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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi’s Address to the SADTU KwaZulu Natal Provincial Congress, 20 October 2011

Zwelinzima Vavi’s Address to the SADTU KwaZulu Natal Provincial Congress, 20 October 2011, Durban

20 October 2011

Chairperson and Provincial Secretary
Members of the Provincial Executive Committee of SADTU
Members of the National Working Committee and National Executive Committee
Leadership of the Allied formations and all invited guests
Delegates to this congress
Dearest comrades and friends

I bring you revolutionary greetings from the leadership of the Federation. I feel deeply honoured by your invitation to address the biggest province of SADTU.

As we address you today, matriculants all over the country are hard at work, writing their exams. In 2009 the pass rate for KZN was 61%, and it improved to 71% in 2010. We wish all our matriculants well and hope that KZN continues on a winning streak.

This improvement occurred against the backdrop of the public sector strike. Teachers, having exercised their democratic right to strike, returned to class and worked overtime and during weekends in 2010. The results are there for anyone to see. Working together with the Provincial Education Department under the leadership of Comrade Senzo Mchunu, you comrades have done the working class proud.

Today, comrades I want to speak frankly as I always do. I want to use your congress to speak directly to the more than 2 million COSATU members and hopefully touch base with the Allied formations. I have come here because I want to urge all of us to go back to the basics politically, or risk fragmenting this mighty movement into irrelevance.

I want to specifically direct your attention to the difficult moment our organisations and our revolution faces today. There is a poisoned atmosphere of divisions and fast-forming cliques and cabals, pigeonholing of unsuspecting individuals, innuendos, gossip, backstabbing, character-assassination, political and even physical assassinations.

Increasingly everybody is looking to beef up personal security, not because comrades fear to be assassinated by the right wing but because of the seeds of mistrust that are now blossoming amongst us as comrades.

This is the moment of slate politics and the winner takes all philosophy, of sidelining talented individuals in favour of the weakest just because they are on the ‘correct slate’. These divisions have made us extremely tolerant of mediocrity and we celebrate the lowering of standards, a time where double-speak and double standards reign supreme!

Last week I was in the Rustenburg Court. Three comrades were appearing in court for allegedly killing another comrade, Moss Phakoe. On the same day, when I returned home I saw that also here in Durban a fellow is suspected of killing the EThekwini Regional Secretary of the ANC, Sbu Sibiya, the second comrade to have been killed recently. Eleven or more comrades have been killed in Mpumalanga recently. In all of these cases ukufa kusembizeni. Intolerance thrives and there is no one is who listens to the other. It is time for nit-picking and analysing of every statement so that every statement is misrepresented and individuals are allocated to existing factions

Something is going wrong! It reflects a crisis in the movement. The people we hate most today are not the enemy or the white monopoly capital but one another. The people we spend more time talking ill about are not our class enemies or those opposed to our revolution but another comrade on another slate and in another clique. We use labels to shut each other up in an attempt to discredit those who hold a different view.

Unless we stand up we shall continue to go to funerals to bury comrades where the person suspected of engineering the killing is the very one delivering the keynote address in the funeral. We shall continue to count comrades who fall by the wayside after sustained campaigns to assassinate their character have succeeded in demobilising them and in the process rob our revolution of yet another cadre who should be making a contribution to building a better life for all.

Today I want to remind our movement what we are about. I am calling on all of us to go back to basics and rebuild our movement, or risk, let me emphasize again, fragmenting the trade union movement and the left forces. Eventually when we have devoured each other, there will be is only one class celebrating – the class of the exploiters.

Comrades and friends, the working class is in dire straits today. There is no other area where this is most evident than in education – a site of struggle that is very close to your hearts.

Inequalities in basic education show themselves in terms of outcomes: 70% of matriculation passes are accounted for by 11% of the schools, which are historically White, Indian and Coloured[1]. The pass rate in African schools is 43% and the pass rate in White schools is 97%. Schools with fees less than R20 per year have a pass rate of 44%, and those with fees greater than R1000 per year have a pass rate of 97%[2].

