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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by the COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, to close TAC 4th National Congress held on 14-16 March in Birchwood Conference Center

16 March 2008

National chairperson of the TAC
Members of the NOBs collective and the NEC
Leadership of COSATU and all the friends of the TAC present here
Ladies and Gentlemen
Comrades and friends

I bring you revolutionary greetings from the Congress of South African Trade Unions as you close your 4th National Congress here in Boksburg.

We thank you for choosing this town to hold this historic congress. A few weeks from now we shall gather here in Boksburg to mark the 15th anniversary of the assassination of comrade Chris Hani – the gallant former Chief of Staff of the glorious peoples army, Umkhonto wesizwe who was also the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and a leading member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress.

There is so much in common between Chris Hani and the TAC. Both were militants and fighters who did not fold their arms when the majority of the people were suffering, whether under the yoke of apartheid oppression or from the failure to deal with the burden of HIV and AIDS.

Surely we would have wasted so many years in courts and on the streets fighting denialism and inaction by government had Chris Hani lived. In the early 1990s, he warned the country that if no action is taken against the spread of HIV and AIDS the country will soon be engulfed in crises. Had he lived, he would surely be in the forefront of the struggles to confront the challenge head on and defeat the scourge of HIV. We are certain he would have addressed this congress to urge all of us to redouble our efforts for prevention, treatment and caring for the sick. He would have championed the message for an end of the stigmatisation and discrimination of people leaving with HIV.

Next month we shall remember Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo and Solomon Mahlangu. We shall also remember many TAC activists who like these heroes I have mentioned died perhaps with the names unsung but having made huge contributions to take us to this moment of better unity between civil society and government.

As we celebrate the contributions made by Hani, Tambo and Mahlangu we shall also remember that every year we loose 75 000 children under the age of five. Every day we loose up to a thousand to the disease. The youth and women are even more vulnerable because of the social conditions they face. Ultimately, reducing the rate of infection requires that we end violence and oppression against women and give all our young people a future through increased employment and worthwhile educational opportunities.

SANAC’s civil society sectors, including labour, have agreed to make April a month of national action on mother-to-child transmission. COSATU fully supports this call. We will call workers and the government to join the mobilisation. We aim to increase the uptake of PMTCT services by increasing knowledge, reducing stigma, encouraging HIV testing by parents, supporting health care workers etc. The aim is maximum visibility and maximum impact to show that SANAC can lead on implementation.

At the end of the Heroes Month, the country will celebrate the 14th anniversary of freedom and democracy. But we parents who lose their daughters and sons at such an alarming rate must be given reason to join in the celebrations. The thousands of households led by kids must also have reason to celebrate our freedom. As we celebrate May Day in six weeks, one of the biggest issues around which we must organise workers and their families is PMTCT.

We need to link this campaign to the broader effort to mobilise civil society, to give our people a voice across society. The ANC has declared 2008 as the year for mass mobilisation. We endorse this fully. In addition the ANC has prioritised health and education in 2008, recognising the scale of challenges we still face in these two important fronts.

Thanks to TAC, civil society and ANC activists we have transformed the national response to HIV/AIDS from denialism and foot-dragging to a united national strategic programme to drive back the pandemic. While we still face huge challenges, we are at least now moving together in the right direction. We call on the Minister of Health to ensure that she plays her role to solidify this unity.

The task you faced this weekend, and which we as a country face this year, is to turn all the good resolutions of the NSP into action on the ground - to spread the message of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment to every family in the land and to make sure that every single person who needs counselling, free care and treatment gets it as quickly and conveniently as possible. The basis for all this remains building solidarity with people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.

In line with our Ninth National Congress resolution, COSATU pledges its total support for the NSP. In particular, we will work to set up support systems at workplaces and strengthen education and treatment components of the campaign. We have set a target of 100 000 workers a month to be covered by union workplace communication on HIV and AIDS, and training 20 000 peer educators a year. As we all know, peer education remains central to any successful struggle to support people with HIV and AIDS and to reduce infection rates.
COSATU will continue to work hand-in-hand with TAC, the government, the Council of Churches and all other civil society formations to make sure we are doing everything possible to achieve our ultimate goal of defeating HIV/AIDS.

Through your militancy and determination you have saved thousands of lives and brought hope to millions of people living with HIV/Aids. You have mobilised the people on to the streets and made their voice heard. You have challenged the rich and powerful of the pharmaceutical companies and the South African government in the courts, and scored historic victories.

Thanks to you, thousands of people now get the treatment they need to stay alive. Thanks to you, thousands of babies were born free of the virus. Thanks to you, we have all learned the importance of solidarity with people living with and affected by HIV.