Zwelinzima Vavi's letter to Chris Hani

COSATU GS reports on the state of SA 19 years after the SACP leader's death

Zwelinzima Vavi's letter to Chris Hani on the 19th Anniversary of his Death

Mthunzi uzimele!
General Secretary of our vanguard party - SACP
Chief of staff of our glorious army - Umkhonto Wesizwe
Leading member of our people's movement - ANC

It was on this day 19 years ago, that you were brutally gunned down outside your home in Dawn Park.

Your death continues to strike a very sensitive chord amongst the working people of this country, who saw in you their liberator and a general who was committed to leading them to their own version of a land of milk and honey.

Your death marked an immeasurable loss sustained not only to the poor in this unequal land called South Africa, but to many others across the world, who came to appreciate your role and immense contribution in one of the most dramatic events of the 20th century - the fall of apartheid.

Indeed 10 April 1993 was effectively the day that Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa. He used his iconic status correctly to call for peace and averted an imminent civil war and more bloodletting. For this we will forever be indebted to our stalwart and hero Madiba.

It was on this day that you took your last leap and met your untimely death at the hands of those who hated peace and enjoyed an enduring affair with counter-revolution and anti-communism.

One of the deepest scars on the visage of our democracy is the reality that a soldier like you, who toiled and laboured to ensure that the people's thirst for equality and justice is quenched, had his life brutally taken away at such a defining moment of our struggle against apartheid and capitalism.

Although your assassination sent shockwaves across the world and paralysed many of those who saw in you a true representative of mass power, we have come to appreciate that as a revolutionary who fully understood the deep hatred possessed by those who have an immortal hatred for communism and its principles of equality and justice, you had made peace with the fact that there are only two results in a revolution: death or victory.

Your life continues to inspire new generations of South Africans, a glittering example of a courageous revolutionary leader of his people, personifying the noblest principles and finest traditions of our liberation and socialist movement - selflessness as against self centeredness, collective leadership as against personality cult, solidarity as against survival of the fittest, sacrifice for common good as against greed and individualism.

All of us, particularly those of us who speak in the name of the working class, are duty bound to learn from what you taught us so well and strive to emulate your record of service to the people.

You departed at perhaps one of the most difficult moments of our struggle against apartheid when the enemy camp in the form of the apartheid regime and all its supporters was waging an onslaught on our people and making several disastrous changes to the economy.

The widespread privatization, which has robbed many poor people of their hard-won citizenship rights in a democratic South Africa - was a trend the white minority regime initiated in its last days.

At the same time, the regime also launched a massive offensive against our people and made use of force and death squads, in collaboration with the IFP, to force our people into surrender and submission.

The Boipatong massacre, whose 20th anniversary we will be commemorating in June this year, is one of the most painful chapters in our history where our people were stabbed, maimed and butchered by the enemy camp as part of its dirty tricks.

We remain convinced that your assassination was part of this greater plot to cajole our people and its movement into capitulation. Your brutal assassination led to the death of your father in our struggle O.R. Tambo who could not stomach the images of your body and blood on television. Your own biological parents soon departed. No parent would like to see his own offspring in a pool of blood on national television.

Tshonyane, we are certain that you will find comfort in the knowledge that the working class in this country is still a fighting class, forever engaged in a battle to reclaim the means of production and ultimately free humanity from the burdens of capitalism.

The working class in South Africa today remains as militant as it was when you departed from the land of the living. I am certain that you were watching with pride and envy on 7 March 2012; you could not have failed to see the strength of our workers' movement, as thousands of the poor rallied on the streets of more than 30 towns and cities behind COSATU's call for the banning of labour brokers and the cancellation of the e-tolling system.

Over two million workers stayed off work and hundreds of thousands demonstrated against this modern-day from of slavery and the highway robbery of e-tolling, showing you that the working class remains as radical as it was when if fought the apartheid's regime's introduction of a Value Added Tax (VAT) on basic foodstuffs, healthcare and essential services.

