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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary address to the Business Unity South Africa Anti-Corruption Business Forum,

30 October 2009

Thank you for inviting me to address this meeting on such a crucial topic – the struggle against corruption. It is such a serious problem that if we fail to resolve it, the future of our country will be in jeopardy.
COSATU has been raising its concerns for many years and will continue to do so until we can finally put an end to the cancer of corruption and the culture of crass materialism, which threaten the foundations of our democracy.

Three days ago, our new Finance Minister, in his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, expressed his concern at “the number of government tenders, in all three spheres of government that are tainted by corruption. Corrupt officials stand on one side, while on the other stand corrupt business people.”

He was echoing the remarks of the ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, who recently wrote in ANC Today, “The biggest threat to our movement is the intersection between the business interests and holding of public office. It is frightening to observe the speed with which the election to a position is seen to be the creation of an opportunity for wealth accumulation.”

You will note that both the minister and Secretary-General emphasis that there are two side to corruption. For every person who receives a bribe there is another who gives the bribe. For every corrupt councillor or public official there is a corrupt businessman or woman.

It would be a fatal mistake for the business community to see this as just a problem for the public sector. The private sector is deeply implicated as well, with millions of rands being lost in white-collar crime within businesses. Corruption is a massive problem that society as a whole has to unite to overcome.

The 1994 historic breakthrough has opened a completely new chapter for everyone. But as Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said: “A country is just like a house, it has windows and gates. If you close the window, you get no fresh air, and also no flies. But if you open the window fresh air comes in and also some flies.”

This is exactly what is happening in our country. A disturbing culture has blown in through the window and taken root in our society and our movement, which threatens to erode the moral and ethics of our revolution and is silently threatening our national democratic movement.

It is a culture which - I have to be frank - has been imported into our movement from the business sector. While of course the majority of business men and women and we can say the same about our political leadership, obey the law and do not get involved in corruption there is a capitalist culture which praises and rewards those who accumulate the most wealth and despises those who ‘fail’.

Business has always been run on the basis of the survival of the fittest, where the principle of ‘dog-eats-dog’, ‘me-first’ applies. Whilst workers universal slogan is “an injury to one is the injury to all” the capitalist mentality daily practises the opposite “an injury to one is an opportunity to the other”.
This culture has lead to the obscene levels of salaries, bonuses and perks for top executives, which has led to South Africa becoming the most unequal society on earth.

A 2007 survey showed that on average, South African managers were earning more than those in the UK, France, New Zealand and Canada. South Africa’s senior managers earned an average disposable income of R700, 000 a year, while Britain’s managers earned around R600, 000. If you take account of the lower cost of living in South Africa, the difference in real terms is even greater.

And they are just the average! In the last financial year Brett and Mark Levy, of Blue Label Telecoms, were South Africa’s top-earning executives, taking home R50.4 million and R49.5 million respectively.

In the financial sector, First Rand’s chief executive, Paul Harris, made R27.8-million, Sanlam chief executive Johan van Zyl R27.1-million, former Absa chief executive Steve Booysen R18.2-million and Standard Bank chief executive Jaco Maree R14.1-million.

Many will argue that these individuals deserves these obscene salaries and pecks as they through hard work we have been told create wealth for shareholder who took a risk by investing their money. As we know in South Africa, bonuses are paid to the upper echelons of management irrespective of the performance of the companies they are managing.

Workers on the other earn far less than workers in the UK, France, New Zealand and Canada. These same companies that pay out these first-world salaries to their CEOs expect their employees to accept third-world wages and lecture the trade unions about their excessive wage claims.

They casualise their workforces and use the services of labour brokers to dodge their moral and legal obligations to give their workers the benefits, job security and minimum wages they are entitled to and still complain about unions being an obstacle that stops them making even bigger profits.

It is as a direct result of this attitude to remuneration that wages have consistently declined as a proportion of GDP, from over 50% in 1998 to under 40% in 2005, while profits steadily rose in the same period.
Ladies and gentlemen

“Fighting corruption,” said the COSATU Congress report “is not only a moral imperative but a major issue of social justice in this country”.

As Gwede Mantashe said in his article, “If we do not deal decisively with this tendency the ANC will only move one way, that is, downward. Fighting corruption must be our preoccupation”.

He quite rightly links corruption to the wave of service delivery-related protests we have experienced recently. While many councillors and mayors continue to do wonderful work in support of the goals of revolution often under difficult conditions, the recent community protests are stoked by legitimate grievances about the terrible levels of poverty and poor service in our poor communities.

But they are just as much a revolt against people they elected to serve them as councillors and mayors, who become corrupt, move out of the community, live a life of affluence at the people’s expense and do nothing to help those they have left behind.

Resources intended for the public good are being diverted to individuals’ pockets so that the poor are deprived of desperately much needed basic services. It is also theft of our taxes that we work so hard to pay in order to improve public services.

A particular problem is one we call ‘throwing the javelin’, where politicians, public servants and unionists feather their nests while still in public service, by creating future business opportunities.

They then leave the service to work in the same sector in a private company and profit from the opportunities they themselves had created as public servants. COSATU is demanding at the very least a five-year cooling off period after public servants leave public office before they can take any such position in the private sector.

We continue to insist, “that those who want to be public representatives must choose from being public representatives who live within the salaries provided for these positions or choose to be businesspersons. No one should be allowed to choose both. Those who choose both must be asked to resign. Clearly simple declaration of interest is not good enough”.
Our country is in danger! As more and more join this race to self-enrichment, the more the needs of workers and the poor take a back seat. Individualism takes root. Soon we will be en-route to Zimbabwe and other failed revolutions elsewhere in the world.

This is not what OR Tambo sacrificed thirty years of his life in exile for. This is not what Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in prison for. This is an insult to all of our heroes and heroines. We must stop this cancer before it is too late. We must raise our fingers now before we reach a time when no one will be able to raise a finger without it being chopped off.