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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Moses Kotane Memorial Lecture, delivered by COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi

4 October 2014

Thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking today in memory of one of our country’s greatest revolutionaries, Moses Kotane, in the area where he was born, in the municipality named after him, and with the members of the COSATU Local which proudly bears his name.

It gives us the opportunity not only to remember and honour such a great comrade but to ask ourselves how well today we are living up to the ideals and principles of revolutionary socialism to which he dedicated his life, and what we can learn from his example.

Comrade Moses Kotane was born 109 years ago on Tamposstad farm near Swartruggens and died in 1978 in Moscow, where President Zuma recently laid wreaths at his grave and that of JB Marks, another great icon of our struggle also from the North West Province.

The Russian President promised to arrange to return their remains back home, news which we warmly welcome as it gives us the opportunity to recognise the huge debt we owe to these two giants of our workers’ and socialist movement and create monuments in their honour.

Comrades and friends
Tributes to Comrade Moses sometimes use the words “all-round revolutionary” to describe him, because he was the embodiment of what years later was to become the Tripartite Alliance, as a leader in the trade unions, ANC and the SACP.

His roots were in the poor working class. As a boy he herded cattle and received no formal schooling before he was 15, then left at 17 to find work in Krugersdorp as a photographer`s assistant, domestic servant, miner, and bakery worker.
He joined the African Bakers Union, an affiliate of the new Federation of Non-European Trade Unions then being built by Communist Party of South Africa, as the SACP was then known.

He first joined the African National Congress in 1928 but then left it, as he thought it was too weak and ineffectual. Of course he later rejoined and went on to become one of its greatest leaders. He was involved in every struggle in South Africa - the 1952 Defiance Campaign, the 1956-1961 treason trial and the 1960 emergency. He became an ANC NEC member and its Treasurer General from 1963 to 1973.

In 1929 he joined the CPSA and rose rapidly through its ranks. Within two years he was a full-time official, working on Umsebenzi, the party newspaper, and by 1939 he was the party`s general secretary, and remained so until his death no less than 39 years later.

His life was brilliantly summed up by Comrade Yusuf Dadoo, who delivered the SACP’s eulogy at his funeral in 1978. “Comrade Kotane”, he said “was one of the foremost champions of the working class and a future socialist South Africa, yet he worked unceasingly to create a unity of all classes and groups, including revolutionary whites, to confront racist tyranny.

“He was a foremost patriot who had his feet firmly planted in the national culture and aspirations of his people. Yet he remained a shining example of true internationalism and believed passionately in the world-wide bonds of progressive humanity everywhere.

“He stood at the head of our working-class party for most of its life and was, at the same time, amongst the most respected front-line leaders of the African National Congress. More than any other individual, he helped lay the foundations for the life-giving unity between the working class and national movements which express itself in today`s firm alliance of liberation forces”.

Comrades and friends
Today we celebrate the achievements of that “alliance of liberation forces” and the role of giants like Moses Kotane in working to win our liberation from the chains of apartheid. We must never forget just how much progress we have made - with the destruction of racist tyranny and the establishment of a constitutional democracy:
▪ The number of people receiving social grants has increased from 3 million to 16 million.
▪ Over 3.3 million houses have been built, for more than 16 million people.
▪ About 12 million households have electricity, 7 million more than in 1994.
▪ Around 92% of South Africans have access to potable water, compared to 60% in 1996.
▪ Motor vehicle exports have increased from almost zero in 1995 to 239 465.
▪ Through the Clothing and Textiles Competitiveness Programme we have halted the loss of jobs in the sector and helped to create more than 12 505 permanent new jobs.

At the same time however we should be alarmed at the problems that remain unresolved, or are even getting worse.
You have to look no further than the statements your Provincial Secretary, Comrade Solly Phetoe, which he puts out virtually every day, to see some of the outrages still being inflicted on workers and the poor communities. They include:

▪ Striking workers being shot by security guards;
▪ Women workers being stripped naked and searched in their private parts for allegedly stolen money;
▪ Workers being dismissed for joining the union of their choice or taking time off to celebrate May Day
▪ Aurora mine workers still waiting to be paid after five years
▪ Eviction of farm workers who have lived on the land for decades
▪ Employers locking out workers because they refuse to abide by a collective bargaining agreement
▪ More importantly it was in this province where we saw tens of workers mowed down by the bullets of the police in Marikana.

