Wealth still in hands of white male elite - Zwelinzimva Vavi

COSATU GS says federation will spare no energy in ensuring sweeping ANC election victory

Zwelinzima Vavi's address to the commemoration of the Cradock Four, 6 May 2011

The Cradock Four - Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli - are revolutionary heroes whose names will live forever in the hearts of South African workers and all freedom-loving people.

It is an honour to be invited to speak, on behalf of COSATU's two million members, at this memorial event. We must never forget our struggle heroes, and never stop fighting to build the kind of society for which they sacrificed their lives in 1985, just six months before COSATU was born.

Their murder typified the ruthless brutality of the apartheid state, whose thugs in the SADF sent a signal recommending the 'permanent removal' from society of these four young activists. It was a death warrant, which led to their abduction, assault and murder.

Their assassination however was a turning point for struggle politics. On the very day of their funeral, President PW Botha declared a national State of Emergency, which continued for the next tumultuous years of mass mobilisation leading to our democratic breakthrough in 1994.

Let us never forget, especially as we approach local government elections on 18 May, that it was only through the struggle and sacrifice of comrades like the Cradock Four that we won that victory and can celebrate all the improvements in our lives under democratic ANC-led governments.

It is worth repeating that we now have one of the world`s most democratic constitutions, a bill of rights, and a constitutional court which checks that the laws and courts comply with that Constitution.

We can celebrate the provision of houses, clean water, sanitation, electricity, social grants to millions of poor South Africans.

That is why COSATU is campaigning for an ANC victory on 18 May. We dare not risk losing all these gains by voting for parties of the rich, whose leaders enjoyed the privileges of the apartheid years and who are working hand-in-glove with the privileged elite which still dominates our economy and is getting even richer.

But while we celebrate what we have achieved, we owe it to the memory of Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli to continue the struggle to complete the national democratic revolution for which they fought.

They would have appreciated the major gains we have recorded in securing political and social rights but would surely be shocked to see the lack of economic transformation and an end to the exploitation of the workers who produce the country's wealth of this country. We are still far away from achieving the just and equitable society envisioned in the Freedom Charter.

Unemployment, at 35.5% by the more realistic expanded statistic and still rising, is throwing thousands more workers and their families into a life of poverty and hunger. The waves of protests in our poorest communities are a desperate plea for a better deal from a huge section of South Africans who feel marginalised and ignored, living in slum shacks, collecting water from taps in the street, even having to use bucket toilets. This is not the South Africa for which our martyrs sacrificed their lives.

The horrific murder of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg starkly revealed the ruthless way in which poor communities are repressed when they march for better services. It is a warning that we have still not shaken off the legacy of the police brutality which ended the lives of those we commemorate today in Cradock.

Big business on the other hand has grown even richer and fatter during the years of our hard won democracy. Wealth and economic power are still concentrated in the hands of a small, white, male elite, which has been joined by a handful of black millionaires, who have benefited from the privatisation of some of our national assets like Telkom and Sasol. 

This rich minority benefit from a state-of-the-art healthcare system whilst the majority in the public sector wait in long queues and get treated in filthy wards, in clinics and hospitals which lack essential equipment and supplies. Too many mothers die whilst giving birth and too many children die at the hands of our public health system. 

Most black working class children learn in unsafe, filthy and dilapidated schools, while the wealthy pay for superior education for the children in private schools.

The farm workers of this country who till the soil in all weather conditions suffer abuse and exploitation. The mineworkers at Aurora are living in extreme hardship as they waiting for their pay after two years of struggling just to survive.

Such problems are getting even worse through the casualisation of labour and the growth of other forms of atypical employment, as employers try to cut the already pitiful wages they pay their workers. Central to this worsening of working conditions are the labour brokers who get rich by selling labour to their clients like bags of potatoes. We are determined to get rid of them and put a stop to any further degradation of their working conditions and living standards.

We are now challenged by the threat of Walmart taking over Massmart stores, bringing their union-bashing tactics into South Africa and procuring products from wherever they are cheapest, regardless of the conditions of the workers producing them. This is putting the jobs of thousands more workers in manufacturing and other retailers in jeopardy.  

Underlying all these problems is the national crisis of mass unemployment.  Creating jobs, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality is the key to solving all our other social problems and it must remain the top priority for government, business and labour.

The Industrial Policy Action Plan from the DTI, the New Growth Path from the EDD and Minister Ebrahim Patel's recent report to parliament, have made detailed plans to create five million new, sustainable jobs by 2020.

There are many good short-term proposals, including such relatively simple tasks as filling vacant positions in the public service, employing young workers to fill pot-holes and creating ‘green' jobs, such as the rapid installation of solar water geysers.

There are bold plans to move away from the over-dependence on the export of raw materials to an economy based on manufacturing industry. We have serious concerns however about the glaring contradiction between the ambitious, developmental goals and the very conservative macroeconomic policies, based on inflation-targeting, a strong rand and high real interest rates, which have been one of the main reasons for the crisis of unemployment. Yet such policies are now expected to be a key component of a policy to create jobs! This will simply not work.

One feature of our national life which would surely disgust the Cradock Four is the growing evidence that a small minority of South Africans are enriching themselves through corruption and misuse of public funds. This is not confined to the business community which has always been based on a culture of ‘me-first' and self-enrichment, but is mushrooming in our public service and revolutionary movement as well.

We welcome the government's determination to stop the rot and deal harshly with anyone who is stealing from the public purse by fiddling tenders or squandering public money on themselves and their families.

COSATU will spare no energy in ensuring a sweeping ANC victory in the local government elections. We are already hard at work building and consolidating support. I urge you to make use of your democratic rights and vote for the ANC. Boycotting elections or worse still voting for pro-business and anti-worker opposition parties will be a huge mistake.

It would open a space for the DA to implement its anti-poor policies and pro-rich policies! The struggle to build a new and better South Africa cannot be led by those who benefitted from inequalities, poverty and our oppression, and continue to pursue policies to entrench these injustices.

A few days ago we celebrated May Day, when we raised our red flag in honour of the countless workers who built and sustained our trade union movement over the years into the strong movement it is today. It is highly appropriate therefore to salute martyrs like the Cradock Four and honour the sacrifices they have made by recommitting ourselves to the struggle for the liberation of humankind and a socialist world order.

Issued by COSATU, May 6 2011

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