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COSATU Solidarity Message delivered by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, on the Occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the South African Communist Party

COSATU Solidarity Message delivered by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, on the Occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the South African Communist Party

29 July 2001

The two million strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) representing workers of South Africa in the factories, shops, mines, farms, in each and every workplace around the country sends revolutionary greetings to the tried and tested ally of workers and the political voice of the working class: the South African Communist Party, on the occasion of its 80th anniversary.

Today, the workers of South Africa celebrate 80 years of unbroken struggle for socialism, 80 years of unshakable commitment to eradicate from the face of South Africa, indeed from the entire world, the scourge of racism, apartheid and oppression.

None can deny the vanguard role the SACP played in our liberation struggle. Through the example of both leadership and membership drawn from all races in South Africa, the SACP infused the belief and principle of non-racialism into the African National Co ngress in particular, and other liberation movements across the entire region.

The involvement of "white" communists in the ranks of our struggle showed that not every white person was a racist. Above all it showed that some "whites" not only hated apartheid and white supremacy, but were prepared to die in the service of our nationa l struggle to defeat it.

It is thus partly due to the work and politicisation of the SACP that the first founding principle of COSATU is the principle of non-racialism - a principle that continues to guide our work. This is a living non-racialism that extends beyond the rhetoric of congress resolutions and remains the active spirit of our work in each and every workplace across South Africa.

It is in this spirit that we welcome the World Conference Against Racism to Durban at the end of the month. The Conference is coming here in part to honour our achievements in building a non-racial democracy. But it also reminds us of our duty to fight rac ism, xenophobia, tribalism and sexism in the workplace, in our schools and communities. The disgraceful release of white parents who attached black learners in Vryburg points to the need to be vigilant to ensure that racism does not creep back into our soc iety.

We need to mobilise effectively and occupy the streets of Durban on the 1st of September 2001. We must make it clear that we support the conference and salute the UN for choosing our country to host it.

We however don’t want just a jamboree that will just issue a few paragraphs of condemnation of racism, xenophobia and past practises of slavery trade and colonialism. This conference offers an opportunity to the developed countries to take a range of step s and offer not just symbolic reparations.

In the streets of Durban we should demand transformation and democratisation of the UN and all its institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation.

Reparations should mean active steps to eradicate the huge gap between the developed countries and their former colonies in the developing nations. It must not just open their markets for goods from countries in the south but should take active steps to e nsure that the trade deficit that currently exists is eliminated. The one size fits all policies imposed through the conditions attached to loans must end. The odious debt must be scrapped, etc.

For 80 years, too, the SACP taught all of us the importance of placing the organisation above the individual. The commitment to sacrifice even one’s own life in the service of the working class, for the ideals of freedom and equality, is a critical legacy of the communists in our struggle for liberation.

It was communists who led by example in maintaining discipline, in consistent, principled and revolutionary behaviour, in the practice of equality, in the need to treat each and every worker with the human dignity and respect she deserves. These are the r evolutionary morals and ethics that have inspired the liberation movement and led it to victory. This is the shining example that not only inspired our own people but illuminated the entire world.

For 80 years, the SACP years led the struggle for socialism in South Africa. It has done so with a deep understanding that as part of achieving socialism, apartheid must be crushed and the majority liberated from national oppression.

The SACP did not just lay claim to its position in the vanguard of the working class. It earned its place through selfless sacrifices and immense contribution to the struggle to free humankind from poverty and ignorance.

This incredible track record cannot be challenged by anyone.

For this the SACP has paid dearly. It was the first organisation to be banned under the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950. When the ANC and PAC were banned after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, the SACP had accumulated ten years’ experience in worki ng underground. This experience assisted a great deal in helping the ANC to cope with the new conditions.

Countless leaders and members of the SACP died in the trenches, in the apartheid gallows, in prisons and in foreign soil. Countless laid down their lives, not just for the ideal of an equal society, but also indeed for the mere fact that they called thems elves communists.

The apartheid government and other counter-revolutionaries all over the world tried every trick in the book to discredit the ideal of socialism and communism as anti-humane and anti-God, as a system that inflicted untold suffering to the people.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union gave impetus to this message of doom. Many cynics now rush to dismiss ideal of socialism as unworkable, using the failure of the socialist experience in the Soviet Union as their evidence.

But these forces keep mum about the achievements of the Cuban, China and Vietnam experiences. Even James Wolfensohn, the World Bank recently conceded that Cuba has done a "great job on education and health."

There is a teacher for every 12 children in Cuba, and illiteracy was reduced from 40% to virtually zero in ten years. There is a doctor for every thousand people, and, as we South Africans know well, many Cuban doctors and teachers assist countries in dire need all over the world. The infant mortality rate for children under age of five in Cuba fell from 13 to eight per thousand in the 1990s. There are no street children in Cuba, no one begs in the streets, very few are involved in sex for money.

In comparison, in USA, a biggest economy in the world and certainly the uni-polar power, which has for 40 years initiated an economic blockade on Cuba, poverty and inequalities are the order of the day. At the end of 1999, 40 million people had no social security protection, and millions were trapped in degrading poverty.

