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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President, to the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) 2000 NGO Week

27 September 2000

Build People's Power for Fundamental Transformation:

Comrade President
Members of the National Council
Members of SANGOCO
Distinguished guests
Leaders and organisers of our people - comrade delegates

On behalf of the 1,8 million members of COSATU, their families and communities, I bring you revolutionary greetings to this NGO Week. Comrade President, similar to the recently held 7th National COSATU Congress, millions of our people and the country as a whole are looking upon this gathering for answers and the way forward on how to fundamentally address many of the challenges that we face as a country. The main message from COSATU is that of maximum unity and united action by all our people, the overwhelming majority of whom are the working class, so that we can continuously lead the rest of society to defeat capitalist barbarism and build a better life for all.


As COSATU we were pleased to receive a statement of support for our 7th National Congress from SANGOCO. Your statement to our Congress emphasised that unemployment, growing inequalities and poverty were part of neo-liberal attacks "not only on the employed but also on the broader communities that survive off their salaries". Your statement also emphasised that "it becomes more necessary than ever that we strengthen partnerships between the labour movement and civil society". We cannot agree with you more.

In this context, as COSATU we are proud that the 7th National Congress passed an important resolution on the building of a popular movement for fundamental transformation entitled "Strengthening and providing leadership in the Civic Movement".

The premise of this resolution is the COSATU understanding that the success of our Revolution requires that the people of our country actively participate in the processes of formulating, implementing and monitoring policies aimed at transforming our country, and defend and consolidate the gains made since the 1994 elections.

The active, vibrant mobilisation of people through a popular movement is necessary to deal with the challenges faced by our people including women, youth, workers, urban and rural poor, unemployed, children, the aged and people with disabilities.

This COSATU resolution expresses the belief that the working class is the primary and leading motive force for transforming our country and therefore must be better organised in order to spearhead a popular movement. The direct implication of this belief is the task for COSATU as well as the broader progressive movement to support efforts to strengthen civic structures and mass-based sectoral organizations, in part by deploying disciplined, able and willing cadres to drive the revitalisation of these centres of people's power and deal with community concerns and developmental issues.

Our resolution also commits COSATU to work with SANCO and SANGOCO to undertake massive tasks. Some of these tasks are to:

  • initiate a process to assess the state of organisation in the various sectors in order to identify needs and develop organisation-building strategies and priorities for action,
  • identify and drive joint co-operative programmes around key socio-economic issues, and
  • organise a consultative conference of mass-based organizations and the NGO sector by the year-end to develop a concrete solidarity platform and coherent programme of action for 2001.

The COSATU Congress also identified the need for unity between employed and unemployed workers and resolved that COSATU must work for the strengthening of the links between employed and unemployed workers and that COSATU must develop specific proposals for the creation of a democratic and militant alliance of organisations of unemployed people.

On the face of it, these resolutions may seem as mere re-affirmations of what may seem obvious and not necessarily based on the conditions of living of our people. At the core of these resolutions is the simple and correct statement that the struggles of workers against job losses are the same struggles of our people against poverty.

Therefore as COSATU we call for maximum unity between all sections of the working class - employed workers, the unemployed and our people in rural areas. When we talk about the working class, we are not merely talking about employed workers. We are also talking about every South African who is poor, unemployed, landless, homeless - basically our people who have been denied their dignity, a better life by apartheid and capitalism. Therefore, we call on our unemployed brothers and sisters not to be used by forces opposed to fundamental transformation. With maximum unity of the working class we will be able to build a solid basis for action to address our challenges as a country.


This NGO Week takes place in the wake of continued job losses, poverty, deepening class, race and gender inequalities and continued capitalist globalisation. It also takes place against the background of unprecedented mass mobilisation and action by workers to defend their jobs and to focus the attention of the country on the urgency to stem retrenchments and job creation. Therefore the key challenge facing the working class is around fundamental economic transformation towards the eventual transition to socialism itself.

