|Note: This is a speech by Zwelinzima Vavi to the 46th International Convention of the Coalition
of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) in New Orleans May 23 and 24, 2017.
to my brother and comrade, President of the Coalition
of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU),
Rev Terrence L. Melvin. Revolutionary salutes to my big brother Bill
William Lucy, the former President of Coalition
of Black Trade Unionists
CBTU and leading member of the AFL-CIO and AFSCME now trying to enjoy
his well derived retirement.
morning to all of you my dearest sisters, brothers and comrades
gathered here in this historic 46th National Convention of the CBTU.
Let me not forget to also give special greetings to all of your
must confess from the outset, that I am not exactly a stranger to the
CBTU convention! I have had the great pleasure of being with you
before and I am a very proud recipient of an award from your good
selves in recognition on my humble contribution to the struggle to
improve the lives of working people in my country and beyond.
I just say at this point, that asking a recipient of one of your
prestigious awards to return and report back on developments seems to
me to be a very powerful thing to do. Firstly, it provides an
opportunity to update friends and comrades on developments that have
occurred over the last period since we were together. Reporting back
is also a fundamental element of building a democratic culture.
Secondly, it provides an opportunity for us to share what we have
learned as the struggle for emancipation unfolds. In these
challenging times, we have to keep talking and learning from one
another, to think critically about how best we can move forward.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, reporting back provides an
opportunity to assess whether the beliefs we held dear when we were
younger are still relevant today, and are still capable of guiding
our actions for the project to liberate the working class and the
whole of society from the yoke of oppression.
around this room today, I can confidently say that I am amongst
comrades who still hold true to their principles. Comrades who are
still fighting the good fight against all forms of oppression, and
comrades who are determined to see real change, and not just window
dressing or a compromised illusion of change. For these reasons, I
have to say, that I feel very at home amongst you and thank you
I ask that all of you please come home with me to South Africa soon?
Comrades, we need each other!
terms of providing an update on developments in South Africa, many of
you may not have followed the dramatic events that have taken place
there. Last time I was here I was introduced as the General Secretary
of the Congress of South African Trade Unions - COSATU, and now I am
being introduced as the General Secretary of the South African
Federation of Trade Unions. You may well ask, how has this come
cannot answer that question adequately without taking a few more
minutes than my allocated time, and I am pleased therefore to report
that I have successfully negotiated a little extra time to explain
the tragedy taking place in my beloved country.
doing so because you deserve to know. The CBTU played a key role in
coordinating solidarity not only for COSATU but for the ANC and the
liberation movement as a whole. I remember so vividly when you came
to observe the first democratic elections held on the 27 April 1994,
and that produced the first president of the New Democratic Republic
of South Africa. Some of you stayed on until Comrade Nelson Mandela
was inaugurated on the 10 May 1994. We shared tears of joy, and were
full of hope that the liberation of South Africa was on hand, and
that our common struggle against injustice, dating back to the
horrendous enslavement of our fore-mothers and fathers through forms
of utterly barbaric forms of colonialisation of our shared motherland
of Africa, was now to be finally challenged, and its evil legacies
uprooted and in a new chapter of liberation.
was clearly one of the proudest moments, not only for us who live in
Africa, but for all of our sisters and brothers of the African
diaspora everywhere including here in the United States. The defeat
of the apartheid system represented a triumph of the human spirit
against evil. The liberation of South African we hoped, would unleash
a new beginning not only for Africa, but for the marginalized
everywhere. A new beginning to close the widening gap between the
so-called developed North and the chronically under developed South,
but also to encourage and inspire the struggle to end inequality
within each of our countries, including here in the city of New
forces acknowledged that South Africa was amongst the last countries
to be liberated in Africa and therefore had the advantage of
witnessing and learning from the great liberation movements in Africa
and other parts of the world, in the hope that it would ensure that
it did not succumb to the trappings of power, corruption, and the
self aggrandizement of leaders at the expense of the poor and real
social change. Comrades like Chris Hani identified the possibility at
an early stage, and typically and courageously spoke out before his
untimely departure. We now know, from our our own experience, that
Comrade Chris Hani, and so many others who made the ultimate
sacrifice, must be turning in their graves at what they see happening
in the name of emancipation.
what happened? How has that inspiring dream been stolen and betrayed?
