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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi speaks at Funeral of Cde Ramolae Makhene in Soweto

19 July 2003

Programme director;
Members of the family;
Distinguished guests;
Comrades and compatriots;

We are gathered here on this solemn occasion to pay homage to one of the greatest sons of our nation, Ramolao Makhene. Our deepest sympathy and condolences goes to the family, friends, colleagues and comrades.

Death has unceremoniously cut short an illustrious career, a life dedicated to justice, freedom and equality. At this hour of destiny, seek solace in the rich life and teachings of comrade Ramolao. I will like to dedicate this poem, whose author is unknown to the family:

Not by sorrowing,
not by lamenting,
is any aim accomplished here,
not even a bit.
Knowing you're sorrowing & in pain,
your enemies are gratified.
But when a sage
with a sense for determining what is his aim
doesn't waver in the face of misfortune,
his enemies are pained,
seeing his face unchanged, as of old.

Today, we are bidding our last farewell to the mortal remains of our beloved comrade. His spirit lives on! Because he led a very public life, he has touched each one of us. His life experience is indelibly etched in our collective psyche and memories.
Comrade Ramolao’s life symbolises the trials and tribulations of black artists. It also symbolise the tenacious and unwavering struggle against odds. Today we are gathered to celebrate the life of a torchbearer and a pioneer.

Comrade Ramolao understood the role of art in raising consciousness and as an instrument of struggle. Art is not only about entertainment or aesthetic value – it can be used as a powerful instrument for mobilisation, education and agitation.

Early pioneers of protest theatre understood the link between art and struggle. In the 1970s black protest theatre emerged to consciountise our people about their history and the struggle. Where apartheid sought to denigrate our history and our culture, black theatre groups, depicted our proud history and our living conditions. They helped restore our dignity and our humanities.

Ramolao was at the centre of this growing art form in the 70s. Indeed, he has been with black protest theatre from its early days. He was shaped by it and equally he contributed to its development. Other comrades will speak of his accomplished career as an actor and teacher.

I want to speak about the side of comrade Ramolao that is rarely acknowledged in public – his role in the struggle for the rights of black artists and as a pioneer of trade unions for black cultural workers. From early on, comrade Ramolao saw his art as a contribution to the struggle. In the height of the cultural boycott against apartheid South Africa, he was to be found agitating the international community to isolate the country.

Comrade Ramolao was very passionate about the struggle for justice for black cultural workers, especially in the performing arts. He understood that only collective action would bring about change. Regardless how renowned an artist can be that individual is powerless in the face of the production companies, unless he or she joins together with others in UNION.

Workers all over the world and across industries know this basic truth – without collective action and a union – bargaining is hollow and amounts to collective begging. Workers power is only through collective action – in short a worker has a very stark choice ORGANISE or STARVE! There is no middle road!

The glamour and the tinsel mask the exploitation of artists and cultural workers. Today we must say an end to the poverty of our cultural icons!
It is for this reason, that comrade Ramolao joined together with others to form PAWE. His role in the formation of PAWE deserves a place in annals of our history.

As a society, we need to pay attention to two inter-related question: regulation and development of the arts. We owe to comrade Ramalao to invest in our home-grown industry in the arts.
One of PAWE demands is for effective regulation of the industry. The absence of effective regulation creates conditions for unscrupulous exploitation of artists. Little wonder we have seen many artists die poor. Again the public cannot see beyond the glitter and glamour.

Behind these stories that artists portray on television, theatres and so forth; lies the stark reality of brutal exploitation. The story behind the story is unpalatable but must be told. This is what comrade Ramolao sought to expose – the naked exploitation of our artist manifest in for example lack of social benefits; low and unequal pay, job insecurity and so forth. Producers do not reveal their budgets to performers and pay starvation wages by pleading poverty; unequal pay for work of equal value. We must demand openness and disclosure of information.

Further; local artists have no protection against unfair foreign competition – regulation does not encourage or compel production companies to use to local talent. To add insult to injury, producers have a tendency to use foreign artists to tell our local stories. In other societies such as Canada, foreign producers are required by law to use local talents.
The Entertainment Industry bargaining Council is irrelevant for performing artists, as it exclude major employers such as the SABC, M-net and E.TV.

In short, artist because they are not defined as workers; they do not as a rule enjoy the protection afforded by the labour laws. Consequently, working hours and rates of pay are not regulated in the industry. Comrade Ramolao life as a trade unionist was directed at improving these conditions – to ensure better working conditions for artists and all cultural workers.

Related to the above is the overall question of the development of our local industry. Nine years into our democracy we are still subjected to foreign productions that have no relevance to our lives. Political freedom will be hollow if we are still culturally dominated.
For this reason, the state has to invest in the development of our local industry. The public broadcaster – the SABC, has a duty to encourage local production. This will ensure both jobs for local artists as well as tell our own story as a people.

I am painfully aware that for as long as the industry is still dominated by a handful of production companies, mainly white, we have no hope that our story will be told in full. COSATU’s campaign on the SABC is ultimately about ensuring that the public broadcaster contributes towards the development of our local culture and it should not be driven purely by commercial motives.

Let us use comrade Ramolao burial to call for dialogue between the state and unions representing artists. We need a multifaceted approach to deal with many problems facing artists and cultural workers in South Africa. First we need laws to protect artists from exploitation – laws that regulate rate of pay, hours of work; intellectual property and that guarantee social benefits. The tax regime and its impact on cultural workers, whose income is seasonal, needs to be addressed.

Second, we need a holistic approach to, and investment in the arts. Government should evaluate its incentives for companies that constantly support the arts. Linked to this, the financial sector has to be challenged to review lending practices and policies, especially for artists. We all know the difficulties facing artists whenever they seek credit or financial support. Thirdly we need measures to protect our local artists from unfair foreign competition.

We call on the government to establish a multi-sectoral task team to look into the plight of artists and cultural workers. The task team should look into the whole matter of the regulation of the industry and the protection afforded to cultural workers.

As we bid our farewell to this gallant son of the soil, we must rededicate ourselves to the cause for which he dedicated most of his life. COSATU pledges its solidarity with the family, friends and colleagues. We commit ourselves to fight shoulder to shoulder with artist and cultural workers for decent work and working conditions.

Thank you