Transforming the economy in favour of the black working class

The South African siege economy of the apartheid order needs to be restructured in order to be set on a growth and developmental path that will benefit the majority of our people. But the brunt of the restructuring of the economy has been borne only by the working class. It is neither desirable nor inevitable that it is only the working class that should shoulder the burden of the restructuring of our economy.

The working class has been subjected to budget cuts in social services, deteriorating standards in our public education and health systems, widespread retrenchments, casualisation and effects of ideologically driven outsourcing, based on notions of core and non-core business.

This state of affairs is leading to a highly undesirable outcome, whereby the African worker in particular continues to be denied concrete benefits from our transition to democracy. We are indeed faced with a very real danger that the beneficiaries of our democracy will only be only a small black elite and Afrikaner capital. A democracy consolidated on the platform of such serious blows to the working class can only be a deformed democracy, likely to be unsustainable unless premised on economic restructuring that primarily benefits the working class and the poor.

In a country where it is estimated that each employed worker, on average, supports 10 people, the struggle of organised workers is therefore one and the same struggle as that of the rural and urban poor - a struggle for a better life for all. But we still hear a growing chorus of voices, essentially from forces opposed to fundamental transformation, which continues to label organised workers as being a labour aristocracy and selfish. To these forces, as COSATU we say go to KwaMashu, go to eNkandla, go to Matatiele and see for yourselves the misery and devastation brought to our people by apartheid and neo-liberal economic restructuring. It is in these hidden villages and townships, which rarely receive media attention that millions of African women have to wipe tears from hungry children and scrape a living on a daily basis. And this is not their own fault - but the fault of our inherited apartheid economy and our neo-liberal macro-economic policies!

As COSATU we also want to use this occasion to say that if the bosses and their lackeys believe that they are going to rebuild the economy of this country over the carcass of the working class, they are living in a fool's paradise. South Africa is what it is today because of the suffering and contributions of South African workers. The bosses remain greedy and selfish. As the recent R62 million sacrifice and contribution to the Job Creation Trust fund from the exploited workers of our country shows, it is not the bosses who have the interests of our country at heart. It is the South African working class, which represents the overwhelming interests of our people and country as a whole. It is the South African working class, which will drive the South African transition to its logical conclusion - the defeat of capitalist barbarism and the winning of socialism in our country.

For these reasons, COSATU is of the view that there is a need for a serious overhaul of our country's economic policies, and posing anew the question of an appropriate growth and development path for our country. In particular we need to look at the role of the state in economic transformation and the mobilisation of public capital and how we can direct and discipline private capital to meet our developmental objectives. The key challenge is that of an economic development path whose main objectives is the creation of jobs and eradication of poverty. The foundations of such an approach is an overarching, integrated industrial policy. Such a policy must mainly be premised on a conscious, state-driven domestic infrastructural investment programme.

We want a transformed and job-creating economy led by an active state The state can and does create jobs. In this context, COSATU rejects privatisation not only because it will lead to job losses but also because privatisation will lead to more expensive and inaccessible services for the majority of our people who are not employed and have a legitimate right to depend on the democratic state for sustenance and human resource development.

In other words, COSATU is calling for mass mobilisation for the defence and extension of the public sector as the major driver of economic development. As the COSATU Congress resolutions on the public sector confirm, it is just not adequate to simply react to public sector restructuring. But we need specific working class campaigns to ensure that we defend and extend the public sector. Let us mobilise for the transformation of the state, rooting out corruption, ensuring efficient service delivery and spending of funds meant for the poor, in order to prove that the public sector is a better provider of services than the private sector.

COSATU argues that education, health, water, municipal services, central banking, development finance, transport, roads, railways, pipelines, telecommunications, electricity supply, energy including liquid fuel, mineral rights and housing must remain in public hands and that the state must play a leading role in these sectors. We see no justification, reason or any logic in the privatisation of these sectors.

South Africa presently faces a massive social deficit in areas of health, education, safety and security. And because of this massive social deficit as COSATU we do not agree with budget cuts on social services since 1996.