These are local examples of a sustained onslaught by employers across South Africa and around the world to inflict even more ruthless exploitation on the working-class majority, who already suffer from mass unemployment and poverty and the lack of basic services.

These employers have been getting richer and richer, as the wealth gap between them and the poor gets ever wider, summed up by the fact that half of the population lives on 8% of national income while the top 5% of earners earn 30 times more than the bottom 5%.

These greedy bosses make this money by exploiting the working-class people whose labour creates the wealth that makes them so rich, and yet they want to squeeze even more out of the workers by outsourcing more and more jobs to labour brokers and weakening the labour laws that are there to protect us from discrimination and abuse.

Employers’ groups like Neasa and the Free Market Foundation are going to the courts to try to undermine collective bargaining. They want to leave workers even more at the mercy of unscrupulous bosses, who want to exploit the desperation of unemployed workers to take a job at any wage at all, to push down wages to the absolute minimum.

The National Development Plan advocates an anti-worker, free-market capitalist economy, which if implemented will sabotage the government’s existing developmental policies like the Industrial Policy Action Plan and National Infrastructure Plan.

This is already slamming the brakes on the ANC’s programme for the 2nd phase of the transition, which is more necessary than ever, to speed up economic growth, build manufacturing industry and create the thousands of decent jobs we so desperately need.
Unemployment at 35.6% in the second quarter of 2014, by the more realistic expanded definition, which leaves out those who have stopped looking for work, means even more people living in poverty, among the jobless themselves and among thousands of employed workers who have to share their meagre earnings with as many as ten dependent unemployed family members.

Half of all employed workers earn R3000 a month or less, meaning that most cannot afford the basic necessities of life. That is why we are determined to press ahead with our campaign for a national minimum wage, as a first step to reduce poverty and narrow the wealth gap.

We still suffer under a two-tier service-delivery regime, where the rich, still predominantly white, elite can pay for world-class security, healthcare and educational facilities, while the poor black majority have to contend with under-resourced, under-staffed, squalid conditions and atrocious levels of service and crime.

Comrades and friends
We also still face the massive problem of crime and corruption, which is eating away at the heart of our democracy. The invasion of alien, capitalist practices into our revolutionary movement - summed up by the notion of “We didn’t struggle to be poor” - is infecting the whole of our society.

While I am here in the North West, I must restate our demand for the release of the report of the task team headed by the late Comrade Sicelo Shiceka, the then minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, into corruption in all municipalities of the North West province.

His report was handed over to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which has stated that they are investigating all those who were named in the document, but until today they say they are still investigating. That report must be handed over to us now. What are they hiding?

The SAPS and NPA must also give us a full explanation of why they have failed to find and prosecute the murderers of Comrade Moss Phakoe, who obtained documents proving the corruption that had been taking place in the Rustenburg municipality and handed them over to the late Sicelo Shiceka, just few days before he was killed for blowing the whistle on corruption.

His killers are known by the police. They must arrest them and tell us why they originally arrested the wrong people and why they lied to the court. The NPA too must explain why they prosecuted the wrong people.

Meanwhile our poor municipalities are collapsing in their face, as proved by the Auditor-General’s latest report which confirmed that all the NW’s 23 municipalities, and the four districts, are not able to produce clean records.

While such practices have their roots in the private sector, where many cases of tender collusion and price-fixing have been proved in the courts, that in no way justifies the same practices being allowed to seep into the public sector and particularly into our revolutionary movement, where too often greedy acquisition of personal wealth is replacing the selfless commitment to serve the people, which was so well personified by Comrade Moses Kotane.

This was graphically illustrated by Comrade Dadoo at his funeral oration in Moscow. “If there is one quality in Moses Kotane which I would single out before all others”, he said, “it was that he was incorruptible. He was incorruptible not only in his politics but also in his personal life. Moses Kotane was a man you knew could never let you down, never do something behind your back, never deceive you. You always knew where you were with Moses Kotane. Sometimes his words were harsh and hurtful, but they were never dishonest.

