COSATU General Secretary's Speech to the NUM Central Committee, 2 June 2011
President Senzeni Zokwana
General Secretary Frans Baleni
Members of the National Executive Committee
Leaders and cadres of the NUM gathering here in your capacity as the Central Committee
Comrades and friends
As always it is a great honour to be invited to address the union that produced me, and bestowed me with the highest honour to serve as the General Secretary of the mighty workers' federation - COSATU. A mere association with the NUM is an honour, most of all if you were its member, shaft steward, organiser and leader, as I have been.
The National Union of Mineworkers is a home for progressive thinking, the first union to adopt the Freedom Charter in 1987 and the perhaps the most vehement opponent of narrow workerism as a trade union strategy. Indeed one of the things engrained in NUM's history are the strides that the union has been making in forging a revolutionary and transformative social movement unionism, foundations were laid by such giants as JB Marks, Moses Kotane and Leslie Massina.
This giant union of COSATU remains the biggest union in South Africa and the biggest union with a paid-up membership in the African continent. This is the union of Elijah Barayi, JB Marks, Sam Ntambane and Selby Mayise and I am so honoured that you gave me an opportunity to come back home to address you again.
Comrades and friends,
We are aware that this Central Committee sits immediately after the crucial decision was taken by the provisional liquidators of Aurora Empowerment Systems to terminate its interim trading contract to run the Orkney and Grootvlei mines. Indeed we should applaud this decision, in particular the order that compels Aurora to restore the mines to the condition they were in when they took them over from DRD Gold, and to vacate the premises immediately.
We also share your sentiments that companies like Aurora have no place in a democratic South Africa. This company owes many of your members millions of rands in unpaid wages and has left them with virtually no income for two years. It has condemned the workers and their families to hunger and misery. So great was the misery of these workers that one even resorted to taking his own life.
We demand that government must launch an investigation into both Aurora and the dismissed liquidators - Enver Motala from SBT Trust and Gavin Gainsford from KPMG. The investigators must look into allegations that the company, with the connivance of the liquidators, were asset-stripping the mines by looting and selling off equipment, and find out whether the liquidators received kick-backs for turning a blind eye to this. The numerous breaches of the labour laws committed by this company must also be investigated.
Comrades and friends,
If anything, the Aurora disaster should serve as a lesson to us that capital, whether black or white, cares about nothing but profit. It is a clear lesson that leaving the means of production in private hands and to the workings of the market will yield nothing for the working class in this country.
The Freedom Charter demand that "the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole" becomes even more relevant with the experience of Aurora cases. As we commemorate the 56th anniversary of this historic document this month, we must be steadfast that our people will only experience true liberation once we realise the central tenets of the Freedom Charter as a minimal programme of the NDR.
Comrades and friends,
This Central Committee is taking place immediately after the local government elections. The ANC victory in these elections is worth celebrating. Once more the NUM played a pivotal role in ensuring this victory. Once more you were there in flesh and blood making a huge difference that has still to be fully acknowledged. Thank you for making me a proud member of your union and of your revolutionary federation.
These elections took place at a time when the capitalist system is experiencing a serious crisis and at a time when the working class's standard of living is being plunged further into the ground. It took place amidst a devastating job-loss bloodbath in the wake of the worldwide recession. From the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2010 we lost 1.17 million jobs, plunging 5.85 million more family members of those jobless workers into the ranks of the poorest of the poor.
We campaigned in these elections amidst an ever-escalating crisis of unemployment, which continue to condemn millions to poverty, squalor and disease.
We campaigned with the full knowledge that 1.875 million families still live in shacks. As workers and community members we know only too well the humiliating reality of slum housing, lack of basic services and infrastructure.
We perfectly understood the brewing anger of many communities at the slow pace of delivery and the oblivion of some of our councillors and public representatives to this.
Explaining why is it that the majority of people are denied quality education for their children in our public schools, or decent healthcare in our public hospitals, while a small, mainly while elite can pay for world-class educational and healthcare services was a daunting task.
We campaigned in these elections with the burden of consciousness about the fact that South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world today with workers' share of national income continuously declining from 56% in 1995 to 51% by 2009, where 50% of the population lives on only 8% of national income.
It was even more difficult to explain the growth of opulence in the county and the fact that the number of South African billionaires has nearly doubled, from 16 in 2009 to 31 in 2010, when the country's 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth.
We had to explain why it is that Pine Pienaar, the CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, made R63 million in 2009, thus earning 1875 times as much as the average worker.
The poor sought to understand why is it that on average the poorest 10% of earners get R1275 a month, which is 0.57% of total earnings, while the top 10% get R111 733, which is 49.2% of the total!