Transforming the financial sector

Central in the over-arching development strategy we are calling for is the fundamental review and transformation of the financial sector of our country. This requires a co-ordinated strategy to drive both the private and public financial institutions towards development and poverty eradication. As SANGOCO and its members would know, currently, private commercial banks hold the poor and our economy at ransom through high bank charges, high interest rates, red-lining, lack of access to credit, racism, discrimination and a lack of administrative justice.

It is for these reasons that, for example, SANGOCO in 1999 developed the Benefactor Fund which would lead to lower bank charges and higher interest rates for NGOs depositing money with the private commercial banks. This was after many years of exploitation of our people's organisations by private commercial banks. It was because of the intransigence of private commercial banks against our people's organisations, basically to ensure that there was no development and poverty eradication. And therefore SANGOCO saw it fit to develop this Fund. As you also know, on its own the Benefactor Fund is not nearly enough to address the challenges of development and poverty eradication.

The COSATU Congress resolved to join the SACP led campaign for the transformation of the financial sector and the building of co-operatives. These co-operatives are basically new forms of economic ownership based on collective social ownership to meet social objectives of development, mass mobilisation and economic growth.

We believe this is an important campaign in which we call on our people to exercise their power - through the money they have put into these banks - for the banks to invest in low-cost housing, credit access for SMMEs and the poor and generally infrastructural development in poor, predominantly black areas.

As COSATU, we call on SANGOCO and all its members to join and fully support this important campaign. We call on all workers, on all our people to come out in their thousands on Saturday, 21 October to say no more to the dictatorship of private commercial banks. We say to our members and their families - join marches and pickets in major centres and make 21 October the "Red Saturday against Redlining everywhere".

Through the 21 October marches and pickets, we will also be supporting the SACP call for legislation, building of co-operatives and a co-operative banking sector, and the convening of a national people's summit on the transformation of the financial sector. This campaign is part of building a people's economy!

As we speak, parliament is debating the Home Loan and Mortgage Disclosure Bill, which would make banks disclose information and reasons for not granting loans. As it is, the Bill does not provide sufficient measures to direct and discipline private banks to meet development and poverty eradication needs. We therefore call on parliament to include sufficient measures for action against the banks when they deny access to credit to the poor, low-cost housing and infra-structural development in our townships and rural areas. If this does not go into the Bill now, it will be difficult to ensure that the banks address development and poverty eradication.

Beat HIV / AIDS and fight for affordable treatment

The third most critical challenge facing the working class is that of fighting the HIV / AIDS pandemic. Cde President let us not cheat ourselves, we know that Aids kills, and that according to evidence available, AIDS is caused by the HIV virus. There are more than 4 million people in South Africa living with HIV / AIDS. Many more die from preventable diseases caused by HIV / AIDS. People living with HIV / AIDS need care and support. HIV / AIDS will have an immense impact on families, communities, particularly the working class and the poor, the economy, the public health system and social services.

Many of the common infections affecting people living with HIV / AIDS can be treated with cheap and available medicines. Most people cannot afford HIV / AIDS medicines. Medicines are very expensive in South Africa. We pay similar prices for medicines as in the USA. We pay more for medicines than Portugal or Spain. South Africa is very profitable for drug companies - we make only 1% of the world drug market but drug companies make 2% of their world profits from our market. Given that we are a poor country and that we have a massive public health crisis, how do drug companies justify making big profits in South Africa? Imperialist interests are being placed above those of the poor people who are living with HIV / AIDS.

COSATU therefore says that it is time that the working class as a whole, including SANGOCO and community based organizations take up the issue of HIV / AIDS as one of their central campaigns. This campaign is as important as the campaign against job losses, as it is a matter of life and death and about the future survival of our people. Coupled with this we need the working class to mobilize to put pressure on pharmaceutical companies to make drugs affordable.

