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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi address to the ANC Rally in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

4 May 2008

I am greatly honoured by the invitation to speak in this historic rally to deepen unity of the ANC and the progressive forces here in Khayelitsha. I thank the organisers and those who worked hard behind scenes to create conditions that allowed us together here today to welcome back ANC members who stood as independents in the last local government elections.

Unity is the source of our strength as a movement. For over nine decades, the ANC has sought to unite black people and all white compatriots who hated apartheid and who were committed to the struggle to build a non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic and prosperous country. In the dark days of apartheid, unity was our only weapon. And today, unity is critical for us to ensure that our continuing struggle for a better life for our people is not hi-jacked.

That is why we are proud as COSATU to be associated with this celebration. It is an important statement that reinforces what the liberation movement has always been about – the unity of the oppressed and disadvantaged.
Congratulations to the ANC in the Western Cape for leading us in this direction. We hope that other ANC provinces, especially those that also faced independents in the last local government elections such as the North West, will draw important lessons from this historic moment. Unity of the former oppressed people is sacrosanct. Our individual egos and views cannot over-ride the critical importance of ensuring unity amongst working people, the poor and all progressive forces.

We need that unity here in the Western Cape more than anywhere else. Unity of the ANC first and then unity between ANC and its alliance partners and the rest of the democratic movement is essential. I urge every leader of all these formations to forget the issues that led to the undermining of that unity in the past. This rally here in Khayelitsha must serve as a catalyst of unity in all ANC branches, regions and the province itself.
Above all this rally must be a place which we would remember the years when the congress movement found each other and struggled to ensure that we end the reign of Democratic Alliance in Cape Town. In next year’s elections, it is critical that we retain and advance our majority in the province and at the national level. We cannot afford to let this key province become the domain once more of those who would ensure that our revolution goes only to benefit the bosses.

Our hard-fought unity must however deliver on its promise of a better life for all. We need only look to our northern borders to see what happens when we lose the struggle to ensure unity based on real, shared achievements. We must never find ourselves in the position of ZANU-PF, which now can only win votes through violence and mass intimidation. We must win elections next year purely on the basis of the fact that we can show the electorate that we have used the past 14 years to improve the lives of the people and that we have the best plans to address the challenge of unemployment, poverty and growing inequalities.

We know it is easy to undervalue the strides we have made over the past 14 years. Too many people still face the humiliation and hardship of lack of access to basic services such as houses, water, sanitation and other basic services. But we need also to appreciate the overall picture. Yes, we face many challenges. But today millions more people have access to education, healthcare, housing, electricity, communications and so on than before 1994. The challenge now is to speed up our efforts so that every South African has a basic social wage. At the same time, we recognise that it will take many more years to wipe the legacy of apartheid inequalities and neglect.

But we also did not fight the struggle just to improve government services. We fought to empower our people, first politically, then economically. The biggest challenge we face as we near the 15th anniversary of our freedom is to transform the economy. We still need to find effective ways to end the marginalisation of so many of our people from the economy. We need to promote truly broad-based empowerment, through employment creation, a massive expansion in public works and genuine land reform, and an expansion in public and collective ownership. These are even bigger and harder challenges than ensuring more equitable access to public services.

I say these things leading an organisation that is known for its militancy and insistence that these challenges be overcome soonest. Yes we remain critical and of the view that we should have done better to restructure the economy and confront the monopoly capital so that we could have an industrial policy to create decent jobs at the scale required to address poverty and unemployment. Yes we remain critical that in other front too we should have done better including on improving our public hospitals. Yes as a leader of the civil society we shall continue to agitate other civil society formations around these issues.

But since Polokwane we have more hope that our claims, the claims of the poor and working people – the core constituency of the ANC - will be respected and addressed. I do believe that the space has been opened not only for COSATU and ANC members to raise issues but for every citizen of our country to bring forward concrete proposals on what must be done to address the challenges we face on unemployment, poverty and inequalities.

This Friday the Alliance Summit will meet to debate these challenges and more importantly to hear one another on what policies could work better to address these challenges. This Summit takes place in a completely changed environment than existed before Polokwane conference. I know this will begin a great debate not only in the Alliance but also in our society broadly about policy, a debate to chart a way forward, without labels and insults.

On May 16, we shall attend an emergency Energy Summit being convened by the government to look at the energy crises we face. Again I hope that this will be a summit where our nation will confront the challenge and develop a plan to take our country out of this crisis as soon as possible. That solution to the crises cannot be the rise of electricity tariffs by 53% as currently proposed by the Eskom. Nor can it be to force cuts in electricity usage in ways that destroy employment and undermine our efforts to transform the economy. No – these proposals cannot be on the table for negotiation. We expect strategies that unite our people in seeking the best solution to the emergency, one that ensures the burden does not fall on the backs of working people and the poor.

We are poor and we are unemployed. We simply cannot afford a further assault in our living standards. We are facing mounting pressure from the food, transport and other prices. We are struggling to feed our families. The inflation rate caused mainly by these ever-rising prices means that our wages we negotiated last year couldn’t serve as a caution. We need look at the package of short term to medium term government interventions so that we can ameliorate the pressure on workers and the poor.

Government has promised a package of measures to address the soaring price of food. But we have as yet seen no proposals. We expect any strategy to involve all stakeholders, and for that reason to be discussed at NEDLAC. No solution to poverty and hunger can succeed without the mobilisation of our people, without the development of structures to ensure solidarity, without inputs from those most affected by hardship and deprivation.

For this reason, we recognise that we cannot simply wait for government to act. We shall continue to mobilise our people led by the alliance to highlight our demands. We call on all workers to join demonstrations that are taking place across the country. On May 17 we shall organise major demonstrations in all major cities in solidarity with our ordinary people of Zimbabwe and to protest against high prices of food.

The unity we need mean the Alliance at every level must work around these concrete issues and challenges facing our people. Above all we need campaigns to strengthen our organisation and reconnect with our people. There is time for speeches but there is also time for real action and mass mobilisation of the people so that they can be part of a single struggle to tilt the balance for more progressive change.

Thanks for your invitation.