blockade against Cuba in that matched. This was happening right in the belly of the US government led imperialism and naked aggression against those who refuses to toe their stinking line.

We want to continue to call on democracy loving ordinary Americans to continue putting pressure of the demagogues to see the light and stop getting the successful Cuban socialism stand in between their little minds and logic.

Hands off Cuba!

Hands off the peopleĎs revolution!

Hands off the commander in Chief Fidel Castro!

Long live international solidarity!

Long live the Cuban revolution!

Amandla - awethu!