We speak without fear of contradiction that this massive show of strength by the people was a clear referendum against the stranglehold that capitalists have over our country and our economy, and their policies such as GEAR, privatisation and commodification of basic services.

It was a clear message and reminder to the government of the Freedom Charter principle that no government shall assert its authority on the people without their consent.

We have no doubt that were you alive today, you would have formed part of the picket line calling for the banning of labour brokers and an end to the privatisation of our roads. You would also have been in the forefront of the protests in our poorest communities against the lack of service delivery.

There is no doubt in our hearts that you would be impressed by the strides that the ANC has made in the transformation of the lives of many South Africans. We have one of the world`s most democratic constitutions, a bill of rights, and a constitutional court which checks that the laws and courts comply with that Constitution.

Over 2.5 million houses have been built for the poor, giving shelter to over ten million people. 6 million households have gained access to clean water since 1994 and electricity has been connected to nearly 5 million homes. In 1994, only 62% of households had access to clean drinking water - today 93% do.

Today 77% of the households have access to decent sanitation and 84% have access to electricity. By 2010, 14.5 million people were receiving social grants. Tshonyane you would be very impressed by this progress registered in 17 short years.

Despite these great achievements however, some the struggle remains an uphill climb and only the working class is capable of leading us out of the web.

As we commemorate the 19th anniversary of your assassination, the capitalist class across the world continues to mount unprecedented attacks on the living standards of the working class and the poor.

Tshonyane, many of us, the working poor, are still super-exploited and continue to labour for a pittance in the factories and the farms that give our bosses millions and millions in profits. 

Approximately 35% of adult men and women are rendered idle by unemployment.  Most worrying is that 72% of these are young people between 15-36 years of age and 60% have less than secondary education. 

There remains a stark racial element to unemployment. A 2002 study found that despite similar qualifications, whites are on average 30% more likely to be employed than Africans. 

It is this high unemployment that condemns many of us to a life of indignity. This unemployment has turned many healthy workers into beggars, who have to knock on relatives' doors for their next meal.

The struggle for jobs is still intricately linked to the challenge to build a more equitable and just society. South Africa's wage gap is one of the highest in the world, and is still growing.

Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson in 2010 took home the highest-ever monthly earnings ever recorded in a single year - an unbelievable R627.53 million in salary, perks and share options. All this whilst workers in the same company earn between a minimum of R1800 and R4000 depending on whether you are labour broker employed or a so-called permanent worker!

The brazen exploitation of the masses of the people by the mine owners, the land barons and farmers and the greedy retail giants in this country remind us of the reasons why we find it so hard to forget you.

From the mines of Rustenburg and Kimberley to the clothing factories of Durban and Cape Town, the militant working class remembers and misses you dearly.

Just like unemployment, inequality is also racialised. While black South Africans` salaries increased by 38% between 1995 and 2008, the incomes of white South Africans rose by 83.5%!

The warning you issued just a few years before your death that failure to properly address the HIV and AIDS would "result in untold damage and suffering by the end of the century" was precise.

Your children, those for whom you crossed borders and lay your head in distant lands, continue to die of HIV and AIDS.

Although government has managed to make antiretroviral treatment available to over a million people, the rate of infection is still far too high.

We know that you would be furious to learn that while South Africa has less than 1% of the world's population, it still has 17% of people living with HIV/Aids, the highest incidence in the world. And that life expectancy rates are falling and now stand at 56 for women and 51 for men. The death rate has doubled in nine years!

We remain convinced that if that bullet did not end your life so early and in such crucial time South Africa would have not lost 10 years to HIV and AIDS denialism during which 350 000 people died including many leading cadres of your movement.

These grim statistics are part of the broader battle between the two main contending classes in South Africa and indeed the world. It is a battle that we intend to win!

The legacy of apartheid is seen by simply looking at the festering sore of underdevelopment and poverty that plagues the former Bantustans. The poor education system that children in townships and rural areas are subjected to is a constant reminder of the damage that apartheid inflicted on the working class.