Central in this campaign is the need to build an efficient and accessible public health system. As we said above, our current macro-economic policies have led to cuts in health budgets and deteriorating public health services. Therefore a campaign against HIV / AIDS must necessarily include a campaign for a people's health service through the defence, consolidation, strengthening and extension of the public sector. And this will not be achieved following our current macro-economic policies. In this regard, it is also important that we also use our country's budget to address the social deficit we are talking about. As COSATU we call on SANGOCO, our people generally to start a People's Budget Campaign so that our people can take an active part and give their opinions in shaping our budgetary priorities.

For all these reasons, COSATU calls on SANGOCO and all its members to join us on World AIDS Day, 01 December 2000 when we will be leading a day of international action for access to affordable treatment for people living with HIV / AIDS. As the COSATU Congress resolved, all these actions must lead to immediate results for our people living with HIV / AIDS. As a country we can no longer afford any delays in this regard. Let us move as speedily as we can to act so that all pregnant mothers living with HIV / AIDS can get state-provided AZT or Nevirapine to prevent transmitting the HI virus to their unborn children.


The April 1994 elections and massive changes brought by our democratric government since then were a major victory for the democratic forces in our country. We are now in the midst of a profound transitional struggle, which also require the active participation of the great mass of our people. Without the active mobilisation of popular skills, aspirations, resources, and local knowledge we will see the erosion of our vision and ultimate objectives.

In this regard democratic state power is important. But on its own it is not sufficient and it is vulnerable to neo-liberal pressures from local and international capital. And this is where NGOs have a role. But NGOs must not seek to replace our people and act on their behalf without their mass mobilisation for socio-economic transformation. Related to this is the phenomena of donor agendas being imposed on NGOs by Northern donors. This is a critical question. Otherwise we may end up seeing what could have vibrant been people's organisations turned into bureaucratic organisations serving the interests of donors, which are linked to imperialist governments in the north.

Active popular involvement in fundamental transformation must therefore include:

  • support for progressive government initiatives;
  • helping to set priorities and goals;
  • ensuring that government and other public institutions act in a transparent, efficient and accountable way;
  • organised popular pressure, to overcome neo-liberal or bureaucratic or private sector resistance to transformation;
  • popular mobilisation generally to drive development and poverty eradication.

It is clear that this kind of popular participation requires well organised democratic political and community based formations with an organised presence on the ground - a popular movement for transformation.

However, our ability as democratic formations to help build a people-driven transformation process is at present uneven. Both individually, as different formations, and collectively we are hampered by many organisational weaknesses.

We need to theorise more adequately what is actually being done, and take forward strategically the idea of a popular movement for transformation. In addition, there is a whole range of other related topics:

  • rebuilding organisation. The organisational well-being of our various, extra-governmental/parliamentary formations, the co-ordination and tensions amongst us, the relationship between the people and government and legislatures;
  • the emergence of relatively new people's formations (eg. a host of co-operatives, the Homeless Peoples movement);
  • the potential of reforging links with popular formations that we have more or less neglected/lost sight of over the last six years (eg. the progressive religious sector);
  • the role of government in facilitating and resourcing a popular movement for transformation;
  • international experience of popular movements and the possibilities of broad anti-neo-liberal international exchanges.

But we cannot merely wait to answer these questions in the abstract. The big challenge therefore is to mobilise our people behind socio-economic transformation that will benefit the working people and the poor. We cannot simply rely on government alone - we need a counter-balance in order to strengthen democratic and transformative government.

This means that in our work, we must develop organic and sustainable links with our people - organised workers, hawkers, our people in rural areas, the unemployed, farm and domestic workers. As NGOs, we must be part of our people's struggles for a better life for all and we must learn from our people and build our people so that they can consciously act for themselves. In this way we will make our NGOs and their work relevant and to meet the needs of a changing and democratic South Africa.

Simply put, without the mass mobilisation of our people for fundamental socio-economic transformation, all these challenges we have just outlined above will remain just that - mere challenges!

With these few words, we wish you a successful conference!


Build people's power!