Behind the glitter of wealth lie dungeons of homelessness, poverty, street burgers, street children, gangsters who rule the streets and so on.

Of course, if we look at South Africa, the picture is even worse. Where Cuba has virtually no illiteracy, one in seven South Africans is illiterate. Where 95% of Cubans have access to piped water, the figure for South Africa is 86%. South Africans suffer t he death of 76 children under five per thousand - a mortality rate ten times as high as in Cuba. And where a Cuban can expect to live to 76 years old, South Africans average only 57 years.

On July 26 this year, Cuba celebrated its 48th anniversary since the bourgeoisie fled in boats to the USA, leaving the proletariat in full charge of the country’s destiny. We send revolutionary greetings to Fidel Castro and the masses of Cubans, and salut e their achievements as our own.

We need to turn around the cynics’ question on socialism, and ask: Where has capitalism ever worked? Socialism works very well in Cuba, while the system of capitalism based on profit maximization for the few is not working for billions of the world’s citi zens, who have been sentenced to a life of poverty on less than a two U.S. dollars a day. It is not working for South Africans, who face massive unemployment and poverty, with the consequent toll in human lives.

This global experience, together with our daily experience of capitalism, has made COSATU totally committed to the struggle to achieve socialism in South Africa. We are extremely fortunate in that we have an ally of SACP’s calibre that we know that will n ever disappoint or betray our struggle.

As we celebrate the SACP’s 80th anniversary, it is important that the SACP acknowledge the mistakes it committed in the past. One of these mistakes was silence about the violation of democracy in the Soviet Union and other European countries.

Socialism must arguably be the most democratic system, centred around concerns of workers and the working class. Yet it became highly undemocratic, with all decision-making centred the Politburo and the General Secretary of the party, with workers as the m ost critical of the system instead of the people who rejoiced over its existence. Calling this type of repression part of the socialist system only played to the hand of our ideological opponents.

The single lesson we can learn from this is that SACP must never compromise on matters of principle. In this regard, COSATU welcomes the fact that the SACP has in the recent years been exercising its autonomy from both ANC and COSATU. This independent st ance is particularly refreshing in light of the efforts of some people to reduce the SACP into the political education desk of the Alliance, whilst they pursue a neo-liberal agenda that contradicts everything that education desk would preach.

The SACP leadership and membership have revolutionary duty of building the SACP into a formidable force capable of leading a thorough transformation of our society and our economy. The SACP does not need leaders who act more like traditional leaders, get ting themselves elected to the Central Committee and thereafter playing no role whatsoever in strengthening the SACP. Leadership to the SACP is distinct from a traditional leadership because people must work for the former, while they are born into the la tter.

We are encouraged that the SACP has undertaken high-profile campaigns around issues that affect the working class. The campaign for the transformation of the financial sector, the previous "Triple H Campaign" for Houses, Health and against Hunger, the cam paigns against racism in the farms and against poverty all show that the SACP has managed to reposition itself from the underground support role to the liberation movement into a movement that gives the working class leadership and hope.

For this, COSATU wishes to congratulate the Blade Nzimande, the General Secretary, and the entire leadership of the SACP for its exemplary and selfless leadership.

As the revolutionary alliance, we face many challenges. The 80 th anniversary takes place seven years after our democratic breakthrough. One challenge is to deepen democracy and the social gains of the revolution. Central is the willingness to defend thes e gains from all manner of counter-revolutionaries masquerading as democrats, opportunists who exploit genuine concerns of our people, capital that wants to hijack our revolution to deepen its domination over our economy, and many more.

Amongst these many challenges is also to ensure that our liberation is never reduced into the mere replacement of a white regime with a black one, whilst the living conditions of our people do not change for the better. Our struggle was never about a narr ow right to hold a ballot and throw it into the ballot box every five years. The radical form of democracy that the NDR represents is much wider than that.

Whilst we are proud of our achievements of the past seven years, we are mindful of the social deficit inherited from apartheid and capitalist mismanagement. A huge effort will be needed to eradicate poverty, unemployment, disease and ignorance.

The system of capitalism is not capable of addressing these social ills. We cannot as the democratic movement continues to shoulder the inherent failures of a capitalist system. The time has come to acknowledge that only a socialist oriented transformatio n process can solve the problems we face. The Cuban experience instructs us to abandon the self-destructive, capitalist-oriented route that has been chosen.

It is in this context, too, that COSATU has started its anti-privatisation campaign. The simple fact is that turning our assets over to the private sector cannot work.

For this reason we have demanded a halt to privatisation and that no basic services or national infrastructure be privatised in future. If negotiations fail at NEDLAC in the coming weeks, we will be calling for a national general strike to back up our dema nds. We need a strong state sector to begin to lay the foundations for socialism.

After all, we did not fight for liberation so that we could sell everything we won to the highest bidder!

We look forward to another 80 years for the SACP, another 80 years of struggle to improve the lives of our people. We know that in future, as in the past, the SACP will be resolute in the struggle for socialism.

Happy birthday SACP