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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to Boipatong tombstone unveiling, 24 July 2010

Members of Bana ba Modimo

Thank you very much for your kind invitation to attend and address this extremely important and historic occasion.

The tragedy we are commemorating today – the brutal murder of at least 45 Boipatong residents on 17 June 1992 – must never be forgotten. It was one of the worst of many atrocities committed by the apartheid regime and a critical turning point in our long struggle for freedom and democracy.

We must never forget the ultimate price that those 45, and hundreds of others, paid so that we could live a new democratic South Africa.

Boipatong was a milestone in our struggle, which began in earnest in the 1950s, when the ANC, under the leadership of the Youth League, abandoned its former strategy of submitting memorandums in favour of mass resistance against the apartheid regime, in particular its notorious pass laws.

It led to the Treason Trial of 1956-60, the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 and the Rivonia Trial of 1963-64. This period saw the banning of the ANC and other liberation organisations, the adoption of the armed struggle by MK in 1961 and the flight into exile of hundreds of leaders and activists.

The tide began to turn in the early 1970s with the Durban strike wave, the student uprisings of 1976, the struggle against the Black Authorities Act in the 1980s, the formation of the UDF in 1983 and of COSATU in 1985.

The Vaal was at the heart of all these waves of struggle. It was no coincidence when the apartheid regime tried desperately to stem the flood of revolutionary change in the early 1990s, that it should have imported the bloody divide-and-rule tactics it had been using in KwaZulu Natal into this famously militant area.

As a result hundreds of Africans were brutally slaughtered in trains and on the streets. The massacre of 17 June 1992 was the darkest hour in this period of resistance.

But it was not in vain. It was a turning point in the struggle. Not only did the regime utterly fail to halt the march to freedom; the Boipatong atrocity had the opposite result. It exposed to the World the ruthlessness of the old regime, forcing the United Nations to condemn the murders.

It made South Africans all the more determined to fight for change. It prompted the ANC to walk out of the Codesa negotiations, charging the National Party leaders with complicity in the murders, and forced the De Klerk regime to back down, and ultimately concede power to the majority.

Today, 16 years later, we are living in the democratic nation for which those 45 sacrificed their lives. From being the outcast of the international community, South Africa is basking in international glory after having hosted the best-ever World Cup.

Yet many of the ideals for which our martyrs fought and died are still a dream for the poor majority of South Africans. Too many of the clauses of the Freedom Charter are still only there on paper and in our minds. They have yet to become a reality.

We have ended the legal imposition of racism and inequality but still suffer from the unjust distribution of the nation’s resources that we inherited from the days of apartheid.

We are officially defined as the most unequal society in the whole world.
Unemployment stands at 35% and as a result, over 20 million South Africans live in abject poverty, while a small, still mainly white male minority, live a life of wealth and luxury.

The inequalities are reflected in every corner of society. We have a two-tier education system, with world-class facilities for the rich elite, but under-equipped and underfunded schools for the majority. “The doors of learning” have not been opened for all, as the Freedom Charter demanded.

The same in healthcare, with first-world private hospitals providing excellent service for the few, while the majority have to wait for hours in long queues before all too often being treated with contempt by demoralised staff in under-resourced state hospitals.
Housing tells us the same story. The Freedom Charter declares that “All people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security”. Yet thousands still live in grossly overcrowded, shacks, with no water, electricity or sanitation, often just a kilometer away from mansions worth many millions of rands where single families live in huge houses with spacious gardens and swimming pools.
It is no wonder that in some of our poorest communities, desperate people who can see no way out of their plight, resort to violent protests and destroy public property, even attacking, equally poor fellow-African residents. We must all condemn such acts, but at the same time understand that unless we solve the massive crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, such revolts will become even more frequent.

That is why COSATU, in the after-glow of the successful World Cup, has called upon the nation, which united so spectacularly in support of Bafana Bafana and then Ghana, to unite behind a programme of reforms in eleven different policy areas, to transform the lives of all South Africans, but particularly the unemployed and the poor.

COSATU will very soon be issuing its alternative programme for transforming the economic structure of South Africa, so that we can develop manufacturing industry and create the thousands of decent jobs we need so desperately. It is a programme based on the Freedom Charter, the ANC Conference resolutions and many government policies.

The challenge now is to turn all these policies from words into deeds, and repay our debt to the martyrs of Boipatong by building the just and equitable society for which they, and thousands more, struggled and died.

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