“He was a hard taskmaster, but only because he put the movement above himself and because he never demanded from others more than he was prepared to do himself. He drove himself to the limit of his endurance, and it is no exaggeration to say that the illness which struck him down was the result of overwork, his refusal to spare himself, his constant and meticulous attention to detail, his willing acceptance of the burden and responsibility of leadership in the great fight for freedom.”

Comrades and friends
How we need such leaders today, to rescue our revolution from those who want to subvert it in order to rob the people who put their faith in them and enrich themselves!

Comrade Moses never lived the good life that so many today think is their right. He was born into poverty, with little formal education. But he was reading, studying and educating himself, while working for the white bosses. This led him to become one of the greatest interpreters of the theories of Marxism-Leninism which he was able to and translate into the language of the workers.

Never did he imagine that this theoretical brilliance entitled him to a big salary. He remained a loyal workers’ representative and always saw the need to talk and listen to the rank and file on the ground. He made this point as early as 1934, when he wrote to the Party leadership what became known as his “Letter from Cradock”, which influenced their policies then and is still highly relevant to COSATU today.
He suggested “that the party becomes Africanised, that the CPSA must pay special attention to South Africa and study the conditions in this country and concretise the demands of the masses from first-hand information, that we must speak the language of the native masses and must know their demands, that while it must not lose its international allegiance, the Party must be Bolshevised and become South African not only theoretically but in reality."

At our 11th COSATU National Congress in 2012, when we discussed building organisational unity, we said something uncannily similar to Moses Kotane’s ‘suggestion’ about the importance of “connecting with our membership”. We agreed on a programme for “rolling out a ‘Members First’ listening campaign, which would include the reinstatement of general meetings in all workplaces, discussions with shop stewards and members on the role of shop stewards, improved servicing, education and training, a recruitment campaign, capacitating provinces and locals and a programme to implement the 2015 Plan.”

Comrade Moses would surely have applauded that resolution, and we should remember his ‘suggestion’ when the COSATU Central Committee convenes in a few weeks time. This, our second highest democratic structure has to “adopt general and specific policy measures which further the aims and objects of the Federation by means of resolution between meetings of National Congresses”.

While welcoming the resolution, I am equally sure that Comrade Moses Kotane would not have been so happy at our lack of progress in implementing it in most areas.
I know that your Local has been very active and done much to implement that resolution. Nationally however, there has been far too little done to take this and other important organisational and political resolutions forward.

As we say in the draft Secretariat Report, “this Sixth Central Committee of COSATU has the important task of restoring COSATU to that proud tradition of ‘democratic and militant trade unionism’ built by our predecessors, an organisational tradition which has been forged out of the blood, and countless sacrifices, of tens of thousands of worker leaders, and millions of ordinary workers.”

It goes on to recall that “when we went into our September 2012 Congress, signs were already emerging that there were major challenges on the horizon. Our Political Report adopted by the COSATU Congress identified a number of these key challenges, and the worker delegates took decisive and progressive resolutions on all the matters identified in the Report.”

“However,” it admits, “most of these resolutions remain unimplemented, because a large part of the two-year period since the Congress has been characterised by internal organisational turmoil and a significant degree of paralysis, by which we mean a situation where the organisation is so consumed by organisational divisions, that it is unable to implement many of its own resolutions.”

This is not just an internal problem. It impacts on our public work. It dents our hard-earned reputation as a fearless voice of the oppressed majority and limits our ability to take forward the revolutionary work to improve the lives of workers and transform society.
More than ever, we need to tread in the footsteps of Moses Kotane and other great leaders, in order to build a strong, fighting COSATU.

By far the best way to remember our Comrade Kotane, is to follow his example of revolutionary leadership, put secondary differences of opinion to the side, reject name-calling of opponents and rumour-mongering and unite behind the class struggle to complete the national democratic revolution which he spent his entire life striving for, and move forward to the creation of a free, socialist world.

Long live the memory of Comrade Moses Kotane, long live!

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

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Fax: +27 11 339-6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za