As the NUM you are only too familiar with these questions. Because of globalisation, the crisis that hit the world's largest economies has had a ripple effect on the workers that you organise. The integration of the mining into the global economy and the declining commodity prices as caused by the global capitalist crisis has had a devastating impact on your members. Many of your members are still to benefit from this democracy and many still await the realisation of the Freedom Charter demand for secure and comfortable housing.
These reasons explain why the recent elections were such an uphill climb for us. But despite these setbacks and harsh realities, the people spoke and gave the ANC a 62% overall victory in these elections.
Opposition parties and ‘independents' tried desperately to exploit the people's anger, but could offer no real alternative and were overwhelmingly rejected by most voters. Analysts deliberately found no connection between the anger expressed by the people and the broader and real capitalist crisis, combined with a failure by our movement to confront the ruling class.
They know that without restructuring the economy and ensuring an end to the white domination of the economy, without developing a new growth path to move the economy away from the domination of the mining and finance complex, this government will not succeed to ensure real redistribution of wealth and that all its delivery mechanisms will be confined to the periphery - water, electricity and RDP houses, important these as they are.
They know that the status quo has not been threatened in any way for the past 17 years. Their condemnation of the ANC is not based on the interests of the majority and or demands of the Freedom Charter.
Now that the ANC has won, despite their predictions, these analysts have tried hard to convince themselves that the party with 62%, despite these economic challenges, has lost and that the one with 23% has won. The confidence of the black working class in the ANC flies in the face of those who seek to attribute the fact that the black working class majority still votes for the ANC to some nostalgic national liberation symbolism and history.
They now condemn black people and Africans in particular for voting for the ANC and heap praises for the white minority for succeeding in luring other minorities and a small minority of Africans to vote for their party which they see as evidence of a maturing democracy.
It is a measure of the standing of the ANC that even in these poorest of the poor communities, the majority stayed loyal to their ANC. Our people know that notwithstanding the economic challenges they face, South Africa today is better than yesterday. Moreover they know that only the ANC stands a better chance to drive a programme that will ensure true emancipation including at the economic level.
Contrary to the claims made by the prophets of doom, this is a strong message of recognition of the strides made by the ANC government in providing over 3.1 million houses to the poor and thus giving shelter to 15 million people, electrifying five million homes and giving six million households access to potable water. Working class votes for the ANC are an acknowledgment of the strides made in expanding social security to benefit 15 million people and a commitment to provide more treatment to people living with HIV.
Comrades and friends
Even so, we need to start asking tough questions after these elections. Chest thumping and denialism will only lead to complacency. The people have given us a clear and categorical message - their vote is not unconditional! They have told us that we must pull our socks up and not take their vote for granted. They want to see a movement hard at work changing their lives for the better.
They have told us that they hate divisions and factionalism that consume all the energies of leaders instead of using every ounce of our strength to build a better life for all! They have told us that they are sick and tired of inefficiency at all government levels, mainly caused by our slate politics that have sidelined talented individuals in favour of those who come from the more powerful factions.
They are tired of the endless leadership contests that are so removed from the need to confront poverty, unemployment, growing inequalities. They have told us they are not preoccupied with 2012 but with their plight. They have told us they hate corruption with passion, for they know it is all about stealing from them, the poor, to feed the elite with political connections. They told us they are tired of seeing us displaying our opulence in expensive parties and weddings whilst they starve to death.
A number of them told us that they have lost faith in us and our lack of leadership on critical societal challenges. Some of these have chosen to protest at our lack of focus and did not vote. The did not vote for the DA, for they remain loyal and they love their movement, but feel at this stage, 17 years after the democratic breakthrough that they must register that they are not happy.
These elections were a huge wake-up call to the ANC-led liberation movement. The writing is on the wall - read and act! If there is one message that we should heed to from these elections is that the national liberation symbolism and history will eventually wane and mean nothing to a hungry stomach and that there will always be readily available opportunist parties like the DA willing to prey on our people's hopes and aspirations for a better life, including appropriating the liberation symbols that they rejected not so long ago.
COSATU looks forward to the investigations the ANC has promised into allegations of abuse of the candidate selection process and will support the removal of councillors who were appointed as candidates without the consent of their branches and/or their communities.
We are also fully behind our affiliate SAMWU, in its courageous battle to expose corruption and bring the offenders to justice. We will continue to insist that in return for the union's decision to suspend its planned industrial action until after the elections, the ANC leadership must honour its commitment to take up the issues raised by SAMWU, particularly the reinstatement of whistle-blowers.
Comrades and friends,
You are holding this Central Committee on the eve of the COSATU Central Committee and a few months away from the ANC policy and elective conferences and SACP's 13th National Congress in 2012.
