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Media Centre | COSATU Speeches
Speeches By COSATU President And General Secretary At Violet Seboni`s Funeral
13 April 2009
Tribute to Violet Seboni by Sidumo Dlamini, President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions
It is hard to find words to express how devastated we are at the tragic loss of our dear Comrade Violet. All of us in the COSATU NOB collective and Central Executive Committee have lost not only our deputy president and a great workers’ leader, but also a beloved personal friend.
She is the first ever COSATU national office bearer to have been taken from us while still in office. This makes it much a more personal loss, far harder to come to terms with than when we lose a great but long-retired leader.
Today is the time to mourn and remember. But Violet would have been the first to insist that we must not allow our grief to divert us from our historic mission to struggle for workers’ rights and fight to build a just and equitable socialist world.
She died like a true soldier, with her boots on. She had been assigned to work in the difficult election campaign in the North West, a province that has been ravaged by internal divisions that have weakened our efforts to win a decisive victory. A fighter to the last, Violet undertook this task with great enthusiasm. There was never any easy task for Violet.
We owe it to her to ensure that we use the remaining week of the campaign to ensure we win the North West province decisively. That will bring a smile to her face in her grave.
Comrades and friends
We must use Violet’s life as an example to inspire us to work even harder, first to win a record victory for the ANC on 22 April and then to make sure that the government led by Comrade Jacob Zuma carries out the mandate we have given it to transform the lives of the workers and the poor majority of South Africans.
Violet could not have put it better in the speech she was going to make on 4 April 2009 to the ANC Women’s League, when she was to say: “We want to declare that as we move to ensure the ANC victory, we want to make known that we have declared this term of office in government as the term of the working class and we shall spare none of our energy to ensure that this becomes a reality!”
Violet responded to COSATU’s declaration that the main challenge we face since the ANC’s Polokwane conference is to defend the gains workers have made. The progressive resolutions passed at Polokwane do not mean that all the battles we have been fighting for the past 15 years have been won. Each of those resolutions takes us into a contested terrain, as the left shift can never be celebrated by every member of the ANC, which is a broad church; and it has not stopped being so post-Polokwane. Defending the gains means also ensuring that the ANC is returned to power with even greater levels of support than it won in the previous elections.
Each May Day Violet celebrated, with all members of the Federation, the great strides we have made under the ANC government. She liked the fact that 12,5 million South African have access to social grants, that 88% have access to clean running water and 80% enjoy access to electricity. But she understood that whilst we celebrate these achievements much more still needs to be done. That is why she worked so tirelessly to ensure that the ANC triumphs so that the commitment the ANC has made to create decent jobs and to address the crisis of super-exploitation of workers through labour brokering arrangements can be turned into reality.
This was a preoccupation of Violet Seboni. To her a vote for the ANC was not just some fashionable thing to do. To her this was part of the advancement of her class interests. She wanted to live in a society that will not tolerate high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequalities. She wanted a better life for all, in particular for workers and their communities.
Under her leadership, COSATU has fought countless epic battles to ensure that workers play a role reminiscent of the role they played in the struggle against apartheid.
Violet became the 2nd Deputy President at COSATU’s historic 8th national congress, which adopted the 2015 Plan, the implementation of which she pioneered. I feel a deep sense of regret that she will not be part of the collective that will report to the 10th congress that we are on course with all the objectives of the 2015 Plan.
Yes, COSATU is stronger than it was in 2003 politically. Our membership has grown. The Alliance is much stronger. The ANC is much stronger and is poised to win the forthcoming elections decisively.
Significant numbers of workers have responded to the call to swell the ranks of the ANC. The resolutions of the historic 52nd Polokwane conference and the 2009 ANC elections manifesto have moved the ANC closer to the workers and the poor. Decent work is firmly on the agenda and has become the cornerstone of all the ANC’s economic and social policies.
Violet will give this report to John Gomomo, Leslie Masina, Moses Mabhida, Vuyisile Mini and Neil Agett. They will certainly smile that the movement they built has grown from strength to strength.
Comrades and friends
Violet died on the 3rd of April, the heroes’ month, as we were preparing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the brutal hanging of that brave Umkhonto weSizwe soldier, Solomon Mahlangu. She was absent this time around when we returned to the grave of that great warrior of our people’s struggle and chief of staff of the glorious army of our people – Umkhonto weSizwe - Chris Hani. She was not there to salute the 16th anniversary of the assassination of that people’s martyr. She won’t see the 16th anniversary of the death of Oliver Tambo.
Most importantly Violet died on the eve of the historic victory of the ANC President Jacob Zuma. Violet hardly missed any of the great gatherings of our people outside the Pietermaritzburg Court to demand justice for comrade Jacob Zuma. She, like other workers, has been with the President of our organisation through thick and thin. It’s a pity that she died on the eve of the great victory.
