Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the National Congress of the Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), 26 June 2016, Berea, Johannesburg
Thank you very much for your invitation to attend and address this important national congress which is to adopt a People’s Mining Charter. As you wrote in your invitation letter, today’s date is very significant - the anniversary of the adoption of that other great Charter, The Freedom Charter, which, I fully agree, remains highly relevant, especially the section which declares 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.”
But before coming to some of the specific issues which you are discussing, I cannot avoid saying a few words about the tumultuous events which have been taking place over the past months in Tshwane and elsewhere, which are symptoms of a deepening political crisis in South African society.
The angry scenes around the capital were triggered by the ANC’s internal squabbles about who will be the next Mayoral candidate to the August 3 local government elections. In March this year, six factories were torched in Isithebe in another dispute about who will be the ANC candidates. Before this we have seen ugly scenes of older women bearing it all out to protest against these internal factional battles. Around the EThekwini Metro, scores have been killed. These killings and physical assaults have increasingly become a key feature all over the country.
The key question is why? Why has the competition for positions become so intense leading to these killings and mass destruction of public property including schools? Why have these disputes become more of a feature now inside the ruling party more than in any time in its history? Why was there no fight for leadership positions during the struggle against apartheid and our oppression? When Luthuli and Mandela needed volunteers and soldiers why didn't these Johnny-Come-Latelies step forward?
The answer to this is not difficult to find. Leadership positions within the ANC as a ruling party are increasingly associated with access to, or accumulation of, instant wealth. The principles that founded the liberation movement have been turned upside down. Selflessness is being replaced by selfishness; collectivism is being replaced by ‘me first to hell with everyone else’; better life for all is being replaced by better life for me and my family; people first – batho pele - is being replaced by rampant individualism and self-centeredness; an injury to one is an injury to all is being replaced by an injury to one is an opportunity to another.
The low-intensity war has absolutely nothing to do with the interests of communities or the working class. It’s a war for access to ill-gotten resources; it’s a war to bulldoze one’s way into the feeding trough behind the backs of people that have been promised a better life for all.
What should concern all of us is if the so called comrades do not hesitate to plot to kill one another just to compete on who will occupy positions of leadership, how much more if they face a common ‘enemy’ that they fear will defeat them at the polls and replace them all in the government.
Space is now wide open for common criminals to utilise the space opened by political criminals. This new alliance of criminals does not hesitate to destroy their own public property and to loot foreign-owned businesses which are owned by equally exploited and oppressed working-class people. These are protests against government neoliberal capitalist policies that are responsible for the poor not having jobs, and entire communities living in poverty in the world’s most unequal society.
They do not, unlike you, demand that the Freedom Charter be fully implemented and that the state must intervene to create employment through a job-led industrial strategy, to rescue us from squalor, poverty and hopelessness and bring to life the vision of the Freedom Charter of a country, which genuinely belongs to all who live in it.
That form of positive, peaceful protest is exactly what your organisation is doing to confront one of the biggest challenges which the poor, African majority is facing – the legacy left by the mining industry, which embodied everything that was evil in colonialism and apartheid.
African people were driven off the land by laws such as the 1913 “Native Lands Act”, and “poll taxes” and forced to work in the mines as virtual slaves, in foul unhealthy and dangerous conditions and for poverty pay.
Families were torn apart and workers were herded into barbaric and squalid single-sex hostels, sometimes only getting the chance to go home once in two years.
Thousands died in accidents and thousands more from diseases contracted while working underground. Still today, victims of deadly diseases like silicosis, their partners and their dependent, are battling through the courts to get the compensation they are entitled to, and greedy employers are opposing them at every stage. Good news is that as we end this week, the High Court has dismissed their attempt to appeal against the earlier decision that ruled that mineworkers have every right to sue these conglomerates.
It is not only the workers themselves who have suffered. As you all know only too well, residents of surrounding communities suffered, and continue to suffer, from the destruction of the environment, with poisoning of water supplies and the lack of basic services.
You have continued to lose water sources, such as water tables, wetlands and rivers. You suffer from ever-increasing water and air pollution and soil degradation.
You still suffer the impact of abandoned and un-rehabilitated mines when mining companies disappear or are declared bankrupt in order to avoid paying taxes. At least Aurora, one of the worst offenders, has finally been found guilty, but far too many others have got away with the same kind of conduct.
I also share your great concern at the increasing criminalization of the survivalist Zama-Zamas who are in reality victims of the outrageous 36.7% rate of unemployment and the rising casualisation of labour which leaves thousands so desperate that they will take any work, even as dangerous and insecure as ‘Illegal” mining and accept rock-bottom levels of poverty pay.
Rather than sending them to jail we must recruit them, and thousands of other vulnerable and marginalised workers, into our new trade union federation and help them find secure and decently paid work and human dignity.
Mining companies have adopted tactics of ‘divide and rule’, by doing deals with local traditional leaders over the heads of local communities. That is why I fully agree with your concerns about the corrupt, co-optive, divisive and patronizing nature of mining development in our country.
As you say, communities have always been lied to through the promise of “jobs and economic development of our communities”, but in fact continue to suffer from endemic unemployment and poverty, which in turn foster violence and crime.
I must congratulate you especially on your firm stand against domestic abuse against women and xenophobic violence against our African brothers and sisters.
The new federation we are building is determined to break new ground by looking beyond trade unions’ traditional base of workers in formal employment, and mining affected communities are exactly the sort of people we want to work with.
We are right behind your programme for, among others, the scrapping of the corrupt Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Bill and Phakisa which are undemocratic and top-down ways to marginalise workers and communities in favour of the big monopoly mining companies. As you so accurately say, the MPRDA perpetuates “the system of a player and a referee being one”.
The MPRDA is not anywhere close to what the Freedom Charter demanded. As the NUMSA General Secretary once said in a meeting where we were still trying to convince the ANC to implement the Freedom Charter that the MPRDA which is supposed to transfer mining rights to the government is nothing but telling people that they have an ownership of the tree but the fruits of the tree are owned by someone else in London. We support you in your demand that the tree and its fruits must be transferred to the ownership of the people as whole.
What a shame that 22 years after the democratic breakthrough, communities around the mining towns continue to see the wealth beneath the soil that was taken to them through the barrel of the gun, being taken away to make increasingly foreign-based owners richer than any other time before. We demand more than just crèches, schools, sporting facilities, houses etc. We demand the full implementation of the Freedom Charter.
I hope however that you are proved wrong in assuming that you will be ignored by the Chamber of Mines, the Minister of Mineral Resources, and “a government that always claims to be democratic”. Yes, as always they will do their best to pay diplomatic lip service to your demands while sweeping them under the carpet.
But if you remain united, broaden your support in the communities and unions, and are unwavering in your campaigns, it is a fight we can win. I wish you a highly successful congress and a campaign which if successful will not only transform the lives of mining-affected communities but set an example for all the other poor and exploited communities in South Africa who must adopt your brilliant slogan: Nothing about us without us! As West Africans say, no one can shave a man's head in his absence.
Matla ke warona!
All power to the people!