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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the ANC Local Government Conference

3 December 2010, Midrand

Thank you very much for your invitation to address this extremely important conference. On behalf of COSATU’s two million members I bring revolutionary greetings to our allies, the African National Congress, and best wishes for another overwhelming victory in the 2011 local government elections.

The timing of this event is highly fortuitous. Tomorrow in Johannesburg Stadium, at a mass rally to celebrate our 25th birthday, COSATU will be officially launching its campaign in support of the ANC in next year’s local government elections.

This will once and for all remove any lingering doubts as to whether COSATU remains solidly in support of the ANC, with whom we have worked closely together in every one of our first 25 years, since 1 December 1985.

Yes, we will be supporting the ANC and mobilising our members to hit the streets to ensure we get the maximum vote.

The alliance between the ANC, COSATU, the SACP and SANCO, remains the biggest and most representative force for national liberation. We are all separate, independent organisations, but are bound together by deep-rooted beliefs and principles and a common history of struggle for the goals which were laid down in the Freedom Charter. That document, as the opening sentence of your Discussion Paper says, “has consistently guided the approach and values of the National Democratic Revolution”.

We must never forget the incredible achievements of our alliance. Together we crushed the apartheid dictatorship and have enjoyed 16 years of democracy and peace. Together we have produced a democratic Constitution and numerous laws which have given South Africans basic rights, to freedom, dignity and equality.

The ANC government has brought massive improvements to the lives of millions. It has increased the number of households with access to piped water to 89%, to electricity and lighting to 80% and to sanitation to 68%.

In 1996, only 3 million people had access to social grants; today the figure is 15 million and rising. It has built 1.6 million subsidised houses and provided 1.9 million housing subsidies.

No other party could have dreamed of achieving as much, and we only have to look at the Western Cape, to see the nightmare we can expect if the Democratic Alliance were to gain any ground next year. The mass eviction of poor communities and the open toilets saga are just the two best known episodes in the DA administration’s war against the working class and the poor. The DA will always be the party of the rich and privileged, with no time for the interests of the majority.

All the other opposition parties are in total chaos. If they cannot sort out themselves, what hope is there that they can do anything to improve the lives of our people? No, there is absolutely no alternative next year to the ANC. Of course we still face huge challenges, but no party except the ANC can possibly confront those challenges.

Our key problems remain massive levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality and, as your Paper says, “the marginalisation of people and communities and other legacies of apartheid”.

As the recent NGC declaration said: “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 right. South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world and the distribution pattern of wealth and economic power has hardly changed, in either class or racial terms.

These are national problems requiring national solutions and we all hope that the New Growth Path, after a proper process of consultation and engagement, will provide the basis for a solution. The way forward 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 and begin to reach the government’s goal of creating five million decent, sustainable jobs over the next ten years.

All these problems are reflected at local level as well. At one extreme we have informal settlements where there is close to 100% unemployment, dire poverty, crime, corruption, xenophobia, the collapse of social and moral values and a constant struggle for basic essential services. Healthcare, education, and transport are minimal or non-existent and the quality of service is abysmal.

At the other extreme, we have an elite, still overwhelmingly white, who live in luxurious mansions with gardens and pools, buy world-class healthcare and education and have virtually exclusive access to forms of transport – the Gautrain, airlines and tolled highways – that the poor can never afford to use.

It is hardly surprising that in many of the poor communities, especially those living close to the wealthy suburbs, people have been involved in protests. In 2004, there were 10 such protests; in 2009 the figure had risen to 105, and as your Paper says it has already passed 83 in 2010!

We face not just personal and family disasters but a national catastrophe. We are sitting on a ticking bomb, and must find ways to address the problems these communities face.

It is a task we have to tackle together, and the ANC, as always, needs to involve not only its allies but the broader mass democratic movement, including organisations which spring up in communities to speak for the people.

That is why COSATU just like the ANC, has decided to work more closely with progressive civil society, to build a broad-based movement to confront the challenges we face. As the recent civil society conference made absolutely clear, however, this is not an anti-ANC or anti-government initiative, but the exact opposite - an attempt to work with the ANC and government to help us find solutions and to maintain the support of the majority.

It would be fatal to see communities and civil society as enemies of the revolution. They are potential partners and allies, who must be drawn into the revolutionary camp and isolated from the counter-revolutionary forces who would like to embrace them but which can offer them nothing.

The ANC will surely have noted with approval that the civil society conference declaration was advocating virtually the same policies, in such areas of healthcare and education, as your 2007 52nd National Conference resolutions, the 2009 Election Manifesto and the recent NGC. That shows that civil society can be a powerful partner to the ANC and the Alliance as we struggle to keep the people behind us and to solve their problems.