There is a close relationship between class and race inequalities in the education system. Pupils per teacher in a class is estimated to be 31 in African schools and 24 in White schools[3]. However, the Department of Basic Education notes that 40% of schools and almost 50% of schools in Mpumalanga have class sizes of more than 40[4].

On average 400 000 young people leave the schooling system per annum, with no opportunity for further training. These young people are asking: where is the NDR? 60% of all the unemployed people have not worked for the past five years or their entire lives. We know that the overwhelming majority of those who are unemployed have less than grade 7. If we don’t solve this unfolding crisis many will question the relevance of the NDR.

COSATU has responded to this unfolding crisis by getting a Basic Education and Skills Accords signed at Nedlac. We have sought to answer a fundamental question: what is the role of a revolutionary trade union movement in solving this crisis? We have urged all our activists and leaders to adopt schools and to eliminate dysfunctional schools as part of our contribution to save the future of today’s generation.

The task of SADTU is to set new records and ensure that by 2014, we have 80% passes in this province. A pass must be above 50%, to ensure that the success we attribute to our young people is not illusory, but ensures that they get access to tertiary institutions so that they can be further trained.

This has to be part of defeating the agenda of the DA and other conservatives who are on a campaign to vilify SADTU and isolate organised workers from the broader working class.

We have to ensure that the campaign to adopt and eliminate dysfunctional schools is a success; we have the interests of the broader working class in our hearts and, as Mao TseTung urged, we must “always represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people” and that we must always be “modest and prudent” and “must always work hard and continue to struggle”.

Let me turn to the crisis of the socio economic conditions of the working class, which have developed over 350 years of colonialism. Colonialism changed over time, and transformed into capitalist colonialism, which itself evolved into monopoly capitalism. From the very beginning South African capitalism was based on colonial subjugation and dispossession of the African people; it perfected mechanisms to exploit African labour. The large corporations and white monopoly capitalist enterprises are founded on the historical process of colonial exploitation of African labour by the white capitalist class.

This economic relationship defines, in concrete terms, the most fundamental relations upon which the ideological and political superstructures of society rest. It explains the flow of resources among classes, between racial groups and between men and women and feeds into the ideological formations, especially racism.

These power relations reveal themselves starkly when we look objectively at the evolution of the socio-economic condition of the working class, in which the overwhelming majority of the African people fall.

Inequality should be viewed in three dimensions: a) income, b) access to quality basic goods and services (water, electricity, healthcare, education, public transport, etc.) and c) inequality of economic power, i.e. ownership and control of the economy.

In all of these, South Africa remains deeply colonial and capitalist. If the NDR is the direct route to socialism there are certain basic features that should characterise its economic policies, because in such a revolution the working class is a leading force.

Policies should be characterised by at least the following three progressive features: a) a reduction in the rate of exploitation of workers, b) an increase in collective forms of ownership of the means of production, c) a reduction unemployment and poverty.

Seventeen years after our 1994 democratic breakthrough income inequality is still racialised, and has deepened within racial groups. 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. White people earn an average of 8 times what Africans earn.

The Minister of Finance has acknowledged that 50% of the population lives on 8% of national income in South Africa. Although there is no official poverty line, 48% of South African individuals live below R322. 15 million people rely on social grants for survival. 6 million workers live on less than R10 a day. They in turn support on average an additional 4 people in the household, which means that 30 million South Africans live on less than R10 a day, which can barely buy one loaf of bread).

To repeat the words of Samora Machel, “The rich man`s dog gets more in the way of vaccination, medicine and medical care than do the workers upon whom the rich man`s wealth is built”. I always wonder what he would say about the fact that the people of Mozambique had to resort to riots to protest against the high price of bread.

