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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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  |  COSATU Speeches

Xenophobia, Social Cohesion and Violence in Contemporary SA

10 May 2013

Input by Zwelinzima Vavi to the African Centre for Migration and Society seminar, Wits University

Thank you for the invitation to take part in this important discussion.

Before getting into today’s topic, I feel I must express my support and solidarity with the 11 students being charged for protesting against an Israeli embassy sponsored concert. I fully support NEHAWU’s call for the immediate withdrawal of all charges against these students.

The hosting of the concert, which was backed by the Israeli embassy and endorsed by Zionist lobby groups, violated the Wits University SRC`s support for, and endorsement of, the cultural boycott of Israel.

I fully agree with NEHAWU that “the University has shamelessly sacrificed its independence, compromised its reputation and demonstrated a disconcerting level of intolerance by censoring and silencing dissenting voices”.

COSATU has been campaigning for many years against the brutal oppression of the people of Palestine by the Israeli regime, and we should applaud – not condemn - those who take a stand for freedom and democracy for Palestine.

Coming back to our topic: Xenophobia, Social Cohesion and Violence. Dr Landau’s book on this issue is called ‘Exorcising the demons’, and I could have added a few more demons in our society - corruption, gender-based violence, drug and alcohol abuse and many more.

But in my view all of these are rooted in another set of three even bigger demons – unemployment, poverty and inequality - which provide a fertile breeding ground for all the others.

On unemployment the crisis is getting even worse. The Statistics SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey revealed on Monday that the number of unemployed increased by 100 000 people, to 4.6 million in the first quarter of 2013, taking the official unemployment rate to 25.2%, up from 24.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012.

The more realistic expanded definition, including people who have stopped looking for work, increased to 36,7% in the first quarter of 2013 – the highest since 2008!

If this trend continues not only shall we not meet the government`s target of creating five million new jobs between 2010 and 2020, but even end up with a net loss of jobs over those ten years, which would be a catastrophe. No society can sustain social cohesion with so many people, especially young people, living with no job, no income and no hope. The demons will be unleashed!

Mass unemployment creates conditions for the demon of xenophobia, which we remember today, five years after the disgraceful episodes when worker fought worker, African fought African, 60 were killed, dozens raped and over 100 000 displaced.

We have to fight relentlessly against such attempts to shift the blame for poverty and unemployment on our fellow African workers and make them scapegoats. We must link these outrages to the underlying social crisis and turn people’s anger against their real enemy – the capitalist system of production, distribution and exchange.

Poverty and inequality are the twin brother and sister of unemployment, and they two play a role in undermining social cohesion, especially given that we are now the most unequal society in the world. The Gini coefficient Index measures how much the distribution of income among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. Zero represents perfect equality, while 100 implies perfect inequality. South Africa stands at 63.1%, higher than anywhere else.

At one extreme we see the obscenely high salaries and bonuses of top business executives, like Investec CEO Stephen Koseff’s remuneration of R30 736 385 (R2 561 365 a month) in 2012. At the other, half of South African workers earned below R3033 per month in 2011. Yet rough estimates for a national minimum level (MLL) are about is about R4500 a month. Those living below this figure - more than 60% of workers - are living in poverty.

Minimum wages set through Sectoral Determinations fall way below the MLL - at R2118 – (Mr Koseff earns 1209 times as much!) - while the minimum wages set at the Bargaining Councils are not much better – at R2725.

And we must never forget that most of the workers earning these low wages have to support as many as ten dependent, unemployed family members. This demolishes the phoney argument that employed workers have become a privileged elite, with different interests than the unemployed.

That is why COSATU has supported a national minimum wage. We reject the fallacy that minimum wages lead to more unemployment, on the basis that many firms will not be able to pay them and so will retrench workers or close down. International experience discredits these claims for what they are: propaganda and lies.

The experience of Brazil under President Lula proved the opposite - that increased minimum wages and social grants – and incentives to small businesses – create demand for goods and services and lead to faster growth, more jobs and lower inflation, and undoubtedly contribute to greater social cohesion.

A national minimum wage would be a significant first step towards greater equality and start to drag millions of poor, overwhelmingly black, workers out of poverty, and help us to defeat the demon of social divisions which is bound to appear in such an unequal society.

Poverty, and all its negative consequences will not however be ended solely by putting more money into workers’ bank accounts. It is also manifested in the quality and affordability of public services, such as education, healthcare and transport. We must transform our scandalous two-tier service provision, which provides a still mainly white, rich minority with top-class private services, while the overwhelmingly black, poor majority struggle with inefficient, under-resourced facilities.

The demons of violence and of xenophobia frequently appear in community service delivery protests. While we must condemn such violence, especially the destruction and looting of foreign-owned businesses, schools and libraries, we must understand people’s frustration at the quality, or even absence of basic services in poor areas.

On education we have made some progress to advance the Freedom Charter vision - that “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened”, that “higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit”.

ANC governments have made many reforms in education and training. Since 1994 140,000 students for instance have benefited from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). More and more schools are being declared no fee schools. But education is certainly not free for all and we have huge inequalities in its quality.

At the end of each year we congratulate the learners who pass their matric, and those who make it here to university. But we turn a blind eye to the fact that less than half of the 1,150,637 learners who started in 2001 were still there to write their matric exams in 2012. The 73.9% pass rate in 2012 needs to be considered against the number of learners who did not make it through the schooling system.

These young people now face the task of finding employment to survive and most of them will not do so. More than 70% of unemployed South Africans are below the age of 35, and a lot of them have been to universities. This opens the door to more demons – crime and the abuse of drugs and alcohol, among young people who feel so marginalised and desperate that they seek any possible escape route.

We must not however imagine that crime, and its twin, corruption, are the preserve of the working class and the poor. The roots of corruption lie in the private sector and the system of capitalism, with its evil morality of crass materialism and self-enrichment, which then finds its way into public bodies. For every public official who has been bribed to manipulate a tender, there is a private company which has paid the bribe to secure the business for itself.

For example, on Tuesday, Economic Development Minister, Ebrahim Patel, told Parliament that no fewer than 300 cases of collusion and price-fixing in the construction industry have been identified by the Competition Commission.

"Eighteen construction companies,” he said, “including the top six firms, have now confessed and are in discussions on settlements with the competition authorities... Private sector collusion and price-fixing cost the state many billions of rands in previous infrastructure projects, including the construction of Soccer City in Johannesburg and the Cape Town Stadium.

This follows earlier prosecutions by the Competition Tribunal of companies in the bread, dairy, milling and pharmaceutical industries, and the minister has now announced investigations into the private healthcare sector and the glass manufacturing industry, which we should applaud.

But if corruption starts in the private sector, sadly it is now invading the public sector as well, as we see in annual reports from the Auditor-General and others revealing massive fraud, corruption and misuse of public funds in all tiers of government.

The ideals of our revolutionary movement - of selflessness and serving the community, without thought of personal gain - are being eroded by the demon of greed and personal enrichment by a new demon we call ‘tenderpreneurs’, who scavenge off the public service to expand their businesses, and in the worst case, murder any who get in their way.

In conclusion, if we are to defeat these demons and achieve social cohesion, it will require a fundamental restructuring of our economic foundations. We need to implement, and urgently, policies like the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the Infrastructure Development Programme, in order to bring about what the ANC Conference called the Second Phase of the Transition.

Since 1994 we have made huge progress in build democracy and protecting human rights, but we have failed to make any comparable advances in transforming our economic life, which retains most of the features of unemployment, poverty and inequality we inherited from the years of apartheid.

This in turn leads to the demons of xenophobia, violence and social division which we are discussing here today. We need change and your generation has a critical role to play in achieving it!

Thank you.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Street

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 or Direct: +27 10 219-1339
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za