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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 at Chris Hani`s Memorial Ceremony

10 April 2008

We are meeting here today to remember the tragic moment, fifteen years ago on the 10th April 1993, when Chris Hani was cruelly taken from us by an assassin`s bullet. We remember too all the other heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle whom we lost in the month of April, including Solomon Mahlangu and OR Tambo.

Our freedom is written in Chris Hani`s blood. His tragic death mobilised millions onto the streets, forced the apartheid regime to retreat and propelled us towards our greatest victory, the ending of apartheid and the democratic elections of the 27th April 1994. He helped us to change the face of South Africa from an international pariah into a bastion of democracy and a society, which treasures human rights and freedom.

COSATU is determined to keep alive his memory and legacy, as he would have wanted - by continuing the struggle for the ideals he stood for, in particular his unshakeable belief in the need for socialism and the total liberation of working people.

True to what he learned from the his humble beginnings in Sabalele in Cofimvaba, one of his most popular quotes simplified what many intellectuals believe has to be expressed in big complicated words. Chris Hani told us in simple terms that that socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory but about decent shelter for those who are homeless, water for those who have no safe drinking water, health care and a life of dignity for the old.

Thanks to the contribution that Chris Hani and the others made to our revolution, we are happy to report that we are making big strides forward in achieving his vision by improving the lives of our people. Fewer people are now without homes than that when that bullet robbed us of our future. Fewer people are without electricity, fresh water, sanitation, education, health care and communication, thanks to the work of our ANC government. Our constitution guarantees us basic human rights.

We are also in the process of reclaiming our movement for its traditional revolutionary values. We have begun the necessary task of reversing the foreign values summed up by the sentence "I did not join the struggle to be poor". Comrade Chris would have been appalled by the growth of a culture of corruption and self-enrichment, a philosophy of `me-first` and the devil take the poorest. He would have been disgusted by the very idea of some public representatives looting the people`s assets by fraudulently awarding tenders to members of their families.

He would have applauded the delegates at Polokwane for rejecting the unrestrained free-market policies, which promoted these same rotten values in society, which led to the first decade of democracy doing more to benefit big business and the wealthy elite than the workers and the poor majority of South Africans.

Let us remember Chris`s prophetic words, when he said, "A new South Africa would be meaningless if the problems of the millions of poor people were not tackled. The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. For me what is important is the continuation of the struggle - and we must accept that the struggle is always continuing."

We must honour the memory of Chris Hani, Solomon Mahlangu, Oliver Tambo and all our other great leaders in this month of heroes by rededicating ourselves to the struggle for national liberation and socialism. Despite the improvements I have mentioned, we still face massive challenges. We still live in a country with mass unemployment, grinding poverty, and a deadly HIV/Aids epidemic. Thousands of people still live without access to essential services and the economy is still dominated by a super-rich, mainly white minority.

We must therefore unite in the fight against unemployment, poverty and inequality and make sure that these progressive policies are included in the election manifesto for 2009 and implemented by the incoming ANC government under its new leadership.

We need these policies more than ever today. COSATU has just submitted Section 77 notices to enable us to mobilise our members and civil society to protest at the wave of price increases that are devastating the lives of poor families and jeopardising our economic future.

The costs of bread, milk, mealie-meal, transport and school fees have been rising dramatically. In the case of bread and milk, this has been exacerbated by criminal price-fixing, as profiteering companies collude to make even bigger profits for themselves at the expense of the poor and all consumers.

We welcome the tough line that the Competition Commission is taking to stop this illegal practice but also support the government`s proposal to give it stronger powers to broaden the scope of its investigations and punish the offenders individually, rather than allowing companies to pass the fines on to their consumers in still higher prices.

As if all these price increases were not enough we now face massive rises in the cost of electricity, petrol and steel, which will not only have a direct impact on our living standards but push up even further the price of everything else.

Eskom are not only proposing a preposterous 53% tariff increase but even have the arrogance and cheek to ask not to have to reveal what the money is needed for, on the grounds that it is a commercial secret. This shows the extent to which a capitalist ethos has invaded what should be a public utility efficiently providing an affordable service to the country. They should remember it is our money they are talking about, not theirs, and we have a right to know how every rand and cent is being spent.

In addition to the direct effect of all these price increases, they are bound to at the least slow down the rate at which new jobs are created and even cause retrenchments. When we take to the streets we shall be demanding that workers must not have to pay for a crisis which is none of their own making and no jobs must be lost.

Unemployment is already way too high, still around 35% of you include those who have given up even looking for work. Even before the electricity crisis, we were not creating anywhere near sufficient new jobs to meet the Growth and Development Summit resolution to halve the 2004 levels of unemployment and poverty by 2014. Now that target looks more remote than ever.

Nor will it help to reverse the declining quality of jobs, as vulnerable and precarious types of employment, especially in sectors such as construction and retail, are rapidly replacing permanent secure employment. This is leading to a growing army of the working poor, who, together with the unemployed, constitute around 20 million people living in poverty, a shocking figure compared to any other country with a comparable economy.

Chris Hani would have not believed that 14 years into democracy we could still be such an unequal society, in which so many would be unemployed and poor while the rich have been getting even richer, by helping themselves to massive hikes in their salaries and bonuses.

While we are all theoretically equal, the reality is that we are not. Economic wealth and power is still concentrated in the hands of a super-rich and powerful white male elite, with a sprinkling of black billionaires, while thousands of poor blacks are still struggling to put food on the table and send their children to school.

COSATU`s message on this solemn day is to urge all our members and the wider community to pay tribute to the part our heroes and heroines played in our liberation by recommitting themselves to the goals they set for our movement. COSATU will not rest until they have been achieved.