Speech of the National Chairperson of the ANC Cde Baleka Mbete at the Special Congress of COSATU
14 July 2015
The Leadership of our tried and tested trade Alliance partner, COSATU
Delegates from various COSATU affiliated unions
Basebenzi and our most dependable ally in the struggle to improve the conditions of our people.
We convey our warmest fraternal greetings to this Special Congress on behalf of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress and its entire membership.
In this year of celebrating 60 years of the Freedom Charter, we will also be celebrating 30 years of COSATU. We will also mark a number of critical points and moments that we dare not forget in the journey we have travelled as partners for the struggle for the freedom of our people. We salute those who formed the first national general workers union for black workers, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, in 1919.
From the early days of the ANC, it was committed to the plight of workers who had been ruthlessly plunged into the mines and farms after the white colonisers had forcibly stolen our land, including through the 1913 Land Act. We must also acknowledge the place and role of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) which was formed in March 1955 and was the predecessor of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
The SADTU slogan for fostering solidarity and unity of workers was, "An injury to one is an injury to all". That call remains to this day. SADTU took a conscious decision to include the word "Congress" in its name to identify itself with the Congress Movement. Proudly its 30 year old successor COSATU continued the tradition. It the Congress of South African Trade Unions of the Congress Movement.
SACTU was part of a National Council that organised the Congress of the People which met in Kliptown and adopted the clauses of the Freedom Charter. This highlights the historical fact that the workers played a crucial role as individuals all over South Africa but also in their specific formations.
Over the decades the individual Alliance organisations have supported one another and have kept this Alliance strong for South Africa.
The national leadership structures of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African National Civic Organisations met over five days from 27 June till 01 July 2015.
One of the issues that needs clarification is how we relate to one another when it comes to the recent developments and challenges in COSATU, for example.
In this regard I would like to quote directly from the declaration of our Alliance Summit. "The independence of COSATU as a strong militant and fighting force for the rights of workers is affirmed. The Summit also affirms its support of the right of COSATU to make its own decisions concerning internal discipline."
1973 was a turning point that ushered a new phase of trade union activism and led to the formation of many black trade unions in South Africa after the brutal crushing of SACTU in the 60s. Indeed, the actions of the Durban, Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg workers in 1973 created the conditions that ultimately led to the formation of COSATU in 1985.
The ANC is a multi-class organisation with a very strong bias towards the working class and the poor. We have always regarded the working class as the principal motive force of our struggle. None of the alliance partners can be strong standing on their own. We either strengthen the alliance or risk being rendered irrelevant by neo-liberal and counter-revolutionary forces. United we will confront any threat posed by counter-revolutionary forces, divided we shall fall in one heap like a house of cards.
Let us heed the wise counsel of the former President of our movement, Comrade O R Tambo, when he spoke at the 60th Anniversary of the South African Communist Party in 1981. He said "Ours is not merely a paper alliance, created at conference tables and formalised through the signing of documents and representing only an agreement of leaders. Our alliance is a living organism that has grown out of struggle. We have built it out of our separate common experience. It has been fertilised by the blood of the countless heroes, many of them are unnamed and unsung".
Comrade OR Tambo indicated that though our organisations are not the same, our history has shown that we are a powerful force because our organisations are mutually reinforcing. In the same address Comrade OR further indicated that the ANC is quite capable of influencing its alliance partners and equally being liable to be influenced by its alliance partners. Comrade OR went further to say "Within our revolutionary alliance each organisation has distinct and vital role to play. A correct understanding of these roles, and respect for their boundaries has ensured the survival and consolidation of our cooperation and unity".
We need a strong labour federation that will fight for the interests of workers. The Leadership and entire membership of the ANC has been disturbed greatly by the acrimonious discord within COSATU. None of the alliance Partners and its membership can take pride in the disunity threatening to tear apart our beloved trade union federation. When COSATU hurts, the ANC feelsthe pain too. Therefore it was not possible that the Leadership of the ANC could fold their hands and observe our most dependable ally in struggle facing major organizational challenges that had potential to destroy the very existence of the federation.