I had an opportunity to drive frequently in the former Transkei Bantustan recently. Whilst it is clear that strides have been made to improve the lives of our people there is no doubt that it still resembles a labour reserve area that the apartheid regime designed.

We can be certain that you would today have been mobilising the comrades to debate the ANC policy documents in the run-up to its policy conference and national conference. You would have pointed to the scale of our challenges and rallied us all to unite behind progressive changes in policy demanded by the working class and the poor.

We know that throughout the years that you served the movement, modesty is one of the character traits you are revered for. You would have greatly disapproved of the spate of careerism plaguing the movement today and condemned the preoccupation with leadership contests.

When many were angling for the corridors of power in a new democratic South Africa, you, the people's commissar, chose instead to continue in service of the working class as the General Secretary of the party of socialism - the South African Communist Party.

Responding to some who expressed shock at this decision you courageously retorted:

"The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody would like to have a good job, a good salary.....but for me that is not the be-all of struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle... the real problems of the country are not whether one is in Cabinet ...but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our country."

If only there were more cadres like you today! If only the revolution could continue to produce cadres defined by selflessness as opposed to egocentrism and the desire to serve the people as opposed to using the movement as a step-ladder to their careers!

In these trying times when the people's movement is at war with itself - where labelling and innuendos, careerism and opportunism, patronage, selective justice, cherry-picking on corruption and the criminalisation of dissent, leaks and character assassinations, pigeonholing and casting aspersions are all at their peak - we remember that you too were once subjected to unspeakable treatment from those who could not withstand the truth contained in what we today call the Hani memorandum.

As a fierce democrat in your own right, we are certain that rather than throwing foul-smelling labels at fellow comrades merely because they share different views about the tempo and direction of our struggle, you would instead encourage widespread debate and discussion.

We know this because history teaches us that Hani the commander was an ardent believer in the notion of the battle of ideas and like many communists of similar calibre, believed that a healthy political environment requires that "a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend".

We know through your own example that you would have encouraged young people to continue to be militant and be intolerant of their today's economic circumstances of unemployment and a faltering education system that marginalises millions, labour brokering, etc. you would have insisted on discipline and respect for older comrades. 

We know you would not have allowed the type of ill-discipline we saw and chose to conveniently ignore because it was directed at others we disagreed with. That standing on a chair and shouting down older comrades would have not happened of you were around. You would have been amongst those who insisted at the ANC NGC the ill-discipline must end.

You would be in the forefront of efforts to renew our glorious movement and challenge the new cultures that threaten its very existence. We know you would mobilise the masses of the people to battle against the self enrichment programmes currently underway.

You would have been in the opposition to the new class of tenderpreneurs. You would have confronted blossoming factionalism that is tearing our movement apart.

You would have condemned the mediocrity these factions impose on our people and we know you would have decried the roll-overs that rob the poor of the services they are yearning for.

You would not have tolerated those failing to spend infrastructure budgets just because they are in a faction you support.

The struggle against social injustice, poverty and deprivation can only be won through mass mobilisation and a united front, dedicated to putting an end to the capitalist honeymoon that we have been experiencing since 1994.

You were the most ardent spokesperson of the poor and the most unapologetic commander of the oppressed, who defined his destiny as synonymous with the destiny of the working class of this country.

For this reason, you were simultaneously the best friend of the working class and enemy number one of the capitalist class which continues to steal the wealth created by those who till the soil with the sickle in the farms and operate the grinding machines in the factories.

Your deeds and principles will forever inspire us to advance the struggle against capitalism, and imperialism to the highest levels.

Commander, teacher, comrade, leader, revolutionary and martyr, the working class in this beautiful country wishes to assure you that we will continue to train new soldiers who are willing and able to give battle to the twin enemies of the people - capitalism and its higher stage which is imperialism.

We miss you Tshonyane

Comradely yours

Zwelinzima Vavi

Issued by COSATU, April 10 2012

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