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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi`s address to the Young Communist League of South Africa`s 3rd National Congress

Zwelinzima Vavi`s address to the Young Communist League of South Africa`s 3rd National Congress

10 December 2010, Mafikeng

National Secretary of the Young Communist League of South Africa Cde Buti Manamela,
National Chairperson Cde David Masondo,
National Committee of the YCL,
Members of the SACP Central Committee,
Leaders and Members of Allied Organisations,
International Guests,
All branch delegates present here

COSATU - the home of over 2 million workers who daily toil the earth and slave away in the factories to produce the profits that continue to accrue to a few - is happy to join you here today.

COSATU is indeed proud to be invited to address this gathering, especially as we consider the YCL amongst the most dependable allies of organised labour. Let me also congratulate the YCL for reaching seven years since its reestablishment.

At the reestablishment Congress in 2003, we expressed the view that the YCL ought to be a breath of fresh air in youth politics. This challenge was placed squarely in the hands of the new leadership and entire membership. It was a call informed by the increased degeneration of youth politics and the ascendancy of bourgeois ideology, conspicuous consumption and crass materialism amongst a significant section.

At the time the youth had become bulldogs, ready to tear apart the leaders of the 1996 class project identified as the enemy. It was a call made with the understanding that the youth under capitalism is a contested strata and the working class cannot simply remain idle as the capitalist class seeks to create a youth that mirrors its image and protects the exploitative system. Indeed the youth formations remain highly contested even to this day.

From the onset the YCL pulled its full weight behind the struggle against the 1996 Class Project and the capitalist class in South Africa. Today we have come back to your conference to salute ufasimba who have made an indelible mark on South African politics.

From the day you were re-launched, you have lived up to the challenge to bring in a breath of fresh air and a refreshing Marxist-Leninist analysis. You have radically transformed the landscape of youth politics. It is not an overstatement to say that the shift of youth politics to the left is due mainly to the space the YCL has created and occupied.

"Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it," wrote Frantz Fanon

Now your challenge is reflect the youth`s impatience with capitalism and all forms of oppression, which is ten times what it was in 2003. We say this because young people continue to be at the receiving end of the persistence of the apartheid fault-lines and capitalist exploitation. Neoliberalism, combined with the legacy of apartheid capitalism, has brought untold misery upon the working class youth.

Yes we have made significant improvements in the lives of millions of our people. In 1996, only 3 million people had access to social grants; today the figure is 15 million. A massive 25% of our population depends on these social grants today. 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%. We have built 3.1 million subsidised houses, giving shelter to over 15 million people.

Access to education and health care has improved tremendously, even though quality still leaves much to be desired. The state has a better record of service delivery, whilst everywhere where we relied on capital to deliver anything there has been, and will always be, absolute failure.

Having said that I must also point out that what matters more to us, and in particular to you as young people, is not the child support grant, important that as it may be, but a job that will pay a living wage. Our new battle must be about fixing the ills of our education system that is in crisis. Our energies must be directed at ensuring that we skill the youth so they increase their employability. We need new campaigns to demand that our public hospitals be transformed and the National Health Insurance introduced. We need to join hands to fight against corruption and abuse of power.

We need an Alliance programme of action that will ensure that our people are mobilised around these campaigns. Failure to do so will continue the marginalisation of the people and their organisations.

When we celebrated the first decade of democracy we said in economic terms capital had more reasons to celebrate than workers and the poor. To me it seems that even when we celebrate two decades we will come to the same conclusion. In 2006 workers were starting to ask difficult questions as to whether they have reached a tipping point, where they have to conclude that democracy, in particular at the economic level, serves mainly the interests of capital.

Today as you hold this congress the paid top 20 directors of JSE-listed companies, the overwhelming majority of whom are still white males, earned an average of R59 million per annum each[1], whilst in 2009 the average earnings of an employee in the South African economy was R34 000 per annum[2]. On average the 20 top-paid directors in JSE-listed companies earn 1728 times the average income of a South African worker[3]. On average, between 2007 and 2008, these directors experienced a 124% increase in their earnings, compared to below 10% for ordinary workers.

What is even more worrying about these income disparities is that they have a racial and gender dimension. In South Africa today, approximately 71% of African female-headed households earn less than R800 a month and 59% of these had no income. 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 opulence of some explains the poverty and squalor of others. Many of you would have read the Sunday Times` 5 December survey which shows that number of super-wealthy South Africans has doubled in just a year.

According to the report, "who owns whom", SA`s 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth this year. Yet this massive wealth accumulation took place in the middle of the world`s worst recession in which in over 1.1 million South African workers lost their jobs and as a result over 5 million people were plunged into dire poverty.

For years now we have been highlighting obscene salaries and perks of Nedcom CEO Tom Boardman whose separation package was R43 million in 2009, yet this new survey reveals that he ranks only 38th in the league of highest earners!