Let me try and provide some food for thought on these matters.
generation of leaders of which I was a part committed a grave mistake
in 2005, when we defended a man compromised by allegations of
corruption, and whose key financial adviser took the fall at that
stage and was given a 15 year jail sentence.
continued to support, and elevate a man who is now facing 783 counts
of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering charges, and
helped usher him in to the highest office of our land, as the
President of both the liberation movement, the ANC and of our new
democratic country, under a Constitution that embedded many of the
freedoms we had hitherto been denied.
ask the a question. How did we commit such a blunder. There is no
other way of explaining this except to admit that we were blinded by
the hatred of the pro business neoliberal policies that were advanced
by the former President of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki, and so much so that
we stopped thinking with our heads but our hearts!
the opportunity arose to remove Thabo Mbeki in the ANC National
Conference held in 2007, we had no qualms in forming a broad
coalition of the wounded to install Jacob Zuma who we solemnly
believed would represent the aspirations of workers and the
marginalized in our society.
of us realized within the first few months after he was elevated to
the position of the President that we had committed a grave error! We
started to raise concerns initially very privately and later more
publicly about the direction the country was taking under his
leadership. We raised the alarm as early as March 2010 when it was
clear that he was taking us on a route not just to a deepening of
neo-liberalism, but also towards a Kleptocracy. Could we have stopped
this earlier? Perhaps, but I am sorry to report that removing one
person now, will be totally inadequate. The damage has been done. The
rot has gone too deep and too wild to can be removed by just removing
Zuma was until very recently, working hand in glove with the leaders
of the so called South African Communist Party, who meticulously
invested everything to winning individual leaders of key unions and
other structures through patronage, to dash the hopes of a truly
democratic and liberated South Africa, COSATU which was celebrated by
you and other unionists across the globe as the only reliable force
that combined a powerful class analysis with an ability to mobilize
practical solidarity, and not just for South African workers, but
also our friends in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Cuba, Palestine, Western
Sahara, and many more countries.
2011 divisions on the way forward were entrenched but still under
wraps and not so obvious to outsiders. These divisions played
themselves out during the 11th National Congress held in 2012. Bill
Lucy was amongst those present at that congress. A group of union
leaders representing their own agendas without a mandate, had grown
increasingly uncomfortable with the General Secretary of COSATU. They
together with the leaders of the ANC and South African Communist
Party launched a scathing attack on the Secretariat Report which they
had previously endorsed, which had been drafted in partnership with
them, but that clearly upset their political minders. The report was
presented to the Congress by myself, as the General Secretary as is
very same leaders who had once endorsed the report, now felt that the
report was too candid about the ANC government failures to deliver to
the working class, and was too frank about the weaknesses of the
Federation, and its affiliated unions. This congress took place after
the Marikana massacre where 34 workers lost their lives after
embarking on an unprotected strike demanding a R12500 minimum wage.
Congress was also preceded by another wildcat strike where thousands
of farm workers took to the streets to demand R150 an hour against a
R60 to R80 they were being paid.
these leaders failed abysmally to persuade their own members why the
General Secretary must be removed they vowed first privately, and
then publicly that they will use the smaller structures where they
had power and a slight majority to pursue the objectives they could
not win at National Congress.
they wasted no time. Immediately after the Congress, which gave a
resounding endorsement of the General Secretary and the radical
policies contained in the Report, and then launched an unprecedented
and unattributed attack in the media against the General Secretary.
They made vitriolic allegations that the General Secretary was
corrupt, and acting outside of a mandate, despite what the Congress
attacks included circulating a bogus intelligence report that has now
been wholly discredited that accused the General Secretary of being
an agent of imperialism, especially American imperialism! I hope I do
not have to reassure you here that I have never worked for the CIA or
any other intelligence service!
a CEC asked two prominent individuals with historic links to the
unions to probe all these allegations the accusers simply refused to
cooperate and accelerated their vitriol through the media. The
founding Assistant General Secretary of COSATU pulled together a
small group to coordinate a unity intervention, but this too failed
because they were not interested in unity but were hell bent on
"surgically removing" as they described it themselves, the
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa - NUMSA and the COSATU
General Secretary from COSATU.
when a task team was established by the ANC, led by its Deputy
President, Cyril Ramaphosa to bring about unity and cohesion, they
ignored its appeals and essentially boycotted the proceedings. The
leaders of the pro Zuma faction inside COSATU were so compromised and
enjoyed the support of the dominant ANC faction led by the ANC
President, Jacob Zuma, and the whole-hearted support of the so called
Communist Party led by its General Secretary Blade Nzimande.
