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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi General Secretary of COSATU to the SADTU Regional Biennial General Meeting

9 August 2013

Thank you for inviting me to address your meeting today.

Today, National Women’s Day, and throughout this month, we recall the historic Women’s March of 1956, which played such an important part in the struggle to smash apartheid.

I stand here before you as a compromised leader, compromised not because I have tripped and fallen into the ways of the capitalist class, and accumulated dubious and unexplained money and wealth. I have not exploited and lived off the labour of the working class. My hands have not been found in the national till; I have not stolen taxpayer’s money and or used workers subscriptions for personal gain.

I am compromised because of my own regrettable transgressions, which have caused immense harm not only on my family but on my standing as a working class leader whose focussed, forthright and honest leadership was, until this point, questioned by only a few in society.

Let me, as I have done on various occasions recently, unreservedly apologise to each one of you and through you, to all COSATU members and every South African, for letting them down. I extend that apology to the other family involved in this saga. At the right time I will ensure that both families close this chapter in the right way in line with our traditions and customs.

I know that you expected better from me, not only as a revolutionary and a working class leader but also as a man of principle.

As I said to SADTU Western region last week, I don`t blame anyone but myself for the mistake. I don`t want to compare myself to anyone but to my own standards that I have established as a family man who has championed the struggle to restore the basic tenets of society and our liberation movement, for integrity, honesty and service to the people. 

Today Corruption Watch, on which I serve as a member of its Board, will publicly censure me for this wrong step. I have accepted that censure, humiliating as that may be. I am not above the discipline of our organisations.

But I am determined not to allow the events of the recent past and the wrath it has invited from all angles, whether genuine or malicious, to defocus me. 

The challenge facing me at the present moment is to draw important lessons from this unfortunate experience.

While other lessons may reveal themselves along the journey, as a starting point I believe that I owe it to myself, and to the millions of workers who have vested their confidence and hopes in me as their leader and society at large, to use this experience not only to reaffirm my commitment to the struggle for a classless society where exploitation and alienation are mere historical references, and to labour tirelessly and selflessly, with all the difficulties I may face, which has gender equality inscribed on its banners.

In this quest I am inspired by leaders such as Thomas Sankara and Samora Machel who proclaimed that any revolution that does not resolve the question of women’s oppression is an incomplete and failed revolution.  

Let me also reiterate that I share Thomas Sankara’s apprehensions, expressed about thirty years ago, about the future and direction of our struggle and the battle to overcome women’s oppression.

Like Sankara, my eyes also never see, and my feet never take me to, a society where half the people are held in silence. The events of the previous week and some of the unfair labels attached to me have not shifted this conviction an inch. 

I must also state that at this pressing moment, I look towards you, as workers and the revolutionary ranks of COSATU, and the working class movement as my torchbearers.

My faith in your ability to provide leadership and guidance during this difficult time stems from my conviction that leaders are as good as the people they lead. I am, like most working class leaders, the tree and the fruit of the revolutionary workers and without placing too heavy a burden on your shoulders, I am anxiously looking towards you not only for your forgiveness but guidance during these trials and tribulations. 

Today, in the 21st century, thank in no small way to the women of 1956, we are proud to under a constitution, whose ‘founding values’ include:

• Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.
• Non-racialism and non-sexism.

Yet despite the many advances we have made since 1994, women are still economically triply oppressed and exploited

They bear the brunt of the crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality, in a society in which white males still dominate the economy and women form the majority of those without jobs and living on the breadline

On top of that they suffer from the outrageous levels of gender-based violence. A woman is murdered by her male partner every six hours; it is estimated that at least 150 women are raped each day, and one out of every four women in South Africa experiences domestic violence.

We saw a grotesque example this week in Ceres, where a four-month old baby girl was raped. It is hard to find words to describe such depravity.

We must all raise our voices even louder against all the injustices faced by women and girls in our country – patriarchy, gender based violence, and poor access to skills development, and decent employment.

As teachers you have a special responsibility to wage war on sexism and inculcate humane values and attitudes in our future generations.

