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Address By ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at Cosatu's 30th Anniversary Celebrations Curries Fountain, Durban

5 December 2015

President of COSATU, Comrade Sdumo Dlamini General Secretary of COSATU, Comrade Bheki Ntshalintshali General Secretary of the SACP, Comrade Blade Nzimande Leadership of the ANC, SANCO and the Progressive Youth Alliance Comrades and friends,

It is with immense joy and a deep sense of pride that I stand here today on behalf of the African National Congress to celebrate with you three decades of the life, struggle and resilience of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

For 30 years, COSATU has been at the forefront of the struggles of workers, the poor and the marginalised.

This anniversary celebration takes place exactly two years since the passing away of President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who was the first recipient of COSATU's highest honour, the Elijah Barayi Award.

Addressing COSATU's 8th National Congress in 2000, Madiba saluted COSATU for the many victories the federation had won for all South Africans.

He said:

"Within those alliances of forces working for fundamental transformation and a better life for all, the organisation of the workers have a crucial role to play, ensuring that the poor and the working people remain at the centre of our national efforts, thinking, planning and execution."

For Madiba - and for the ANC - the struggle of our people to be free could never be separated from the demands and aspirations of workers.


The city of Durban occupies a special place in revival of trade unionism in our country.

It was the Durban dockworkers who, in 1973, inspired the spontaneous groundswell of strikes that resulted in the official recognition of black unions for the first time in 20 years.

It was here that seeds of progressive trade unionism were planted.

As trade unions grew and flourished, so too did the debate about the nature and role of the labour movement in a society torn asunder by racial oppression.

Not only were black workers exploited in the factories and on the mines and farms, but they and their families suffered the indignity of racial discrimination where they lived, on buses, in schools, in sports, indeed in all areas of life.
There were debates within the labour movement on whether there should be general unions or more focused industrial unions.

There were disagreements on whether unions should exclusively focus on factory floor issues and be involved in broader community struggles.

There were long, heated debates on whether the unions should align themselves with the various liberation organisations.

Out of these debates, COSATU was formed.

The unity talks that began in 1979 finally resulted in the formation of COSATU on the 1st of December 1985.

From 33 unions representing just under half a million workers, COSATU was born.

It was founded on the principles of non-racialism and non-sexism and a commitment to a free, democratic South Africa.

Worker control was a crucial founding principle and remains the lifeblood of COSATU and its affiliated unions.

The founders of COSATU had knew that if leaders were removed from the shop floor, that if workers were alienated from the structures and committees of the federation, COSATU and its unions would perish.

In the years following its creation, the membership of COSATU unions grew phenomenally.

Working with the United Democratic Front, COSATU became involved in community struggles against apartheid.

On May Day 1986, more than a million workers observed the call by COSATU to stay away from work as part of the federation's demand that this day becomes a paid worker's holiday.

COSATU challenged both the apartheid state and the exploitative economic system that underpinned it.

It challenged the bosses and the generals.

It became such a threat to the prevailing order, that the apartheid regime unleashed the violence of the state on COSATU and its officials.

Leaders were imprisoned, humiliated and tortured.

Their offices were bombed.

Their homes were burnt and some were murdered.

And yet, through all this, COSATU survived and grew stronger.

At height of state-sponsored violence in the townships, it was COSATU with its alliance partners that worked tirelessly to unite workers living in hostels and those in the communities.

It was COSATU that mobilised the masses of workers to take part in the defiance campaign of the late 1980s and during the mass action of the early 1990s.

It was COSATU that ensured that the right to strike was enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

It was this federation that fought for - and achieved - a progressive labour regulations system and legislated basic conditions of employment.

It was this federation that fought for the rights of HIV-positive workers and for the provision of treatment and support.

It is through the unions of this federation that workers have expanded the collective bargaining system and have improved the living and working conditions of its members.

From its formation, COSATU has worked alongside the popular organs of liberation.

Together with the ANC and the South African Communist Party, it forged a multi-class alliance to pursue the shared objective of a national democratic society.

This Alliance remains at the centre of the struggle to achieve a better life for all South Africans - and COSATU remains an integral, essential part of that Alliance.

As it participates in developing the positions and implementing the programmes of the Alliance, COSATU remains firmly and fiercely independent.

It answers to no one but the workers of this country.

The ANC respects COSATU's independence. We respect its leaders and its members, and its organisational integrity.

We are determined to work with COSATU and the SACP to strengthen the Alliance.

Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than the unity and cohesion of the Alliance.

Through its participation in the Alliance, COSATU has been central to the achievements of the last 20 years of democracy.

We have pushed back the frontiers of poverty.

We have worked with communities to provide much needed services and infrastructure.

More people have decent housing, water and sanitation, electricity and tarred roads than ever before in our history.

More children have access to education. More people have access to health care.

And yet, we have so much more to do.

As we gather here, 30 years after the formation of COSATU, 21 years after the achievement of democracy, we know that we have yet to correct the historical injustice wrought by apartheid capitalism.

The daily experience of the workers of this country tell us that we have yet to overcome the 300 years of discrimination, dispossession and exploitation.