the 08 November 2014, 34 members of the COSATU leadership without a
mandate, pushed through a vote to expel 340 000 members of NUMSA from
the Federation which they had been so instrumental in building. A
federation that was so loved by metalworkers! The dominant faction
eventually totally frustrated a renewed ANC intervention and turned
their backs on a third of a million workers at a time when working
class unity was of paramount importance. The COSATU General Secretary
was himself expelled on the 30 March 2015 for refusing to support
this undemocratic and draconian decision.
is worth adding here that NUMSA did everything it could to remain in
COSATU. Comrades must read the document that was submitted by NUMSA
in defense of its right to be critical of ANC policies, and to simply
discuss whether or not it would be endorsing the ANC at the next
election. NUMSA painstakingly refuted every accusation leveled
against it, including that it poached members from other unions.
NUMSA pointed out that under conditions of globalisation and ever
expanding value chains as a result of the restructuring of domestic
and international Capital, union organising scopes were being
redrawn. NUMSA even proposed a way forward for ensuring that
cooperation and not competition between affiliates be the order of
the day. Despite all of this, they were recklessly expelled, to the
detriment of COSATU, and it has to be said the wider working class.
With NUMSA and the General Secretary out of the way, the dominant
COSATU/SACP faction was free to imprison the movement in a series of
class compromises that continue to paralyse it today.
parallel development, those progressive elements who remained in
COSATU and who argued for a more tolerant and inclusive political
culture were isolated and attacked from within. Several unions that
had a long and noble tradition of independence, militancy, internal
democracy and accountability were targeted by the dominant faction,
and were encouraged to deal with dissent within their own ranks. To
their eternal shame, some of the most historically inspiring unions
were transformed almost overnight into little more than lap dogs for
the ruling party, and especially the faction that promised patronage!
When corruption as a result, was exposed on a grand scale by
activists within these unions, they were summarily dismissed, abused
and subjected to treatment more befitting gangsterism than trade
unionism. Worker leaders were shot and killed for daring to demand
forensic audits, and accountability. This is the reality of what we
had to face in those troubling times, and I dare say that most of you
here did not hear about this at the time. Never again must workers
suffer in silence on the alter of political expediency.
this meant in effect, is that hundreds of thousands of workers were
now without a home, and I shall return to their new homecoming
this tragedy was unfolding inside COSATU there was a larger crisis
happening in the country and inside the ANC itself. The ANC youth
structure were also targeted for domestication leading to the
expulsion of its President, Julius Malema and the disbandment of all
structures. The ANC women structure too did not escape so did other
provincial leaders seen to be not supporting the rampant corruption
that had become the feature of the Jacob Zuma presidency. Before we
know it the ANC itself had become so factionalized, so divided and so
weakened that in the last Local Government election it lost three
major metros, Johannesburg, Pretoria/Tshwane and Port
me go back to this programme which is implemented with military
precision to domesticate and hollow out not only the organs of
people's power but key institutions that support our constitutional
democracy and the state owned enterprises. This was done through a
combination of abusing a revolutionary concept of cadre deployment in
key strategic institutions or an outright undermining and
discrediting institutions that could not be controlled including such
institutions as the office of the Public Protector and the Judiciary.
whole project to hollow out institutions had only one aim which is
the enforcement of the project to create a predatory state whose only
reason for existence will be to accumulate and plunder the country's
resources for the benefit of family of Jacob Zuma as the matrimonial
of this era but the networks of greedy corrupt other families
benefiting from this crony capitalism.
all this was unfolding the material conditions of the workers and
Black people were worsening.
growing number of the remaining jobs are insecure and low-paid, as
casualisation and exploitation by labour brokers continue unabated,
creating a growing army of vulnerable and powerless workers. Many
employers are trying to sabotage collective bargaining and drive
down wages to the lowest level which desperate workers are prepared
economy is still dominated
by monopolies owned by a still mainly white and male capitalist
class, which uses the wealth created by workers’ labour to
enrich themselves. Another section of their class, and their
cronies in the public service, has become a predatory elite of
thieves, turning our country into a kleptocracy where public funds
are corruptly stolen to enrich a greedy few.
is chaos and corruption in numerous state-owned enterprises,
including Eskom, SAA, Prasa, PetroSA and Transnet.