Inequalities in economic power are also worsening. The financial sector is dominated by 4 large private banks (ABSA, Nedbank, FNB and Standard), two of which have significant foreign ownership. Two firms dominate the wholesale and retail trade sector: Shoprite and Pick n Pay, with 66% of the market share. Things look even worse with Walmart in the picture.

Manufacturing is dominated by petro-chemicals and iron and steel, dominated by Sasol and Arcelor-Mittal. All these companies are white, private, capitalist-owned and increasingly becoming foreign-owned.

Housing reflects inequality. While almost 75% of the Indian population and more than 80% of the White population live in houses with more than 6 rooms, the figure for coloureds is 42% and for Africans 28%. 55% of Africans live in houses with less than 3 rooms and 21% live in 1-room houses. These material conditions of the working class spill over into the progress of their children, especially in relation to their education performance.

In healthcare, only 9% of the African population belong to a medical aid scheme whilst 74% of the white population do[5]. This is reflected in terms of life expectancy. A white person born in 2009 expects to live for 71 years, whereas an African born in the same year expects to live for 48 years - 23 years less.

This is the material foundation for the anger of the young people in our democratic movement. They refuse to internalise and naturalise white domination, which they know is fanned by white monopoly capitalism; they know that without the destruction of white monopoly power through a radical change in the property relations, the national democratic revolution (NDR) will become more and more a thing of the past.

Like the working class, they demand economic freedom in their lifetime. This principled call, which finds resonance in all those who are genuinely committed to a struggle for total emancipation, is being scoffed at by those who consider themselves above the masses, and see it as a threat to their positions.

Youth unemployment and women marginalisation are realities facing us today. Recently we have spoken about a ticking bomb that will eventually explode, about the ring of fire surrounding our big cities.

The struggles waged in Chatsworth, Tafelberg, Delft, Diepsloot, Warden, Orange Farm, Alexandra and, Ficksburg share a common banner, inscribed: “Capitalism is failing us – We want an alternative world!”

Let us be reminded of what our trusted ally the ANC said in its Morogoro conference strategy and tactics document:

“Our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass... In our country – more than in any other part of the oppressed world – it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation”

Our position derives from the material conditions of the working class. It will be a major ideological error to take positions not on the basis of these material conditions but on who is the head of the state, the movement or the Party. The challenge we face in these trying times is to remain faithful to the aspirations of the working class and articulate their conditions of existence with a view to changing them, but this will require ideological clarity and ideological struggle.

Our most urgent task is to do precisely what Marx and Engels said we should do in the Communists Manifesto - to urgently raise the consciousness of the proletariat so that it becomes a strong cohesive force.

The South African revolution, like all others, is based on universal features, though with its specificities of course. So we must study what comes of most revolutions immediately after the democratic breakthrough. Quite often they suffer fatigue, reconfiguration of class forces and demobilisation of popular consciousness. The revolutionary forces inherit the instruments of power from the oppressive regime and adapt them to the new conditions, without fundamentally changing them.

They only moderate the excesses of the previous regime, but maintain the essence of the old monopoly power structure, save for the new drivers of that power structure, who must always justify why the masses must be patient and understand the “complexities of change”, while they disguise these ideas with radical-sounding rhetoric.

There is massive evidence of trade unions, liberation movements and even communist parties that failed the litmus test of class and popular relevance at critical moments of the constantly changing revolutionary phases. Our yardstick to measure our relevance, and in whose interests are we speaking, must be the actual class of workers and the poor and not abstract and imagined ideas taken from “classics” without relating them to the actual battles of today.

The duty of revolutionary forces is to remain at the forefront of the revolutionary process, which requires constant baptisms of fire in actual battles, renewal of ideas and practices, introspection and self criticism, in line with the fundamental principles of the revolution.

We need to guard against a tendency that seeks to liquidate the class struggle in order to maintain individuals in certain positions in the movement, and against attempts to stifle and cajole the working class into agreeing with neoliberal positions, simply because we live in a post-Polokwane period.

