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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by COSATU President, Sidumo Dlamini , at the unveiling of a tombstone for Violet Seboni: Clothing Worker, COSATU leader We are gathered here today to remember a mother, a friend, a fellow worker, a comrade and a revolutionary fighter – Comrade Violet Seboni.

She was loved and admired by everyone who ever came into contact with her and it is essential that we find ways to remember and honour her, both as an individual and a stalwart of the workers’ revolutionary movement.

It was absolutely typical of Violet that she lost her life on active service, on her way to Mafikeng, where she was to participate in ANC election campaign, in Heroes Month, April 2009.

She was, at the time of her tragic passing away, the COSATU 2nd Deputy President and the 1st Deputy President of SACTWU. But she played a broader role to advance the interests of the labour movement in general, in many other areas, as you will recall from the many messages of condolences read out at her funeral came from many people and organisations in South Africa and all over the world.

There are so many instances I could recall of her commitment and enthusiasm for the workers’ struggle but one that will always stand out was her brave leadership of the COSATU fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe in 2004 whose members were arrested, forced onto a bus and deported across the Beit Bridge border in the middle of the night.

But equally important as her national and international work was Violet’s determination to remember her roots. She never lost contact with the members at her factory and SACTWU Branch, and she was always deeply involved in the personal problems of workers and people in general. It was typical that Violet should have devoted so much energy to the battle to combat the scourge of HIV/Aids and constantly reminded us of our responsibility to make this issue a top priority.

The trade union movement lost a great worker leader, who cared deeply about the clothing, textile and leather workers yet was also an internationalist who understood the true meaning of “Workers of the World unite!” We are here today to pay tribute to a real revolutionary heroine.

As with any great leader however, the best way to honour Violet is not by making speeches, but by learning from her example, teaching young workers the lessons that she taught us and putting those lessons into practice by continuing the fight for workers’ rights and socialism to which she dedicated her life.

We have to be frank and say that the big problems, which Violet had to grapple with, remain unresolved to this day. Some have got even worse - the unprecedented levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, the breakdown of our public education and healthcare services, the continued existence of squatter camps with no running water, electricity and sanitation.

We see the re-emergence of xenophobic attacks and violent protests in which desperate community members destroy the very institutions that should be offering them hope – schools and libraries. While of course we condemn such acts unreservedly, we have to understand the desperate plight of the growing number of South Africans who are living in dire poverty.

These include the 5.5 million people who have joined the ranks of the poor as a result of the loss of 1 100 000 jobs that have been lost since the beginning of 2009.

Even among those still with a job, the curse of casualisation of labour, driven by labour brokers, is getting worse. Relatively secure and reasonable well-paid jobs are rapidly being replaced by casual, low-paid and temporary jobs, which swell the ranks of the working poor.

Yet business leaders, and their mouthpieces in the media and universities, still preach to us about a “too rigid labour market” and “excessive wage demands”. Yet these are the very people who vote themselves massive increases, which have turned South Africa into the most unequal society on earth.

We owe it to the memory of Violent Seboni and all the other fallen heroes and heroines of our movement to take decisive action to put an end to these social evils. The World Cup showed us, and showed the world that we have the skills and the ingenuity to organise a brilliant international class event.

Why can we not use those same qualities to build good schools for our children, provide a comprehensive national health and social security system and in so doing create thousands to bring down the horrific levels of unemployment.

COSATU issued a declaration the day after the World Cup Final, which we hope all South Africans will sign, setting the goals we need to score if we are to overcome all these problems and move speedily towards the kind of just and equitable society promised in the Freedom Charter.

COSATU is also about to launch a major policy document setting out the strategies and policies we need to adopt as a nation if we are to provide decent jobs and living standards for the workers and the poor. Violet would have been one of the most passionate crusaders for these initiatives. Let us, on this solemn day of remembrance, dedicate ourselves to the struggle to which our comrade devoted her life.

Ulale ngoxolo comrade Violet
We in your workers’ movement miss you so dearly,
We miss your smile, your easy laughter yet your lion heart
We miss your dedication to the workers’ cause and freedom of your people
We miss your organisational discipline and undying love for your movement
We miss your internationalism and your commitment to socialism
We vow to take forward all your teachings, your values and your spirits live with us everyday!