Happy Women’s Day to all of you!


The special problems of women are inseparable from the social and economic crisis, which all of us face, but from which, as always, the working class suffer most.

As COSATU’s Section 77 notice on socio-economic transformation in South Africa points out, next year we shall be celebrating the end of the second decade of democracy, yet the economy has not been radically transformed to benefit the majority of our people, the working class and the poor.

“Though racial oppression has been constitutionally eliminated,” it says, “racial domination continues to be reproduced. The exploitation has deepened together with the overall exploitation of workers and the oppression of women remains intact. The existing social order is completely incapable of resolving the problems that confront the vast majority of the people.”

The crisis was highlighted by the latest shocking employment statistics. The official rate of unemployment is still rising, up from 25.2% in the first three months of 2013 to 25.6% in the second three months, just 0.1% below the highest level ever recorded – 25.7% in the 2nd quarter of 2011.

Despite a gain of 100‚000 jobs‚ this was offset by an additional 122‚000 more people seeking work, bringing the total number of jobless to around 4.7 million people. The more realistic expanded unemployment rate‚ which includes those who have given up looking for work‚ was a massive 36.8%, up from 36.7% compared to the first quarter.

Some with whom I don’t agree ideologically, correctly pointed out the 7.5 million people who are unemployed overall is equal to the population of Durban and Cape Town.

An aspect of the problem, which must concern your members, is that an estimated 72% of the unemployed are young people between 15 and 36 years of age. The stark reality is that most of the learners in your classes today, particularly in the poorer areas, have next-to-no chance of finding a job. Even the 5% minority who get access to higher education are not assured of employment.

The Section 77 Notice quotes the Freedom Charter: “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit".

You, the educators, know better than anyone how far away we are from achieving those goals. The poor’s children remain trapped in scandalously inferior education. According to an OECD report, 70% of (matric) exam passes are accounted for by just 11% of schools - the former white, coloured, and Asian schools.

“12-year olds in South Africa,” said the OECD, “perform three times less 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. Furthermore it is estimated only 3% of the children who enter the schooling system eventually complete with higher grade mathematics, 15% of grade 3 learners pass both numeracy and literacy, 70% of our schools do not have libraries and 60% do not have laboratories, 60% of children are pushed out of the schooling system before they reach grade 12.”

In 2010 42% of schools depend on boreholes, rainwater or have no access to water on or near site, 61% of schools have no arrangement for disposal of sewage, 21% of schools have no toilets on site or have more than 50 learners per toilet, 16% have no source of electricity on or near site, 41% of schools have no fencing or the fence is in poor condition, 93% of schools have no libraries or libraries are not stocked, 88% of schools have no laboratories, or laboratories that are not stocked and 81% of schools have no computers or more than 100 learners share a computer.

It is obviously very hard to discover and develop talent under these conditions, but it is certainly not impossible, as thousands of your members and other teachers have proved, with their excellent results. Rather than being blamed for the education crisis, teachers, and the unions in particular, deserve our praise and thanks for what they are achieving despite all these obstacles.

I congratulate the COSATU Eastern Cape comrades for submitting their own Provincial Section 77 Notice with specific demands. On education, it calls for access to quality education for all, including:

a.  Undertake survey of government school buildings and set deadlines to repair/replace dilapidated structures and construction of new ones
b.  Survey furniture and equipment needs; roll out supply programme with deadlines
c.   Provide plans on the establishment of Teacher Colleges
d.  Ensure that in every school there is a teacher in front of learners.
e.  Utilise unused buildings of former colleges into community training centres, linked to the re-opening of Colleges of Education.
f.    Weave together music, sports, arts and culture into part of the school curriculum relevant to the needs of communities.
g.  Ensure resources like language centres and libraries to address language barriers.
h.  Eradicate multi-grade classes, mud-schools and learning under trees.


The inequality we see in education is a feature of what has sadly become normal in what is now known to be the most unequal society in the world, which is reflected in both incomes and service delivery.