Even today, too many of the black sons and daughters of this country are born into poverty, too many go hungry, and far too many face the prospect of years without work - or without decent work.

We are therefore tasked as an Alliance to overcome the triple challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

As the Alliance we need to lead the second transition of our revolution in which we make decisive and irreversible progress in returning the wealth of this country to its people.

Our task now is to radically transform the economy, to change the patterns of ownership and control, to confront inequality, to create work, to provide education and produce skills of a quality and at a scale never before seen in this country.

As we enter a new year, we are called upon to mobilise the workers of this country to vote in the local government elections to advance this radical transformation.

We must work hard and with determination to renew this democratic mandate.

As much as those who have oppressed us seek to deny it, the past is very much still with us.

We have yet to correct the historical injustice.

This place a great responsibility on all of us.

It places a great responsibility on the ANC, on the Alliance, on the state and on all social formations.

It places a great responsibility on COSATU.

We look to COSATU to continue to lead the working people in our country.

We look to COSATU to organise workers in all the sectors of our economy on the issues that most concern them - working conditions, wages, health and safety, employment equity, human rights, gender rights and discrimination.

We look to COSATU to continue to sharply raise the concerns of workers with government. We expect that COSATU will continue to be frank, to be direct and to be constructive.

We look to COSATU to reach out to unorganised workers, to ensure that all those who are employed in this country enjoy the protection and support of an effective and responsive union.

We therefore welcome the deliberations of COSATU's 12th National Conference last month.

We wish to commend the delegates to this conference for placing the union member at the centre of the work of the federation and its unions.

We wish to commend the delegates for reaffirming the value of unity within COSATU and among its affiliates.

This federation was founded with the precise objective of advancing the unity of working class.

That must remain at the heart of the purpose and programme of COSATU.

The federation has just emerged from a period of great difficulty.

It has experienced strife and division.

We are certain that the deliberations and resolutions of the 12th Congress herald a new period of unity, cohesion, action and growth.

We call on all those who are today outside COSATU to return to the federation and its affiliates because COSATU is the only home for workers.

If the experience of the last 30 years has taught us anything, it is that unity is paramount.

Factionalism and division does nothing to advance the cause of workers.

The last 30 years have also taught us that unity cannot be brought about by conference resolutions.

It requires hard work. It requires organisation. It requires programmes of action that involve and inspire all members of all unions.

It requires recruitment campaigns. It requires education and training.

There are many who seek a weakened COSATU.

There are many who resent the role of COSATU in the Alliance.

There are many who fear COSATU's influence in society.

Such people are short-sighted.

If we are to overcome 300 years of economic injustice, we need a strong, united COSATU that plays a central in the Alliance.

We need a progressive and militant workers' movement that can take up struggles in the workplace, in communities and across society.

There are some who would have us believe that COSATU's time has passed.

To them, we say 'no', COSATU's time has just begun.


Thirty years ago at our launch, we resolved to address the exploitation of women workers.

We have achieved much.

Yet, we know that women still bear the greatest burden of poverty.

We know that they still occupy the lowest paying jobs and that their income is on average lower than their male counterparts.

We know that they still experience discrimination, harassment and even sexual violence in the workplace.

Even within the affiliates and within the federation, women are not represented equally.

As COSATU enters the fourth decade of its existence, the exploitation of women workers needs to be given highest priority.

We cannot free workers from exploitation if half of the working class remain in chains.


Thirty years ago at our launch, we resolved to struggle for a national minimum wage.

That cherished objective is now within our grasp.

Through NEDLAC, we have been engaged in deliberations with our social partners to establish a national minimum wage that makes a real difference in the lives of workers.

We are seeking a national minimum wage that helps to reduce poverty and inequality, that encourages employment and that contributes to economic growth.

We are now at a stage where we are ready to engage on the level at which this national minimum wage should be set.

We are doing so in a manner that is inclusive, that is based on the best available evidence, and that advances the interests of workers and the nation as a whole.


Thirty years ago we stood here to witness the birth of the colossus COSATU.

We gathered here as the inheritors of the militant traditions of SACTU - the South African Congress of Trade Unions.

We gathered here in the footsteps of great union leaders like JB Marks, Moses Kotane, Billy Nair, Frances Baard, Stephen Dlamini, Vuyisile Mini and Ray Alexander.

On the front lines of the new COSATU stood Elijah Barayi, Jay Naidoo, Chris Dlamini, Makhulu Ledwaba, Maxwell Xulu and Sydney Mufamadi

Behind them, stood thousands of workers from all corners of our land organised through their unions.

On that day we were reclaiming our rights.

We were reclaiming our right to be, our right to fulfil our potential and the right to determine the course of our shared destiny.

We understood that were a motive force in the liberation of our people from apartheid and capitalism.

We knew that this COSATU would become an instrument of our liberation.

And so my Comrades,

Standing again here as we did 30 years ago, let us work tirelessly to unite the workers and people of South Africa.

Let us beat much louder the drum of solidarity, of an injury to one is an injuty to all, peace and hope.

Let us sing in hope for a South Africa free from hunger, inequality and want.

Let us march towards a glorious future, a future without slavery and exploitation.

Long live COSATU, long live.

I thank you.