One of the issues which rears its head in virtually every community protest is corruption. There are widespread perceptions - sometimes true, sometimes false - that too many local councillors and officials are abusing their public positions to promote their private interests and to enrich themselves at the expense of the pubic they were elected or appointed to serve. The most common allegations are around tender fraud.

It is issue on which COSATU has taken a very strong line, but one which is no different from the resolution of the NGC, which summed up the views of the ANC by saying “we must implement the provisions of our election manifesto which state that politicians should not tamper with the adjudication of tenders. Basically we must not allow tenders to destroy the ANC”.

We welcome this opportunity to correct some of the unfortunate misrepresentations of COSATU’s views. Firstly we have always insisted that the vast majority of public representatives are honest and committed to serving the people. It is only a small minority who blacken the reputation of us all.

Indeed, one of the reasons why we have called so strongly for a thorough investigation of all allegations is that as well as identifying and punishing the guilty minority, it will exonerate the innocent majority who have been falsely accused.

Secondly the federation has categorically never said that corruption is a problem confined to the public sector and even more so that it is a problem confined to the ANC. On the contrary it is at least as big a problem in the business world as the public sector and stretches across all political parties.

Corruption indeed has its roots in the system of capitalism, where the culture of self-enrichment and profit maximisation is deeply entrenched. Price-fixing and offering ‘gifts’ to secure contracts are everyday occurrences. But that cannot be used as a justification for allowing the public sector to sink to the same level of immorality.

People rightly demand higher standards from those they elect to power, particularly those who come from our great liberation struggle. That is why it is so essential to rid our movement and our state of this corrupt minority.

Let me also take the opportunity to clarify another potentially difficult area to put in practice, in particular if it is not properly clarified. COSATU’s two past congresses have said that COSATU will not give the ANC a blank cheque and will refuse to campaign or support candidates known to be corrupt or lazy.

This is a call on the ANC, working with the Alliance and the masses of the people as whole, to ensure that the candidates selected meet a strict criteria of integrity and high moral standards. Already, if the ANC puts into practise the processes it has outlined, it will help us achieve this objective. We however insist that this process must open space for Alliance structures to ensure that everyone put forward can pass a test of being honest and hard working, with only an interest in working for our people.

COSATU calls on all local structures of the Alliance not to allow themselves to be bullied and intimated by anyone into loosening these criteria.

The reports of whistle-blowers being murdered for threatening to expose corruption are a terrifying warning that if we do not get rid of this minority who seek to use the our organisations for narrow self-accumulation agendas, the ANC, the Alliance and democracy itself will be in peril.

We warmly welcome the fact that this approach is being taken up by several government ministers, notably finance, police and public service and administration, who have all launched investigations into corruption allegations.

Comrade Richard Baloyi must be congratulated on setting up a special anti-corruption unit to investigate senior government officials with undeclared business interests in dealings with government, performing remunerative duties outside public service, soliciting bribes and receiving grants or benefits unlawfully. He was absolutely right to say that “Corruption is the single most threat to good governance; it has the propensity to collapse an economy”.

Public representatives cannot be public servants and business people at the same time. In addition to this public representatives must avoid a conflict of interest when their spouses and family members are involved in business. Even if they are not breaking the law, there will always be a potential conflict of interest between their own commercial interests and their responsibility to serve the electorate. They must choose to be one or the other.

Another important step is to reverse the policy of outsourcing public work. Putting work out to tender, which could be done internally by public service workers, not only threatens jobs in the public sector but leads to a worsening of working conditions. The casualisation of labour and the expansion of labour brokers into the labour market, including the public sector, have worsened wages and conditions and led to super-exploitation, abuse and racism.

It also creates a climate in which tender fraud flourishes, as more and more contracts are dangled in front of private companies for work which could be performed by workers employed directly.

I will conclude as I began, by recommitting the country’s biggest workers’ movement to its alliance with the country’s national liberation movement, the ANC, and its revolutionary vanguard, the SACP. For all its 25 years, COSATU has been guided by the principles that ‘Unity is Strength’ and ‘United we stand; Divided we fall’.

We must always be honest in discussing differences of opinion and engage in healthy debates on the best strategies and tactics, but never allow these to degenerate into divisions and splits, which will only please our enemies - the rich and powerful.

COSATU is the trusted ally of the ANC today. We will be with you in the trenches in 2011 during the local government elections. We will be with you in the next general elections in 2014.

I wish you a very successful conference. Forward to a united Alliance! Forward to another overwhelming ANC victory in the 2011 local government elections!

Amandla!

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