Within our own ranks we need to consistently defend our principles and remain consistently loyal to the decisions of our organisation. Failure by some to ensure an effective mobilisation of members to free the working class from the modern day slavery of the human traffickers we call labour brokers is an example we must make about this steadfast adherence to struggle of the working class.

Amilcar Cabral, one of the most respected African revolutionaries, reminded all national liberation movements that we must “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone`s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”[6]

We should all take Frantz Fanon’s warning seriously, that “The... unemployed man [and woman] who never find employment do not manage, in spite of public holidays and flags, new and brightly-coloured though they may be, to convince themselves that anything has really changed in their lives. The bourgeoisie who are in power vainly increase the number of processions; the masses have no illusions. They are hungry; and the police officers, though now they are Africans, do not serve to reassure them particularly. The masses begin to sulk; they turn away from this nation in which they have been given no place and begin to lose interest in it.”

No amount of shouting of revolutionary slogans will blind the masses to the reality that the NDR continues to produce billionaires and wealthy capitalists, whilst the majority of the people still live in squalor. Only the genuine improvement of the material conditions of the working class will determine whether the working class will continue to vest its confidence in the ANC in the 2014 elections and beyond.

Our preoccupation must be about the material conditions facing the working class. If a day ends, and worse a week comes to end, without any of us being able to answer a question – “what am I doing to change the material conditions of the working class?” – then all of us must take responsibility for what will happen to our revolution.

Failure to recognise this, and ensure that indeed the condition of the working class in South Africa is improved, is tantamount to certifying the death of the liberation movement. As the leadership of the organised section of the working class, it is our duty to be pupils of the masses, whilst at the same serving as their teachers. As a revolutionary teachers’ union, I am certain that SADTU understands this notion fairly well.

Dear comrades, the factionalism, patronage networks, and the political relations cemented by money and business ties in our movement today, and the blatant corruption committed by some of our public representatives and servants can no longer be hidden away.

It is our duty as a revolutionary trade union federation to expose and isolate elements that seek to enrich themselves from the labour and hardships of the people. We must never be caught in the trap of allowing personal friendships and family relationships to stand in the way of taking up principled battles against corruption and patronage in our organisations.

As a trade union federation that believes in the inevitability of socialism, and as communists, we must never be threatened into silence when we see the triumph of individualism and selfishness amongst the leadership and membership of our Alliance formations. It is time to reinstate the centrality of the organisation and not the individuals.

Liu Shaoqi of the Communist Party of China taught us a valuable lesson when he said that “Some people habitually place their personal interests above those of the Party when it comes to practical matters; they are preoccupied with personal gain and loss and always calculate in terms of personal interests; they abuse the public trust, turning their Party work to private advantage of one kind or another; or they attack comrades they dislike and wreak private vengeance, on high-sounding pretexts of principle or Party interests.”

This quote is extremely relevant to us today, when it is increasingly becoming normal to shout from the roof tops when those we consider our enemies are found with their hands in the cookie jar, and yet to bury our heads in the sand when those politically close to us or whom we perceive as critical players in our political game plans misuse the public purse for their personal business, and spit in the faces of the millions of people who vote for the ANC out of the hope and trust that it will lead them out of their misery and destitution.

Let me reiterate that the biggest threat we face today is the intersection and overlap between leadership and business. Leadership must choose between being businesspersons or public servants. Where leaders have families involved in business (and they as individuals have a right to be in business) we have made a call that they must at all costs avoid a conflict of interest.

If you are in a trade union don’t allow your family to do business with trade unions. If you are in government don’t allow your family to do business with the state. I will always abide by this policy and call on all our leadership not to fall foul of these principles.