Like all of us, she would have been very angry at the campaign by opposition parties and sections of the media who consistently shift the goal posts in the debate surrounding the decision of the National Prosecuting Authority to drop all the charges against the ANC President.
While she consistently argued that comrade Jacob Zuma was a victim of political machinations aimed at frustrating his political career, sections of the media, sections of the so called ‘experts’ and the opposition refused to believe that. They demanded that we produce evidence that there was a political hand at play in the case.
Now that that has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt, the then doubting Thomases are shifting the goal posts. Instead of joining us in condemning the political thuggery, and supporting the NPA call for a full judicial commission of inquiry, they are now demanding to know who blew the whistle on the abuse of state power.
There is now a huge outcry and hullabaloo on who revealed the ‘state secrets’. Rather than demand a full investigation into those alleged to have been responsible for the attempt to pervert the course of justice, our opposition leaders and their friends in the media seek to divert attention onto the irrelevant question of how the lawyers acquired the taped evidence which proved the conspiracy.
Instead of asking the obvious questions, such as how long has this manipulation of justice been happening and whether political ends did not motivate the charges in the first place, they are raising the dust on a comparative non-issue.
Would they rather that this evidence of a concerted campaign to persecute Jacob Zuma had been kept secret and the prosecution continued, even though this evidence was in the hands of the authorities? It could have led to a massive travesty of justice. Whoever put this evidence into the public domain was serving the interests of justice, human rights and our constitution. This is a hero or heroine, not a villain.
The media are also trying to divert attention away from their role in aiding and abetting the conspiracy, by unquestioningly publishing leaks, which implicated Jacob Zuma in alleged crimes. The opposition parties are obviously desperate to try to win a few votes on 22 April. But that cannot excuse their attempt to subvert the constitution and the rule of law.
I am not surprised at all that Alec Erwin has now joined this choir. For those who don’t know Alec Erwin, he is the former General Secretary of FOSATU and the former Education Secretary of COSATU. He was the Minister of Public Enterprises at the time when our country, through the sheer ineptitude of those in charge, plunged our country into darkness in January 2008.
At the beginning he used to hate and distrust the ANC. He positioned himself as a hard-line socialist. But when he realised the levels of support the ANC enjoyed amongst workers he changed his tune and became more loyal to the ANC than those workers who used to defend the ANC from himself.
After the unbanning of the ANC he joined the SACP and become an ardent supporter of Chris Hani. After his assassination he immediately switched loyalty to the winning faction led by President Thabo Mbeki and became one of his praise singers and justifier of the neoliberal policies adopted in 1996. To Alec Erwin there is no principle but a winning side. He has no friends but personal interests.
If he had the chance I am sure he would have abandoned President Thabo Mbeki for Jacob Zuma. But this time around he miscalculated in the run-up to Polokwane and found himself on the losing side. He is one of those who misled the former President into believing that he was going to win easily in Polokwane. As a result of this false sense of security, stemming from a complete failure to read the mood of the people and the balance of forces, he did not do his normal floor crossing.
Comrades and friends
Violet was a true servant of the workers, a tireless campaigner for a better life and more secure future for clothing, textile and leather workers, She served in SACTWU from factory level right up to the union’s national leadership structures.
The trade union movement and indeed the whole country has lost a great leader, a worker who was passionate about creating a better life for clothing, textile and leather workers in particular, and all workers nationally and globally in general. She was a perfect role model for young workers, women workers in particular, to follow.
There are many ways in which we can and will commemorate the life of Violet Seboni, but as always the best memorial to a fallen comrade is to pick up her spear, and continue the work to which she dedicated her life.
I want to thank the COSATU and SACTWU staff who have been magnificent in preparing for this funeral. I want to assure you comrades that in you we have a team of experienced and dedicated individuals who when they come together to form any committee you can rest assured that no task is too difficult. I want to also extend appreciation to the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council including comrade Mayor Amos Masondo, the Gauteng government including the Premier Paul Mashatile, for all the assistance they have provided to COSATU and the family. Lastly I want to thank others including business leaders and their institutions that have contributed to the success of the funeral.
Luckily for us, comrades let me tell you something, comrade Violet Seboni freely spoke about what she would like to see in her funeral. All these flags, what she is wearing in that coffin, and many other things, she dictated to comrade Alinah Rantsolase, the national Treasurer of COSATU, as well to her daughter Lesego to her friends. I can imagine what the death of Violet Seboni means to comrade Alinah Rantsolase. Alinah traveled with Violet everyday to and from the COSATU office almost daily. We wish her strength during this difficult time.
Hamba Kahle, comrade Violet. We will not allow you to die, for your ideals live on.
COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi’s, eulogy and tribute to the ordinary worker through and through - a shop steward and worker leader, 13 April 2009
Allow me before I read the messages of condolences to just say a few words to bid the woman I called MaVoi-Voi goodbye.
I can`t recall exactly which year I first saw you, my dearest comrade and friend. But it was during your tenure as the chairperson of your union`s East Rand branch.
You struck me as the ordinary worker, a shop steward and activist bubbling with confidence and full of energy. You loved singing and at every turn when your comrades in the Gauteng shop stewards council meeting started a revolutionary song you were the first to jump to your feet and the last to sit down. You were full of laughter and your heart was lily white and spotless.
Over time I grew to admire you after listening to you debating with other shop stewards in our Gauteng province. You were militant but calculating. You were prepared to do everything to protect and advance worker rights. I was not surprised to see you rise quickly in the past two decades to occupy the national positions in your union you loved so much, SACTWU, and the Federation you so admired - COSATU.
I worked very closely with you following your election to the position of 2nd Deputy President in 2003. I know you regarded this as the highest point of your colourful career as a unionist. We fought hard battles together. You never once wavered nor showed any sign of weakness. You did not buckle under pressure.
I saw your pain when the former President of our COSATU, from 2004 until he left the union movement in 2008, threatened the unity and cohesion of our Federation. I know how happy you were when the Federation overcame that crisis and achieved the current high levels of unity and cohesion.
You were one of the most trustworthy friends and political allies I ever had. Those who did not have the honour of working with you would never know that in you we had one of the best trained and polished worker leaders. You taught us new lessons about loyalty to the organisation, its principles, procedures and policies.
On a personal note let me say this because I am certain you would have liked me to say this. I was very close to you. You and I enjoyed a very privileged relationship. I admired you for the things I have already mentioned. I know you were perhaps one of the most ardent supporters of my leadership style.
You admired me and I equally admired you. You called me "the workers` general secretary or tata kaAphelele" my son. You knew how much I love that boy. No two days would pass without us exchanging SMSs and/or intimate telephone discussions about the challenges of our organisation. I will miss those conversations.
Since that fateful day when I was called about your untimely departure I have hardly spent a night without thinking about our long telephone discussions. I will always remember the introductions to these conservations - "Where is the workers` general secretary, why have you not called me?"
Your entire life epitomised the hardships and the struggles of single mothers. Through you I want to pay tribute to all of these single mothers. You told me of how your grandmother single-handedly raised you. I remember your tales about the struggle to make ends meet with your meagre salary to raise your kids Lesego and Lesedi. I have seen your face when stress took its toll and at times forced you to move from your usual laughter, bubbling and singing into a very stressed-out women, preoccupied with what to do next to feed your children.
Your response to these challenges was not to look at these daily struggles personally. You always retorted that this is what clothing, textile and garment workers had to go through everyday. You never wanted to be treated differently. You saw yourself as just one of these workers. I know you would have not have given up the association you had with these ordinary workers, even thought that association meant continued suffering and poverty for you and your family. The unions do not pay this category of activists, who make supreme sacrifices to strengthen the workers` movement without expecting any reward in return.
I know that your passing spells a disaster for your children. After all the newspapers have written about what we said to you, and after all of us have returned to our normal hectic schedules, when our memories of you, MaVoi-Voi, fade and we no longer shout the slogan we are shouting today in your honour - "long live the memory of Violet Seboni", the question that your two daughters are asking is how will they survive from tomorrow. "Who will now struggle to borrow money from Peter to pay Leleti so we can have food every evening?" That the question they should be asking today.
The only promise I can make to you MaVoi-Voi is that we will do the best we can to ensure that your kids do not go hungry a single day. We will work with your union and other unions of COSATU to ensure that they receive bursaries to take them through the remaining years of their schooling. Ebrahim Patel, the General Secretary of your union SACTWU - the man you equally admired - and myself have already started to share views on what must be done to save your kids from a looming disaster. We will do this Violet so that your entire family can appreciate that whilst you hardly spent quality time with them, you belonged to the family of millions, who understand that they must come to the party to ensure that your offspring do not suffer because their mother dedicated her entire life to the struggles of workers and humankind.
Bye-bye MaVoi-Voi, even though that is so difficult to comprehend. Farewell to you dear worker. I will miss you. I will miss the jokes including the many silly jokes I can`t share in the presence of the church ministers. I am sure you will miss me too including my admiration of your beautiful body and its African assets. I can see you smile as I am saying this to you. I will miss you protecting me every moment. I will miss you telling your friends about how great I am and articulating my personal strengths to everyone who cared to listen. I will always love you MaVoi-Voi. I will always be your number one fan too. Pass our greetings to John Zikhali and John Gomomo as well as others who left before you.
The struggle continues!