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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by the COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, at the funeral of the victims of racist murder

26 January 2008

We are here to express outrage at the unprovoked attack on people in an informal settlement in Skielik, Swartruggens, North West, which has left four dead, including a three-month old baby, and nine seriously injured.

On behalf of all our 2 million members and their leaders we express condolences to the families who have lost loved ones and best wishes to the injured for a full recovery.

We are pleased that the young, brainwashed racist has been arrested. We have learnt with shock that this young animal has a long history of mentality that suggested that he has no regard for black people’s lives. We are told that he was only 15 when he started to demonstrate instincts that suggest that he equate black people’s lives with those of baboons and birds.

The fact that he was allowed to roam our streets as a free man points to the urgent need to transform our criminal justice system. The Freedom Charter demands that all be equal before the eyes of the law. The laws are in place to protect the vulnerable from barbarians in the form of the fellow accused of this cold-blooded murder. But often it is the judicial system that fails our people.

As workers, in particular in the farms, we know that much more still needs to be done to transform our judiciary. Frequently farm workers are victims of similar racist attacks by the farm owners and the perpetrators hardly get punished. In the eyes of some police and some judges the lives of our people are still viewed through the lenses of our apartheid past.

Nothing must stop us, including paranoid mindsets, from speeding up transformation of the judiciary. We won’t be surprised if the judge hearing this case easily accepts any justification for the killing of these people. In the past we have heard murderers receiving sentences that are a slap on the wrist as they justify the killing of fellow human beings as they mistake them for dogs and baboons.

The killing of our people here in Skielik, Swartruggens, demonstrates another reality - that we still have a long way to go to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa. The reality facing more black people, in particular the workers and the poor, is that of naked racism that leads to them being discriminated against and marginalised. At times, as demonstrated by this Skielik murders this racism takes the form of physical abuse, including rape and murder.

Only when COSATU is strengthened at all levels, in particular at the work place level, will we have a spear to make the necessary strides to build a non-racial future. Only when ANC and SACP branches, and the structures of democratic formations, are strengthened at the local level, will they be able to act as a shield to our people, so that those who resist our efforts to build a non-racial society are helped to move in tandem with the rest of the majority in society.

The killing of people here in Skielik also demonstrated the extent to which poverty still ravages so many of our people. We see here squalor, with our people not even in a position to smell the promise of a better life for all! We are outraged by the reality that inequalities in our new democracy are on the rise. We acknowledge the progress we have registered in providing our people with basic needs. But we are impatient. Progress should have been faster. Eradication of poverty should have been faster.

We know that we could not address the legacy of 400 years of colonialism and apartheid. It is simply not acceptable that our people are still in these conditions thirteen years after gaining freedom. This situation demands that we review every programme and policy to ensure that we speed up and redouble efforts to transform our economy so that all share the benefits of growth as we build a more egalitarian society.

Once more, COSATU expresses solidarity with families of the deceased comrades. We wish those who have been injured a speedy recovery