Let me take this further. When the ANCYL President can’t explain how he has suddenly become so rich as to afford to destroy a R3.6 million house and build another one much bigger one costing millions more, and when details of a Ratanang trust are published – all of us issue statements to demand an investigation. But when the Public Protector publishes a report, after investigation, implicating ministers who apparently form part of the factions we belong to, there is deafening silence from some of us. Are we really that incapable of using our moral compass in dealing with these issues?

Comrades, let me remind you that such double standards are the exact opposite of communist ethics and morality! As Liu Shaoqi taught us, Communists should always be “firm, strict and principled.” Communists never “give way on matters of principle... and are particularly contemptuous of adulation and flattery as contrary to all principle.”

“Communists oppose all unprincipled struggles; they do not let themselves become involved in such struggles and are not swayed or affected by irresponsible or casual criticism made behind their backs as to depart from principle, become incapable of thinking calmly or lose their composure”

Communists always desist from trailing individuals. They refuse to become prisoners to personal loyalties but are always willing to become willing slaves of the only revolutionary class in our society – the working class!

Let me comment on some issue that in this poisoned environment has led to unnecessary controversy. At a press conference on Walmart, an SABC journalist out-of-the-blue asked a question far removed from the topic of the press conference: Does COSATU support the demands of the ANCYL which they will be making in the marches scheduled for the 27 and 28 October 2011. We responded positively to say – yes we support most of their demands.

The journalist proceeded to ask another question: Will you form part of the marches? We answered that the ANCYL has requested meetings with the leadership of COSATU to solicit support for their programme of action. Subject to these discussions we see no reason why we should not support them when most of their demands are identical to ours.

The journalist asked: What if some of them in the leadership use these legitimate demands of the young people to advance political demands such as for change of leadership or to influence leadership contests in Mangaung? We responded to say we are disassociating ourselves from such moves and that, yes, it is possible that some in the leadership may be holding such thoughts.

This remains our position today! Let us emphasize the principle - that COSATU supports all efforts by any section of the oppressed to highlight their plight through peaceful demonstrations. When we also hold marches we seek support and participation of the youth and all formations that identify themselves with the plight of the working class. We call on the ANCYL to ensure that their demonstrations are peaceful and orderly.

In particular we are concerned that the chaos we saw outside Luthuli House, when their members went to demonstrate in support of their leadership, must not be repeated. We call on the police to take stern action against anyone fomenting violence and disorder. We call on the ANCYL to ensure that they stick to the issues of youth empowerment and not use the march for narrow factional battles.

Comrades, the political task of the working class at this conjuncture requires a stern commitment to principle. Our Central Committee tasked us to “defend the leadership collective elected in the ANC 52nd National Conference against those who have from inception launched campaigns to put this leadership on the a back foot and who have undermined their authority”.

Our Central Committee was also clear that COSATU should not become an uncritical supporter of the current leadership in the ANC and government. We will resist any attempts to be drawn into factional battles for narrow factional goals. When the time is right, we expect the members of all Alliance components to assess the performance of the current Alliance leadership.

Our duty, as a mighty federation that refuses to occupy spectator seats in the class struggle, is to always judge leadership according to the interests of the working class.

Comrades in closing let me leave you with these powerful words from Mao TseTung: Always remember that we “Communists are like seeds and the people are like the soil. Wherever we go, we must unite with the people; take root and blossom among them.”

I wish you a successful congress, robust in debate and instructive in discussion.

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

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

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

[1]G. Barnard. 2009. Realizing South Africa’s Employment Potential. OECD Working Paper 662.
[2]Servaas Van der Berg. 2007. Apartheid’s Enduring Legacy: Inequalities in Education. Journal of African Economies 16, No.5.
[3] H. Bhorat and M. Oosthuizen. 2006. Determinants of Grade 12 Pass Rates. DPRU, University of Cape Town.
[4] Department of Basic Education. 2011. Macro-Indicator Trends in Schooling: A Summary Report.
[5] General Household Survey, 2009.
[6] Amilcar Cabral, Tell no Lies, Claim No Easy Victories, 1965.