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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

The Role of Labour in Promoting Good Governance - Speech by Bheki Ntshalintshali, COSATU Deputy General Secretary, at the at the IDASA Kutlwanong Democracy Centre, 28 March 2001

Speech by Bheki Ntshalintshali, COSATU Deputy General Secretary, at the IDASA Kutlwanong Democracy Centre

28 March 2001

The Role of Labour in Promoting Good Governance

Chairperson Distinguished guests Ladies and gentlemen;

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this important gathering. Allow me to welcome the delegate from Africare Rwanda. It is indeed a great pleasure to share our experience with our fellow Africans, brothers and sisters from Rwanda. As we all know, t he country is emerging from a catastrophe that almost destroyed the Rwandan society. As you engage in national reconstruction and development it is important, as we have found out as South Africans, to share experiences with and learn from others. I have been asked to speak on the role of labour in promoting good governance, particularly in the South African context.

Post-colonial Africa is littered with many undemocratic governments which suppress basic human rights and loot and plunder the economic and other resources. Africa’s democratic credentials have been sullied by the incessant usurpation of power through und emocratic means. Coups have become part of our daily existence. These developments undermine our aspirations for self-determination and nation building and weaken the people’s confidence in the political system. The problems that we see are a product both of colonial legacy and sheer bad governance. I am very confident however, that we shall overcome and I can see a new wave of change on the horizon as African’s grapple with the challenge of developing or societies and building a better life for all.

Political democracy is a key ingredient in Africa’s regeneration or renaissance. Without political democracy our societies are condemned to be ruled by self-appointed dictators. The broader progressive movement, including the labour movement has a crucia l role in fighting for political democracy in Africa. It is important that we root out corruption, nepotism and create conditions for popular participation to flourish. Good governance is not a luxury but a necessary condition for open, participatory, ac countable and democratic governance. Our beacon in South Africa is the hard won Constitution which recognises that governance should be transparent, accountable, democratic and participatory. The Constitution enshrines our people’s aspirations contained in the Freedom Charter adopted in 1956 -The People Shall Govern!

Labour, specifically COSATU played a pivotal role in shaping the final Constitution. Our objective was to ensure that we attain a system where people are at the centre of governance as opposed to being mere voting cattle, which expresses its will every fi ve years. The labour movement played a significant role in dismantling apartheid both in the workplace and in broader society. During the struggle for emancipation there was a social movement galvanised against the oppressive system. As a result, South Africa has one of the vibrant civil society which is essential to ensure people’s participation and accountable governance.

COSATU had to undergo serious adjustment in the post-apartheid society. We were now confronted with a democratically elected government while at the same time being an ally of the ruling party. This situation posed tough challenges on COSATU regarding its role in a democratic society, its relationship with the democratic society. It was confronted with a choice of becoming a transmission belt for government or retain its independence, militancy and continue to fight for the aspirations of its constituency . COSATU opted for the latter approach not because of any sense of mistrust of government or politics in general. Our political calculations informed us that while we have managed to defeat apartheid, the government was inheriting a huge legacy of inequa lity, poverty and unemployment. Secondly, the class structure of South Africa would for a long time remain the same because we are still fundamentally a capitalist society. These social classes will jostle for control of the democratic state and set its agenda in a particular way.

For these reasons COSATU decided that a vibrant civil society with a strong element of independent and strong progressive formations is not an anti-thesis of democracy but a necessary condition for democracy to flourish. The events of the last seven years of democratic rule have vindicated the option that we chose ourselves. At the same time COSATU seeks to play a constructive role in the democratisation of South Africa -where necessary we would work with and support government efforts, at the same time we will criticise government and take action where necessary. Simultaneously we would like to contribute to the transformation of our communities and workplaces.

COSATU has proven to be a significant force in the economic, social and development policy debates, which have taken place since South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. COSATU has been mobilised to be the advocate of social transformation, campa igning for policies and strategies at eradicating the apartheid legacy of inequality and underdevelopment. The positions, which COSATU has adopted in engaging with this transition, have been informed by three inter-related objectives: 1. ‘Bread and Butter": to represent the concerns of over 1.7 millions COSATU members, both as workers in South Africa’s mines, factories, shops, offices, hospitals and farms; and as breadwinners for families and communities facing the ravages of poverty, unem ployment, and other social problems. 2. ‘Strategic engagement’: pursuing an agenda of strategic transformative unionism, which include engaging with the structures of policy and law making, with the aim of promoting progressive social and economic policies; 3. "Democratisation and social transformation: through social mobilisation, and political engagement, to advance the agenda of democratisation and social transformation of South Africa, in the face of powerful conservative forces attempting to block this tran sformation.

COSATU has therefore engaged with a variety of structures of processes to pursue it objectives. In the post-1994 political landscape, COSATU has advanced its policy perspectives through numerous forums, and has adopted a combination of methods of advocacy and mass struggle. This engagement has happened through a range of institutions and processes including:

  • Through structures of the tripartite Alliance of the ANC, COSATU and SACP;
  • Advocacy in Parliament, particularly through public submissions to parliamentary Committees;
  • Engagement with government departments and Ministries;
  • Through discussions and negotiations in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC);
  • Through national initiatives, such as the Presidential Jobs Summit, and the National Framework Agreement on State Owned Enterprises; and
  • Local and provincial engagements, including provincial development forums, and local government restructuring.

Generally speaking, COSATU has played a pivotal role in the democratisation of South Africa. It has adopted an independent posture and developed well-researched policy positions on a number of issues. In addition where necessary we have embarked on a numb er of campaigns to achieve our demands. One of the current campaigns is to open the budgetary processes for input by both civil society and parliament. In order to achieve these aims COSATU had to hone its organisational capacity at technical, policy and mass level.

A number of legislative instruments have been passed on a number of fronts to improve good governance. The challenge is to translate these ideals into actual reality for workers and communities at large. It is therefore imperative that strategies are des igned to implement these instruments to improve the probity and accountability of both public and private institutions. In the main we should root out corruption; ensure democratic participation and accountability of senior officials, ensuring accountabil ity of government and private institutions.

I thank you