According to the Comrade Pravin Gordhan, 50% of the population lives on 8% of national income and recent estimates suggest that the top 5% of earners earn 30 times more than the bottom 5%.

The share of workers in national income declined from 55% in 2000 to 49% in 2008. During the crisis, the worker’s share increased from 49% to 52% between 2009 and 2010, but has since fallen back below 50%. This is ‘reverse redistribution from the poor to the rich’.

The Freedom Charter’s demand that "men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work" is yet to be realised, almost 20 years into democracy, since inequality is still very much defined along racial lines. The SA Race Relations Institute, analysing Statistics South Africa figures, show that the median salary for Africans in 2011 was R2 380, for Coloureds R3 030, for Indians R6 800 and for whites R10 000.

What then is the solution? How are we going to build a society, as envisioned in the Freedom Charter, which declared that?

  • “The people shall share in the country’s wealth;
  • The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;
  • The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;
  • All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people."

COSATU, the SACP and the ANC - in its Mangaung Conference resolution calling for ‘the 2nd Phase of the Transition’ - are fully committed to a radical economic restructuring of the economy, which must include decisive state intervention in strategic sectors, policies which are already agreed, at least on paper, in the Industrial Policy Action Plan, the Infrastructure Development Programme and at least parts of the New Growth Path document.

If fully implemented these could create decent jobs and build a modern, economy, based on manufacturing industry, rather than the export of minerals. The main thrust of our Section 77 notices is to get these policies turned from words into action – create jobs, eradicate poverty and narrow inequality.

Our biggest problem however is that sections of the state - the Treasury and the Reserve Bank - are still pushing the conservative, neoliberal policies adopted under former president Mbeki in 1966, as the misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme, which did the exact opposite of what its name suggested - creating neither growth nor employment and only redistributing from the poor to the rich.

So we are campaigning for a radical overhaul our macro-economic policy, in line with the decisive economic shift, which we all agree is the key to success. The mandate of Treasury needs to be urgently realigned and the Reserve Bank must be nationalised.

The COSATU Eastern Cape Section 77 notice takes these policies forward, with a long list of demands in the following areas:

1.    More inclusive growth, decent work and sustainable livelihoods, including ending outsourcing/use of labour brokers and privatization,
2.    Economic and Social Infrastructure
3.    Rural development, food Security and land reform
4.    Improved Health Care
5.    Building a developmental state

Linked to these economic changes is the war against corruption, which stems from the extension of neoliberalism into the state, with the use of tenders and outsourcing of services to illegally enrich a few crooked individuals.

That is why we have welcomed the firm ruling by the ruling by parliament’s Joint Ethics committee on the former minister Dina Pule. They found her guilty of breaching the code of conduct for Members of Parliament and recommended that she be reprimanded by the speaker of the National Assembly during a sitting of the House, fined an equivalent of 30 days salary, suspended from her privileges for 15 days and be excluded from any parliamentary debates or committees during that period.

This case must serve as a reminder to those who continue to misuse the positions of authority that they been entrusted with, to benefit themselves and those that are close to them, that the law has a very long arm.

Corruption is a serious plague that continues to eat the very fabric of the society that the ANC seeks to build. Maximum penalties must be imposed on those who steal from the public purse.

Finally, and briefly, I must touch on the organisational challenges we face, because it is relatively easy to pass resolutions, make speeches and issue statements but much harder to implement them. That is why our National Congress and the Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conference in March agreed that we must leave no stone unturned in our drive to rebuild our organisation and address our weaknesses.

All of these things comrades are not possible unless we address unity of workers and its leaders. COSATU is not only facing paralysis at this moment but actually may split if leaders are not careful about what they do in the period moving forward.

Paralysis of COSATU and/or risking its split is something that we should work hard to avoid at all costs. I want to assure you that I will, as the General Secretary, work hard to avoid this worst scenario. I urge all those who care about the workers movement to join me in the endeavour to work for greater levels of unity and cohesion of the workers’ movement.

I hope that you will be doing just that over the coming days. I wish you a successful meeting.

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