That's why the National Executive Committee of the ANC mandated a Task Team led by the Deputy President of the ANC to do everything possible that may assist the leadership of the Federation to close ranks and resolve these organizational challenges. The ANC leadership will continue with this task of assisting the Federation in whatever way possible. We are encouraged by the fact that the meeting of the Special Central Executive Committe of the Federation held on the 25th - 27th May 2015 resolved to implement the recommendations of the ANC Task Team.
The recommendations include amongst others, the cessation of hostilities, managing differences of opinions within the Federation and identifying areas of broad consensus as contained in the resolutions of the Federation.
We cannot afford to trade insults publicly and assume that it strengthen our position. On the contrary, it lowers our position in society and our standing among forces of the left. We need to express our differences among each other in a mature and disciplined manner and within the confines of the Federation.
Comrades, as the ANC we attach great significance to this Special Congress as the discussions and resolutions of this conference will have far reaching implications to the political and economic trajectory of our country. We have arrived at this view after considering the historical role played by COSATU in influencing developments in this country.
The commitments made by these three organisations in 1986 can only be achieved through a united and formidable alliance. The structure and ownership patterns in the South African economy have to be changed for us to build social cohesion, eradication of poverty and inequality.
The current structure of the South African economy is characterised by low skills base, high income inequality, energy supply constraints and racially distorted ownership patterns. The global economic crisis has worsened the triple challenge of poverty , inequality and unemployment. These challenges can only be tackled by a capable developmental state.
Workers play a critical role in the building of a developmental state and an ensuring an inclusive economic growth. Therefore, there is an expectation from all South Africans that trade unions should be at the centre of the building of the capacity of the state. Equally, there is also an expectation that the trade union movement must assist the developmental state to implement a radical industrial policy.
The recent Alliance Summit also noted that indicators on poverty, employment and inequality show that women still bear the brunt of exclusion. Let all of us seek to understand what this means for our respective organisations commit to addressing this phenomenon. Similarly, we have to engage our Progressive Youth Alliance and mobilise them in campuses, schools, villages, towns and cities so that they carry the baton of liberation and prosperity not only for themselves but for future generations as given to us by our departed leaders and those still among us.
Comrades, the alliance partners have to play a critical role in strengthening the local sphere of government. The challenges we face at the local sphere of government requires the attention of all progressive forces. We need to ensure that the local sphere of government deliver quality services to our people.
In conclusion, let us stand ready to defend the revolutionary gains made by our Federation , alliance and government. Let us not forsake our post and neglect our responsibility to build unity among progressive forces. You must emerge from this Special Congress united and ready more than ever to defend the interest of the working class and the gains they have secured through struggle. You are standing on the shoulders of great giants who preceded you. Let us not render irrelevant and unworthy the contributions made by Elijah Barayi, John Gomomo, Chris Dlamini, Oscar Mpetha, Ray Alexandra Simons, Emma Mashinini, Dora Tamana, Moses Mabhida, Uncle Kotane, JB Marks, Edwin Mofutsanyane, Billy Nair, Neil Agget, Stephen Dlamini and countless others who paid the supreme price in building and defending this federation. Indeed you are standing on the shoulders of great giants who fought for the unity and interests of workers. You dare not fail!! There is no room for failure!! History will never forgive you if you fail!! You must emerge united and victorious!! The South African Communist Party and African National Congress, your tried and tested allies, will always be with you!! We will never forsake you during your hour of need!!
Long live the fighting spirit of Elijah Barayi!!!
Long live the fighting spirit of John Gomomo!!
Long live the fighting spirit of Chris Dlamini!!!
Long live Cosatu ,the tried and tested federation of the workers!!!
Long live the Alliance!!!
Ke a leboga!!