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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Vuyisile Mini Memorial Lecture, delivered by Zingiswa Losi, COSATU 2nd Deputy President, Port Elizabeth, 5th November 2010

Programme director Alliance leaders present here today COSATU Provincial leaders Ladies and gentlemen

I am deeply humbled to have been invited to talk in memory of Comrade Vuyisile Mini, a great workers’ leader and revolutionary martyr. I thank for the opportunity to reflect on the lessons his life can teach us
As we approach COSATU’s 25th anniversary, it is more important than ever to honour those who laid the firm foundations for our mighty movement which was born on 1 December 1985.

They include Elijah Barayi, Moses Kotane, JB Marks, Yure Mdyogolo, Steven Dlamini, Moses Mabhida, Ray Alexander Simons, Gama Makhabeni, Oscar Mpetha, Billy Nair, Rita Ndzanga, Liz Abrahams, Thozamile Gqwetha, Curnick Ndlovu, John Nkadimeng, Archie Sibeko, Leslie Massina, Wilton Mkwayi, Raymond Mhlaba, Chris Dlamini, John Gomomo, Mbuyiselo Ngwenda, Violet Seboni and most recently Alina Rantsolase, our former National Treasurer who tragically left us on Wednesday this week.

But we must always pay a special tribute to those like Comrade Vuyisile Mini who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for the freedom and democracy that we enjoy today.

Vuyisile Mini grew up in Port Elizabeth, where his father worked at the docks and was active in labour and community struggles. Because of his political activism he was dismissed from one job after another and employers refused to employ him, as he had become a trouble maker.

Still in his teens he got involved in a bus boycott against increased fares and campaigns against forced removals of Black people from Korsten, where he lived, to Kwazakhele.
During the increasingly repressive 1950s, he struggled to organise workers across the Eastern Cape. He was tasked by the SA Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) to organize the metal workers and he subsequently became the Metal Workers’ Union Secretary.

He and Stephen Tobia founded the African Painting and Building Union and he was also a founder member of the Port Elizabeth Stevedoring and Dockworkers’ Union, which organised one of the longest protests for a wage increase, and fought against the use of convicts as cheap scab labour.

The campaign against scab labour, organised by SACTU and the ANC, was so intense that the International Transport Workers Federation threatened to call on workers throughout the world not to touch any South African goods. This led to the companies panicking and hastily withdrawing the convict labour from the harbour. But when the workers were awarded an increase of 15 pence a day, the Minister of Labour vetoed this and no increases were allowed.

Comrade Vuyisile’s growing activism in the trade union movement coincided with his increased activism in the ANC, which he joined in 1951. The next year he led a group of comrades over the whites-only section of the railways bridge in Port Elizabeth. He got arrested and was sentenced to three months, leading to him losing his job as a packer in a battery factory.

During this period of heightened activism he had joined the underground Communist Party. He was arrested in the 1960 state of emergency, and ,on his release he was appointed as E Cape Secretary of SACTU and was deeply involved in organising the underground work of the ANC to take forward a decision to pursue the armed struggle.

In 1961 he arrived in Johannesburg to be briefed about the MK action that was to be launched on 16 December. He, Wilson Khayinga and Zinakile Mkaba were elected into the MK high command, Vuyisile as the Political Commissar, Khayinga as the Commander and Mkaba as Chief of Logistics.

Comrade’s Vuyisile Mini’s commitment to the struggle was bound to draw the attention of the Apartheid security forces. Following the 1961 December MK campaign of armed resistance and sabotage they increased their intelligence network, leading to the arrest of comrade Mandela and almost all the MK high command.

Comrade Vuyisile was amongst the first in Port Elizabeth to be arrested and was later joined by his co-accused, Comrades Khayinga and Mkaba. They were charged with 17 offences under the Sabotage Act in addition to one for the murder of an informer.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that they were not directly involved in the alleged assassination of the informer, for which three other men had already been hanged, and despite the overwhelming support from the international community, the apartheid courts were determined to have them hanged.

They were executed in 1964 and comrade Vuyisile Mini’s body was secretly buried in a pauper’s grave at Rebecca Street Cemetery in Pretoria. His remains were exhumed on 22 June 1998, and reburied five days later here in Port Elizabeth.

When he was interviewed by his lawyer before he was executed he said that “On October 2, 1964, Captain Geldenhuys and two other policemen came to see me. They asked me if I had been informed that my appeal had been dismissed. I told them I was not interested to know from them what my advocate said. They then said there was still a chance for me to be saved, as they knew I was the big boss of the movement in the Eastern Cape. I must just tell them where the detonators and revolvers were, and they would help me. I refused. They then asked me about Wilton Mkwayi [subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment]. They said I saw Mkwayi in January 1963. I said ‘Yes.’ They asked me if I was prepared to give evidence against Mkwayi whom they had now arrested. I said ‘No, I was not.’ They said there was a good chance for them to save me from the gallows if I was prepared to assist them. I refused to assist. When they asked would I make the Amandla Ngawethu salute when I walked the last few paces to the gallows, I said, ‘Yes’. After a few more jokes of that nature, they left”.

Comrade Vuyisile Mini died singing the revolutionary songs and did not for a moment think of turning his back. He had always used his gifts as an actor, dancer, poet and singer to advance the revolution. He understood that people needed to be taken from the level of development of where they were and not to intimidate them with big political jargon. His music and poetry inspired the revolution both in jail, and outside even when he was no longer with us.

