COSATU should learn from Solidarity

Phumlani Majozi writes on his recent visit to the new Sol-Tech campus

Two weeks ago, I visited Solidarity headquarters and Sol-Tech. Solidarity is a labour union and movement that owns Sol-Tech, a new technology college campus in Monument Park, Pretoria. This was at the invitation of a fine gentleman, the CEO of Solidarity, Dirk Hermann.

The visit was a thrilling experience, I must say. I learned a lot about the structures of the Solidarity movement and its functions. Over lunch, Dirk briefed me on the new Sol-Tech campus – how it came about - and what the future plans are by Solidarity. And the future plans are big, as they want to build a new university campus.

Sol-Tech “is an accredited, private vocational training college based on Christian values and uses Afrikaans as a medium of instruction”, their website explains. The college's specialisation is on scarce skills in the field of technology. These are the skills that South Africa is in desperate need of at this time.

With my visit, I wanted to understand how Sol-Tech was established and how it works on a basic level. I like it, because it is a private institution built by Solidarity members, not a government institution. 

Dirk told me that Solidarity members who contributed membership fees to the building of the college get first priority on admissions – which instantly made sense to me. But he did stress that every South African can apply to the college; but when it comes to admissions, Solidarity members come first.

What is also moving about Sol-Tech, is that it was built ahead of schedule and under budget. Unlike government projects that waste taxpayer’s money by theft and misallocations, and miss their schedule. With this completed, remarkable new project, Solidarity and its members have done a brilliant job in advancing South Africa’s education.

The college principal, Dr Philip Minnaar, took me through a tour of workshop rooms where students do their practicals. The equipment I saw there is world class. I was impressed.

Dirk said to me that Solidarity sees itself as a modern labour union. The union believes it is vital for it to modernize as labour unions continue to decline around the world.  

Solidarity is not a socialist union as most unions are in South Africa, Dirk told me. They strongly believe in investing in their members. They care more about enhancing the productivity of their members, than demanding higher wages as other unions tend to do in South Africa. Their members must be skilled and competitive in a world that demands a more highly skilled workforce. That, I think, is a brilliant mindset.

I asked Dirk what the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) says about the great work Solidarity has done and is doing. He tells me COSATU says that building an educational institution or educational institutions is the government's responsibility.

I was not surprised to hear that’s what COSATU thinks. COSATU is clouded by the despicable, failed socialist ideology. Why does it have to be the function of the state to build educational institutions? We know how corrupt, inefficient and incompetent the state is. We can build our own educational institutions as private citizens. 

I have encouraged, and encourage, South Africans to establish their private educational institutions. That is the society we should strive for - where there are more and more private educational institutions.

I have repeatedly echoed that COSATU, with the ruling party the African National Congress (ANC), have been instrumental in the destruction of this country. Supporting corrupt politicians and stalling pro-market economic reforms that would boost South Africa’s economic growth.

COSATU is heavily involved in politics at the expense of advancing the interests of their members. Why can't they do what Solidarity does for its members? What stops them?

COSATU is a big trade union federation . It can do bigger things than Solidarity. Yet its leaders have chosen to turn the organization into a political movement that slows South Africa's socio-economic progress. 

As I said in my interview with the Centre for Risk Analysis (CRA) last December, I have no issues with labour unions. They can exist in a democratic society. It is the ANC government that must stop sleeping in the same bed with them – with COSATU to be specific.

There are serious problems brought by the current ANC government’s alliance with labour unions. This alliance harms the potential for market-oriented economic reform in South Africa.

The great work I saw at Solidarity can be done by any labour union in South Africa. The stumbling block is that these unions possess a destructive socialist ideology. The thinking that the free market system is evil and exists to exploit the worker. Their involvement in politics makes things worse for South Africa's society.

The COSATU leadership must hold an urgent meeting with Solidarity - so it takes lessons on how to advance the interests of its members and of South Africa.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi