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Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, at the presentation to Comrade Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela of the Elijah Barayi Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service at the Celebration of the 15th Anniversary of COSATU
2 December 2000
The Cabinet of South Africa’s workers, the Central Executive Committee of COSATU, decided to inaugurate an Elijah Barayi Award for outstanding Leadership and Service. This is the COSATU’s most important award ever to be presented to any human being by COSATU. It is doubly significant that this first Elijah Barayi award is bestowed on the Fifteenth Anniversary of COSATU, a historical milestone for all workers in this country.
Usually decisions of this nature involve detailed and lengthy discussion. When nominations for this award were discussed in the COSATU Central Executive Committee however, there was no lengthy debate as to who should be its first recipient. There was only one candidate: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Comrade Madiba, the workers of South Africa wish to bestow this award on you in recognition of the outstanding leadership and service you have rendered to themselves and their country, and to reflect the love and appreciation which we feel for the huge sacrifice and contribution you have made to South Africa as a whole, and to working people in particular.
Many books and articles have been written about the role you have played in the history of our country, but the true story of your contribution is etched in the hearts and minds of our people.
You have been a constant inspiration to us from the days of the Congress of the People, through the armed struggle, the dark days in prison and exile, the mass uprisings of the eighties, to the period of negotiations, and finally the days of liberation and reconstruction.
You have always first and foremost been the leader of the people’s movement. Whether you were the young lion fighting to radicalise the ANC, the leader of the defiance campaign, the ‘black pimpernel’ avoiding the clutches of the security police, the MK commander-in-chief seeking weapons and funding in Africa, and unifier and leader on Robben Island, or the negotiator, a statesman and first President of a democratic South Africa, you never lost sight of your role as the leader and servant of the liberation movement. You have taught us all this lesson, through your commitment, your dedication, your humility, your selflessness, your loyalty and your discipline - that to be a true leader is to be a servant of your people. For this we salute you.
The recent period of South African history, since your release from prison, has probably been the greatest test of your leadership abilities, and of the movement as a whole. While there have been ups and downs you have steered the country through the period, through the threat of civil war, with flying colours.
You stood up to the regime in the face of apartheid- sponsored violence in the 1990s, through the collapse of CODESA, the Boipatong massacre, and the murder of Chris Hani. While retaining flexibility in tactics, you stood by your fundamental principles and steered the country to its first democratic elections in April 1994.
Under your leadership as the first President of our democratic South Africa, we faced many obstacles. Despite this, you managed to stabilise the country, and lay the basis for deepening of our democracy.
During this period we have had our disagreements on some issues. But we have never doubted the fact that you are a loyal friend of workers, and did what you felt was best for workers and the country as a whole. In the face of repeated attacks by those wanting to destroy the Alliance between the ANC, COSATU and the SACP, you have constantly defended its central role in the transformation of our country.
In the five years of your Presidency, we managed to achieve:
- Peace and stability;
- Entrenchment of worker rights in progressive labour legislation;
- Extension of basic services to millions of people; and
- Negotiation of what has been described as the best constitution in the world.
You have always placed the issue of addressing the scourge of poverty, unemployment, and inequality at the top of the national agenda. No one doubts your concern for the poor and working people. During your retirement age and time you continue to work for the poor in our rural areas as if you are paid for doing so.
Your love for workers and their organisation has been demonstrated at some of the key crisis moments for the country. In 1995 you led the march by workers, here in Johannesburg, in support of a progressive LRA. You received a lot of flak for this. In 1996 when the bosses and some in the media were attacking us, you again stood by COSATU in opposing the inclusion of a lock-out clause in the Constitution. The workers of South Africa will never forget this.
In dedicating this Elijah Barayi award to you, we are saluting the role you have played and continue to play, in improving the lives of our people, especially the workers and the poor. Comrade Madiba, in the words of a popular liberation song which used to be sung by MK troops in Angola "We shall always love you, we shall need you, for the things you’ve done for us".