You are also holding this conference under the befitting theme aimed at securing a living wage for workers and unity of the movement as a whole, as we approach the 30th anniversary of NUM, the 90th anniversary of the SACP and the centenary of the ANC.
These important milestones come at an interesting time globally. In Latin America, we have seen the emergence of left parties, pushing a radical agenda. We have seen developing countries challenging the hegemony of the West around trade and other matters.
At the same time however, left parties in Europe are facing a backlash from the very working class, resulting in the re-emergence of rightwing/conservative parties. In North Africa and the Middle East we have witnessed a popular revolt in demand of democracy and eradication of poverty and unemployment. We have seen the naked aggression and unilateralism of the imperialist powers exploiting the people's anger for regime change agendas in Libya. In fact in Ivory Coast, France has already installed its favourite following a disputed presidential election.
All of these cannot be separated from the global configuration of power. Needless to say, we continue to pay a huge price for the demise of the Soviet Union.
All this forces us to ask serious questions about the options that we should be pursuing as a country to avoid being caught in the same trap that left parties in Europe are in. It forces us to think seriously about the nature of societal change that we seek and how to achieve this.
Part of what the COSATU and your very own Central Committee should do is to make a thorough analysis of the many phases we have undergone since Polokwane in 2007.
We have repeatedly said that we currently have seen the ascendance of a new tendency that seeks to polarise the Alliance and weaken the ANC for its own narrow economic advancement. In advancing this agenda, this new tendency adopts the most spectacular and unprincipled demagogic political rhetoric in order to obscure its true objective - for material gain, corruption and looting.
They know for any project and regime change agenda to work you must speak the popular language of the masses and present yourself as their Messiah. You cannot tell the workers and the poor the truth that you real ambition is accumulation and more and more expensive bourgeois lifestyle and opulence; you have to talk their language even though everything you are about is accumulation and self-centeredness.
The truth is that there has been a failure to appreciate the dangers associated with this tendency. The SACP's approach to key questions around economic transformation, nationalisation and the type of economic development path we need to bolster working class confidence in fighting capital has been anything but desirable.
The Post-Polokwane ANC leadership has also committed some serious mistakes, ranging from dithering and steering clear of taking bold decisions, openly attacking the workers' federation and a failure to consistently drive the Polokwane resolutions and the five priorities of the 2009 Elections Manifesto.
We have seen in the recent past how the ANC leadership has been twisting its tongue on the decent work agenda, on the remilitarisation of the police and recently their failure to act against clear acts of corruption or improper conduct by state ministers and other senior leaders of the movement.
All of these are signals of disintegrating left forces in the Alliance. This disintegration disarms us in terms of waging a concerted class battle against the predatory elite in the state and the Alliance, and to capture the mood in society and drive a radical left project that will place us on a better footing towards the 2014 elections. We must ponder these issues honestly and with a self-critical eye, seeking no glory or praise from anyone!
Another sign of this disintegration of the left is the statement issued this week by the National Committee of the YCL, alleging the existence of a faction in COSATU and making a baseless claim that unnamed individuals in COSATU, NUMSA and SADTU harbour an agenda to attack the SACP, in particular its General Secretary with the intent to remove him from his position.
There can be no more crucial time when we need better cohesion and unity amongst the working class formations than now. That unity can only be attained if we confront whatever differences we have through principled open debates. As far as I know, there is no attack of the SACP orchestrated by any individual or faction within the federation.
What exists is a difference of opinion on whether it is helpful for the SACP and the struggle for socialism to have a General Secretary who is not full-time in the head offices of the SACP. This is not an attack; this is not an agenda of a regime change. This is a principled stance COSATU as whole has adopted. It is not a view of any individual but a decision taken by the collective leadership of the federation.
We must learn to manage differences of opinion more and avoid at all cost resorting to name-calling and labelling when confronted with a genuine disagreement. Attempts to isolate those who speak on behalf of a collective are not a solution. It is no different to the 1996 class project's intolerance and contempt for democratic debates and airing of views.
We urge this Central Committee to assert that a united left, buttressed by mass power, is the only defence that we have against all forms of hostile attack from our detractors and class enemies. It is only through mass campaigns and struggle that we can advance the National Democratic Revolution and weaken capitalist and imperialist dictatorship.
It is also only through this that we can safeguard the Alliance against those who wish to use it as a conduit for anti-working class policies. Failure to do this will result in the working class searching for other alternatives, as it has begun to do in other parts of the world such as Europe, including the most conservative of forces.
We wish you a successful Central Committee that is honest and frank about the challenges we face.
Issued by COSATU, June 2 2011
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