Top spot is occupied by Pine Pienaar, CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, who raked in R63 million in 2009, closely followed by Norbert Platt, CEO of Richement, who got R58 million, and Marius Kloppers, CEO of BHP Billiton who took home R54.

Unemployment affects black people, women and young people most. Today 73% of all unemployed people are below 35. Indeed if we look at the world today through the eyes of the youth, we see how this generation is continuously brutalised by the despotic capitalist system. They have been turned into a sweatshop army in factories, retail giants such as Massmart, Shoprite and Pick n Pay, in the private security industry, the call centres and the hospitality sector.

This grim economic picture of obscene wealth and grinding poverty living side by side is replicated in the healthcare system. While the mainly white and wealthy can buy world-class healthcare in the private sector, 86% of mainly black poor have to struggle to get any service at all in an under-funded, understaffed public sector where on some occasions patients are told to bring their own bedding and with only panado available as an antidote.

Nurses are overworked and underpaid. Many hospital wards are filthy and lifts don`t work, forcing nurses to perform multiple functions as substitutes for porters, drug dispensers and sometimes even cleaners.

The HIV and AIDS epidemic has further burdened the healthcare system. Today people living with HIV and AIDS occupy 73% of all hospital beds. Life expectancy has dropped from 62 in 1992 50 in 2006. The life expectancy of a white South African now stands at 71 years and that of a black South African at 48.

We still have to win the battle against this epidemic. Already 5.6 million people have been infected which is 17% of the adult population, and every day there are about 1000 new infections and about 500 HIV related deaths. We must celebrate however that 1.2 million people are on ARVs in the public sector.

Children in black township schools are still victims of an unequal education system. They live daily with the fear of failure whilst watching their white counterparts in private schools top the list of achievers year after year. 70% of matriculation exam passes are accounted for by just 11% of schools and only 3% of children who enter the schooling system actually complete with higher grade mathematics.

Of the 1.4 million learners who entered the system in 2007, only 24% were able to complete matric in the minimum of 12 years. Many fall into the cracks of failure, drop-out due to poverty, pregnancy and/or the early compulsion to seek work to support siblings due to a parent`s death from AIDS.

It is of major concern that 12-year olds in South Africa perform three times worse than 11-year olds in Russia when it comes to reading and 16-year olds in South Africa perform three times less than 14-year olds in Cyprus when it comes to mathematics[4]. Nevertheless, white learners perform in line with the international average in both science and mathematics - twice the score of African learners.

This terrible state of education should worry the YCL the most, as a socialist society must be built on the foundations of an educated youth. This is why your campaign against the existence of private schools, which are nothing but bastions of class inequality, must be revived with vigour from this historic national congress.

We also hope the YCL will dedicate more time in reviving the important campaigns on curriculum change and development along alternative ideological lines, the campaign for safe schools, and the eradication of shebeens next to schools. The YCL should be at the forefront of lending a hand to struggling communities, to young people in township and rural schools battling to understand these challenges.

Whilst we battle against this daily, a small elitist group within all our organisations continue to blacken the reputation of the liberation movement. This minority seeks to import rotten and corrupt capitalist morality to our organisations and state.

The roots of corruption are 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. We must not allow this morality - of ‘dog eat dog`, ‘survival of the fittest`, the law of the jungle and ‘an injury to one is the opportunity to the other` - to be transplanted into our movement and state.

The frighteningly rapid emergence of a powerful predator elite, abusing access to the state to accumulate wealth, makes tackling corruption a growing national priority. The serious the extent to which it has infected our organisations, our polity, and society is shown by:

  • The emergence of death squads in several provinces, linked to corruption, and the murder of people who have taken a stand.
  • The open way in which prominent figures linked to top political leaders blatantly abuse their power to concoct questionable business deals worth billions of rands as demonstrated in the manipulation of BEE provisions in examples such as Arcelor Mittal, AMSA, and ICT);
  • The extent to which factions in organisations are increasingly not about ideology or political differences, but about access to tenders and state power.

If the current trajectory continues the entire state and society will be up for sale to the highest bidder. Given that state procurement is massive (over R800 billion for infrastructure over 3 years), we are dealing with a huge challenge.

All these practices have in common the systemic creation of a network of patronage and corruption. It means that over time no-one will be able to do business with the state without going through corrupt gatekeepers, who don`t merely demand bribes, but systematically leverage their power to control large chunks of the economy. Once this becomes the norm, we will have become a predator state.

Let no one be under any illusion that capital will fight this predator elite, if they are their only route to state-controlled resources. AMSA were prepared to pay a premium of billions to get access to their mineral rights and apparently the necessary political influence.

We rely on the YCL, working with its allies to lead a battle against corruption. Already the ANC in its NGC has said it will lead this fight. COSATU on its part will continue its campaign against corruption. This week we have started the legal process to register a Section 21 company, which hopefully will be called Corruption Watch that will play a key role in the battle against this scourge.

Lastly we are rightly demanding higher standards from those we elect to power, particularly those who come from our great liberation struggle. In face of the levels of poverty and inequality, we must lead the battle against the immorality of the displays of power and arrogance by the elite grouping, who daily publicise parties they hold and the cars they drive. We hope that government will produce a new rules so that our cabinet Ministers take a lead and set an example of the modesty that the "Through the eye of the needle" document demands of us.

Lenin rightly said "the League should be an organisation enabling any worker to see that it consists of people whose teachings he (or she) perhaps does not understand, and whose teachings he/she may not immediately believe, but from whose practical work and activity he/she can see that they are really people who are showing him/her the right road."[5]

Having outlined some of the challenges we face as the left forces, let me take the opportunity to call for unity of the Alliance formations, which is sacrosanct and without which nothing is going to be possible.

Of course we must always debate with each other; we will always have different approaches and sometimes even sharp differences on certain tactical questions. But let us not be tempted to devour each other because of some differences.

Let us not go back to using labels and trying to isolate and politically murder one another, as if there is no tomorrow. Let us never forget that we are bound together by strategic agreements on the need for a deep and radical transformation of our society, and, in the case of the SACP and COSATU, for socialism. Let us not damage our unity, because without this weapon we will be all be weakened.

COSATU, more than any time, needs the SACP and it will be tremendously weakened if we allow differences to grow, and worst of all if these are allowed to degenerate into public trading of labels, insults and innuendo. The YCL needs COSATU, COSAS, SASCO and the ANCYL. Each of these components will be weakened without the other.

COSATU has made a number of statements that I know do not sit comfortably with a number of SACP cadres. I want to assure you comrades that whatever criticism COSATU has, it will always be guided by only one reason: we want a strong working class party capable of leading working class battles and a party that will always be a vanguard in the struggle for socialism.

Our critique of our vanguard must never be treated with the same disdain as the criticism emanating from right-wing organisations. As we articulated in our discussion document, The Alliance at a Crossroads: Battle against the Predatory Elite, the absence of fulltime officials in particular, at national and provincial levels in the SACP will hamper the left`s ability to carry through its programme of radical transformation of our society and for socialism. This is an honest view, dear comrades, informed by our love of the SACP not by any newly found hatred or disdain for our party.

When we made a call for the strengthening of the SACP and for a correct balance to be made between those serving in government or elsewhere and those leading the party full time to ensure that it has visibility and capacity to play its rightful role, we were not arguing or expecting the SACP to be a non-governmental organisation. We have not in any way been motivated by a political stance which is generally opposed to participating in the bourgeois state. We have not suddenly become syndicalist or workerist just because we hold this view.

We are well aware that the Party is a political party, a party of power, a class party and a party of socialism and participation in the state should always be based on this understanding. In 2006 in a discussion paper called the Possibilities for Fundamental Social Change, COSATU argued that despite the SACP`s zeal in carrying forward major campaigns, it should not confuse its role with that of a social movement or an NGO and that contesting state power is the historic mission of all communist parties.

Indeed amongst the struggles waged by the working under apartheid was for true and meaningful participation of the black population in the state. However, for us the balance between the imperative to contest key sites of power, in particular the state, and building our own organisations is a crucial one.

A strong vanguard is a must-have if we are to increase the tempo of class struggle and build the momentum for socialism. A strong SACP and YCL are pillars upon which the progressive trade union movement rests. There is an umbilical cord running through the history of progressive and class conscious unionism in this country and the efforts and labour of the Communist Party.

In conclusion, let this congress be inspired by the words of Lenin who said that the "Young Communist League will justify its name as the League of the young communist generation only when every step in its teaching, training and education is linked up with participation in the common struggle of all working people against the exploiters."[6]

COSATU wishes you a successful congress which is robust in discussions and impatient with bourgeois ideology. Amandla!

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


[1] McGregor’s Who Owns Whom, 30th Edition, 2010, p.45.

[2] Quarterly Labour Force Surveys (2009) and Quarterly Survey on Employment and Earnings (2009 Quarter 1).

[3] This is far worse than in the US, where it is estimated that CEO pay was 319 times that of the average worker in 2008. See America’s Bailout Barons, S. Anderson et.al, Institute for Policy Studies, 2009, p.2.

[4] It is due to such realities that the ANC noted in 1969: “We have suffered more than just national humiliation. Our people are deprived of their due in the country`s wealth; their skills have been suppressed and poverty and starvation has been their life experience. The correction of these centuries-old economic injustices lies at the very core of our national aspirations”.

[5] Lenin, V, Tasks of the Youth Leagues, 1920.

[6] Ibid.