economy has been down-graded to junk status. Government ministers
behind today's political and economic carnage have tried to downplay
the impact of being placed on a junk status. One truth that can't be
disputed is that they as individuals will hardly be affected, but
the workers who have been in a junk status for 500 years can't
afford worsening of the current crisis.
ruling ANC is paralysed and divided into factions, hiding behind
empty words about radical economic transformation while continuing
with the neoliberal economic policies which are further entrenching
the power and wealth of the monopoly capitalists and taking us
further from the ideals of the historic mission.
these problems, as always, affect the working class and the poor the
most. Yet existing union federations, which ought to be leading a
fightback are failing abysmally. This was most starkly exposed when
they agreed with government and business to an insulting R3 500 or
about $269 a month or about $1.6 an hour minimum wage, which will do
nothing to lift workers and their families from their present
with the reality that COSATU has been totally captured by the ANC
politics of divisions, we only as a very last resort created a New
Federation. History was made when the South African Federation of
Trade Unions (SAFTU) was launched on 21-23 April 2017 and it has
already made a big impact on the country's political and labour
700 000 members from 24 unions, SAFTU is already the second biggest
workers’ federation after COSATU; and nearly 20 other unions
have already shown interest in affiliating; some are just waiting for
a mandate from their structures.
pathetic plight of the once mighty COSATU could not have been better
illustrated than the recent fiasco where they were forced to end
their rally on the most important day of the workers’ year, May
Day, when they had to scuttle from the stage without uttering a word,
as their own members demanded that President Zuma must go.
exactly the same time SAFTU members were marching in their thousands
in the streets of Durban. As one federation was dying a new one was
springing to life.
is the price the COSATU leadership - and more importantly their
working-class members - are having to pay for the leadership becoming
an appendage of the ruling ANC and getting embroiled in its bitter
factional fights, in which neither side stands up for the workers but
both represent different factions of neoliberalism and capitalist
exploitation that has created the current and worsening material
conditions of the working class.
NUMSA pointed out the dangers of COSATU locking itself into a
subservient relationship with the ruling party and government they
were expelled. COSATU refuses to acknowledge that both the ANC
factions may we add together with the SACP and COSATU itself have
long been captured by the white monopoly capital they purport to be
fighting. The current neoliberal and austerity programme is the
trophy that capital has secured. COSATU seeks to replace a butcher of
the working class with another one. COSATU is trying to serve the
master and the slave at the same time, hence it is now imploding,
disintegrating and toothless.
immense challenge now facing SAFTU is to revive the hopes of the
working class, build a vibrant, independent, and democratic workers’
movement, and take up the struggle for the total emancipation of the
working class from the chains of its capitalist oppressors.
must prioritise recruitment of the three quarters of workers who are
not in any trade union but are generally the most vulnerable, and
marginalized workers who have the greatest need of a trade union.
achieve all this the launching Congress committed itself to a set of
basic principles, which include:
from both employers (in the private and public sector) and political
parties, though this does not mean that unions are apolitical. We
on policies in the interests of the working class and the poor.
Congress has already identified key ares for campaigning, including
saving jobs, fighting for free education, the national health
insurance scheme, land to be restored to the people, the end to
abuse of farm workers, defense of collective bargaining and the
nationalization of the banks in particular the Reserve Bank, the
mineral wealth and key industrial monopolies.
unions will be worker-controlled and based on democracy,
accountability and transparency, with an insistence on mandates
from, and reporting back to, the membership in order to unite
workers by democratic means and not by dictatorship from the top.
SAFTU for the maximum unity of all workers and rejecting all
divisive and negative sentiments such as racism, xenophobia,
tribalism and ethnicity, all of which are the product of the
capitalist system which exploits divisions within the working class.
We shall welcome and recruit migrant workers.
self-sufficiency and accountability, and opposition, in word and
deed, to business unionism, corruption, fraud and maladministration
within our own ranks.
high priority on international solidarity with workers in struggle.
are determined that these principles must not just be slogans, but a
guide to action. Time is not on, our side. If workers cannot turn the
tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we
shall slide into a new age of barbarism, exploitation of the working
class and the poor.
need your support comrades. We need each other. We can challenge
capitalism, and we can advance towards a more equitable society. But
only through honest, open, transparent and mandated collective
action. Lets rebuild a democratic global trade union movement, to be
a living example, a microcosm if you like, of the world we want to
help build for our children, and our children's children.