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National Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Statement of the President of the African National Congress, Thabo Mbeki, at the opening of the 8th National Congress of COSATU

15 September 2003, Gallagher Estate


Comrade Willie Madisha, President of COSATU, Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, Comrades leaders and members of COSATU, Comrades delegates, Other members of the alliance and guests.

I am very pleased to convey to you all the warm revolutionary greetings and best wishes of your comrades, the leaders and members of the ANC, as well as those of the Youth and Women`s Leagues.We also thank you most sincerely for giving us the opportunity to speak at the opening of this important 8th National Congress of COSATU.

As has been the case in the past, we look forward to the outcome of the your deliberations. We do so not only because we value our alliance with COSATU. We look forward to the decisions are of critical importance to the solutions we must find to the problems that face our country and people.

Gathered here are delegates who are leaders and representatives of millions of the working people pf our country.The workers you lead produce the wealth our country needs to address the legacy of poverty and underdeveloped we inherited from the apartheid system.

The workers you lead occupied the front ranks of the mass army that fought and defeated this system. The workers you represent mus continue to occupy the front ranks in the new struggle we have to wage and are waging together, as a united force for the victory of the national democratic revolution.

They stand in the vanguard of the movement that must free our people from unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment.Necessariy, therefore, the builders of the new South Africa that you represent and lead, the workers, must make their voices heard.

This 8th National Congress provides the opportunity for a major section of our country`s organized working class to make its voice heard. It provides all of us, including the political leader of our alliance, the ANC, with the important possibility to hear this voice and having heard it, to respond to it further to advance our forward march towards the reconstruction and development of our country, in the interest of the masses of our people.

That is why this 8th National Congress is important not just for COSATU not just for your allies, the ANC and the SACP, but also for our country as a whole.

But comrades, this also indicates the serious responsibility that rests on your shoulders, to ensure that this Congress contributes the ideas our country needs, to take us from where we are today to the better life for all to which our Alliance is firmly committed.I have no doubt that you will carry out this task with the revolutionary dedication you have demonstrated in the past.

As we would expect, those who have something to gain from a weak and divided Alliance, have been speculating that this Congress will focus, among other things, on driving a wedge between the ANC and COSATU.

For some strange reason, these forces always convince themselves that their wishes represent reality.Because they want to see the ANC and COSATU fighting each other, they convince themselves that because this is what they desire, we ourselves will make their dream come true, by launching a destructive war between the ANC and COSATU.However, like the delegates gathered here, we know that their dreams will come to nothing.

There are a number of things that the opponents of the our Alliance seem never to understand. One of these is that the progressive workers of our country, who fight to advance their interests as workers, are the sam workers who fight and have fought for the emancipation of the masses of our people from oppression.

Accordingly, these workers have, for many decades, been members and activists of both the progressive trade union movementand the movement for national liberation, led by the ANC. This is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

In the same way that this trade union movement and national liberation movement engaged in struggle together 50 years ago, so will they continue to engage together in the common struggle to advance the common agenda.

This is not a marriage of conveniance.It represents the strategic unity of which the late President of the ANC, Albert Luthuli, spoke of, when he said that the relationship between the ANC and SACTU, the predecessor of COSATU, was that between a spear and a shield.

I am convinced that the organized pregressive workers of our country, organized in, and led by COSATU, will not abandon the spear they need to win their battles. Similarly, I am convinced that the revolutionary masses of our country, organized in, and led by the ANC, will not abandon the shield they need to win their battles.

Those who are fond of speculating about splits in our Alliance seem incapable of understanding this simple truth. We would like to say to them - continue dreaming! We know that the continuing offensive of our Alliance to eradicate the legacy of the racist past and to meet the needs of the mases of our people, will turn their dreams into nightmares!

So blinded are the speculators by their desires, that they fail to recognize other factors that define our reality and our future.One of these factors is that there is no political force outside our Aliance that is committed, in theory and in practice, to the advancement of the interests of the workers of our country.

Because there are other people outside this conference hall who may not understand what I have just said, let me repeat it: there is no political force outside our Alliance that is committed, in theory and in practice, to the advancement of the interests of the workers of our country.

Anybody who wants to check the truth of this statement should look at what has happened in our country in the last nine years of liberation. For the first time in 300 years the masses of our people have been able to say they face a future of hope. They make this statement because of their direct experience, because thety can see with their own eyes that, however slowly, their lives are changing for the better.

Over the last nine years, the Alliance of which COSATU is an important part, has made ceratin that the rights of workers are respected. It has enacted legislation to prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, gender and disability.

It has ensured that all the elderly get pensions without discrimination. It has sought to make that children of destitute families access some means to ensure that they have something to eat.

It has adopted policies and instituted programmes to ensure the empowerment and upliftment ofpeople with disabilities, among other things breaking with the practice of treating them as welfare cases, rather than human beings and citizens entitled to treatment in a manner that, practically, respected the fact that they are human beings and citizen equal to any other South African citizen.

It said the matter of the emancipation of women is central to our character as a revolutionary movement. It has therefore acted to ensure the empowerment and upliftment of the women our country, driven by its determination to ensure that we build a non-sexist society.

The Alliance of which COSATU is an important part, took the decision that those who were deliberately denied access to clean water, modern sanitation, health facilities, electricity,moderm communications, education, and so on, must have access to all these, and has acted on all these matters.

It decided that a comprehensive programme should be implemented to address the urgent matter of poverty alleviation, among other things, by strengthening the socialsecurity net and implementing an expanded public works programme.

It resolved that we should end the situation according to the majority of the African workers in our country would be condemned to the status of badly paid, unskilled and cheap labour, and is acting on this critical issue.

It said that government, labour, business and civil society must act together as social partners to confront the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment that continue to afflict millions of our people. It therefore ensured the establishment of NEDLAC and acted together for the convening of the recent Growth and Development Summit, whose programme of action we are all obliged to implement.

The Alliance of which COSATU is an important part, has said that we must play our role among the progressive forces of Africa to contribute to the renewal of our continent. It said we have to work to overcome the legacy of slavery, imperialism colonialism, neo-colonialism and white minority relu in Africa, transformaing ours into a continet of peace, stability, democracy and prosperity, and is acting to implement this decision.

It said that we have to join forces with the rest of the poor of the world to change the situation produced by globalisation according to which the rich get richer, while the poor become poorer.

The collapse of the WTO negotiations in Cancun, Mexico yesterday, which were supposed to produce a result in favour of developing countries such as ours, confirms the fact that we have a difficult struggle ahead of us to secure a better life for all. Nevertheless, we will continue to engage this struggle, convinced that victory is certain.

We all know the reality that faces the masses of our people and the challenges to our national democratic movement that derive from this reality.

We know that millions of our people, including, the youth, are enemployed and needs jobs. We know that of these do not have the skills that are required by a modern economy.

We know that millions of our people are poor and lead lives of misery. We know that many of our people still do not have access to adequate food, clean water, modern sanitation, health services, electicity, and so on. 

We know that our country continues to be characterized by the racial and gender imbalances imposed on our country and people by many centuries of white minority domination. In short, we know that, despite the important gains we have made over the last nine years, we still have a long way to go before we can say we have eradicated the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

All this means that we have a common revolutionary duty to the masses of our people to continue to act together in a people`s contract to push back the frontiers of poverty and expand access to a better life for all.

It means we have to continue to do everything we can to ensure that we strengthen the unity of the Aliance behind a common programme of action focused on improving the lives of the working people

It means that whatever the occasional differences among ourselves on any particular matter, we must never lose sight ofthe fact that we share a common vision for our country and people, and are united around a common strategic goal to ensure that we liberate the masses of our people from poverty, underdevelopment and all forms of discrimination.

Steadily, we are progressing towards the celebration of the Decade of Liberation. Those celebrations also mean that next year, we will also hold our third General Elections. Already, it is clear that some political formations in our country have begun their election campaigns.Very recently, we heard heard some ofthese pledging to work together to pursue the hopeless task of defeating the ANC.

Our obligations to the masses of our people demand that we, for our part, should work hard to secure a decisive victory in the forthcoming elections. Immediately, we have to go out to ensure that our people have Identity Cards and are registered to vote. In particular, we must ensure that the youth are registered to vote.

And next year we will also have to intensify our work among the people to ensure that they return their tried and tested movement to power, with a decisive majority.

This is the clarion call that must emerge from this 8th National Congress, that we have to register a new political victory over the political forces in our country that offer no hope to the masses of our people, the political forces that define themselves as our opposition, the opponents of our programme for he reconstruction and development of our country.

We must, once again, defeat these forces and will defeat them. I am honoured to address the Congress on behalf of the ANC and to wish you success in your important work.

Thank you.