Verwoerd bhasobha nans’indod’enmnyama spoke to an important element that blacks in general and Africans in particular were at the helm of the war against all that represented colonialism at the time, personified by Verwoerd. He was speaking to an important aspect of the strategy and tactics - that the African working class constituted the main motive force of our revolution.

Mayihambe le Vangeli Mayigqil’ilizwe lonke called for continuous mobilisation of the population both black and white compatriots to join in the struggle against apartheid.
Thath’umthwalo Bhuti Sigoduke Balindile omama no bab’ekhaya addressed the need to take up arms to free our people, and for all the motive forces to be combat-ready to face the Apartheid system in defence of the people.

Comrades and friends
The best way to honour comrade Vuyisile Mini will be to continue and intensify our struggle for economic emancipation and deepen the NDR. He inspired us to build the mass movement which secured our political transformation in 1994. Today we need his inspiration as we seek to achieve a similar triumph in transforming our economy.

If Vuyisile Mini could rejoin us he would, like us, be applauding the successes we have achieved. We have a democratic Constitution and many laws which have given South Africans basic rights, on paper at least, to freedom, dignity and equality.

Our government has built 3.1 million subsidised houses, giving shelter to over 15 million people. Since 1994 households with access to potable water have increase from 64% to 97%, households with access to electricity have increased from 51% to 73% and households with access to sanitation have increased from 50% to 77%”.

In 1996, only 3 million people had access to social grants; today the figure is 14 million. In 1996, 58% of the population had access to electricity; today the figure is 80%. In 1996, 62% of the population had access to running water; today the figure is 88%.

But Vuyisile Mini would also agree with the delegates to the recent ANC National General Council who noted in their declaration: “Sixteen years into our democracy, while we have made substantial progress, we have not yet achieved true economic transformation, which should include fundamentally changing the structure of the economy and the distribution of wealth and income in our society... We have to achieve higher levels of growth and ensure that such growth benefits all of society, especially the poor”.

The NGC was spot-on. Unemployment, poverty and inequality have if anything become even worse problems than in 1994. The distribution pattern of wealth and economic power has hardly changed, in either class or racial terms, and South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world. That is surely not the kind of society that our Comrade sacrificed his life for.

In every area of life we see the class, race and gender fault lines we bequeathed from apartheid still in place. The top 20 paid directors in JSE-listed companies earned 1728 times the average income of a South African worker in 2008; even state-owned enterprises paid 194 times an average worker’s income.

A survey of 326 companies by Phillip Theunissen showed that despite company CEOs were still able to double their annual earnings in 2009. Bank CEO pay packages remain obscenely high. Nedbank CEO Tom Boardman earned R43m last year, Standard Bank CEO Jacko Maree R18, 2m and Absa CEO Maria Ramos R13, 5m.
Almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE listed companies remain white males. In the private sector, top management is 60% white male, 14% white female, 9% African male and 4% African female. Coloured and Indian males account for an average of 4%, whilst females account for an average of 1.4% of top management in the country. In other words 74% of top management of the South African economy is drawn from 12% of the population.

Meanwhile at the opposite end of the spectrum, unemployment is officially 25.3% by StatsSA’s narrow definition which excludes discouraged work-seekers. In reality it is over 35%. Among Africans it is far higher than that, and as a result 48% of South Africans live below R322 a month and 25% of the population now survives on state grants.

Even for millions of those who are working, casualisation of labour and the expansion of labour brokers into the labour market, have worsened wages and conditions. Particularly in vulnerable sectors like farming and domestic work, there is daily evidence of super-exploitation, abuse and racism.

An average African man earns in the region of R2 400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000 per month. Most white women earn in the region of R9 600 per month, whereas most African women earn R1 200 per month.
The quality of education is declining. Of the 1.4 million learners who entered the system in 2008, 24% were able to complete matric in the minimum of 12 years.

The health profile of the population has deteriorated. Although we rank 79th globally in terms of GDP per capita, we rank 178th in terms of life expectancy, 130th in terms of infant mortality, and 119th in terms of doctors per 1000 people. The situation seems to have worsened since 2006.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations survey in 2009, the life expectancy of a white South African now stands at 71 years and that of a black South African stands at 48 years,.
Despite the 3.1 million new houses built, 1.875 million households - 15% of the total -still live in shacks. 46% of South African households live in dwellings with no more than 3 rooms, 17% of households live in 1-room dwellings. Among Africans 55% live in dwellings with less than 3 rooms and 21% live in 1-room dwellings, whereas at least 50% of White households lives in dwellings with no less than 4 rooms.

Having seen all these statistics, Vuyisile Mini would sure agree with COSATU’s ‘Growth path for Full Employment’ which locates all these continuing and even worsening problems in the economic structure which we inherited from colonialism and apartheid.

Like the rest of Africa, our plentiful natural resources, especially the minerals under our soil, were plundered by the imperialist powers to provide their manufacturing capitalists with abundant supplies of cheap materials, hewn out of the ground by workers on starvation wages, working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

The only way to reverse this crisis is to build an economy based primarily on manufacturing industry, so that we beneficiate our own resources, using them to add value by turning them into manufactured goods. That is the only way we can begin to reach the government’s goal of creating five million decent, sustainable jobs over the next ten years.

The first step on this road is to change our excessively conservative monetary policies, which we saw again last week in Comrade Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget statement, to policies of low interest rates and tariff protection, to encourage and promote the growth of job-creating manufacturing enterprises.

COSATU and its allies and partners in civil society will do everything possible to work with government to ensure that this new stage of the national democratic revolution gets back on track and that we can honour the memory of Vuyisile Mini by achieving the economic as well as political liberation of all our people.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets

P.O.Box 1019

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za