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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi's address to the Young Communist League National Congress

15 December 2006, Mangosuthu Technikon

Comrades and distinguished guests;

I am honoured to stand in front of you for the second time to address your esteemed Congress. Revolutionary greetings from the mighty workers' federation - the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU.

Recently the Federation hosted its successful 9th National Congress and we are grateful for your participation and contribution. We emerged from our congress determined to pursue the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) to its logical conclusion. The organised workers of this country have spoken in their parliament. They demand more radical changes in society, based on the Freedom Charter and the noble goals of our revolution. For them democracy is meaningless if millions remain trapped in poverty and unemployment amidst plenty for a few. They have decided to firmly put the struggle for socialism on the agenda.

COSATU's congress has once again confirmed the historical strategic perspective of the NDR - that freedom without addressing the social conditions of our people - is hollow. Ours is a revolutionary struggle to change the material basis of colonialism, racism, patriarchy and class exploitation.

Today, some are content to celebrate the national flag and opportunities for upward mobility offered to a few by the new dispensation. They mistake these symbolic and material comforts for the actual victory of the NDR. Without doubt our revolution has entered a qualitatively different era, but it is far from over.

For as long as there are black people who go hungry there will be cause to fight for social justice. For as long as there are children who cannot access decent education the struggle will remain relevant. For as long as women suffer under the yoke of gender oppression, racism and capitalist exploitation there is more reason to pursue the struggle with vigour. For as long as there is a worker without decent job and a living wage we have a struggle to pursue.

In short comrades it's not yet uhuru, we still have a long hard road to travel! We can spend an inordinate amount of time in theoretical debate about whether the NDR is capitalist or socialist oriented. The basic truth is that we are far from realising the radical change envisaged by the Freedom Charter and several strategic perspectives of our democratic movement.

We may have gained political freedom yet economic power is firmly in the hands of a white minority. Poverty, joblessness and inequality are still confined to the black people.

Daily we are informed of a sustained economic boom. We are told that the growth is propelled by a huge demand, including for credit. The Governor has increased interest rates four times this year and we are told there will be more. We are told this is a logical response to dampen this demand. We are told that this is a season of hope. This is a world as it exists in the minds of the elite. They have a consensus that things are going well. You can't blame them if you visit their houses and see the cars they drive - indeed things are going well in their small planet.

Contrast this with the world you are coming from. It's a picture of complete hopelessness. Unemployment is hovering at just below 40%. The latest figure from the last quarter indicates a 2,7% growth of job opportunities, translating to 73 000 new jobs. This is far too low and will not help us to reach even the modest objective of cutting unemployment by half in 2014. Unemployment discriminates according to gender, race, and age and has an urban and rural divide. Of the unemployed over 70% are under the age of 35 - mostly African women and rural areas fare worse in comparison to urban areas.

Stats show that two out of every three Africans under 35 years are unemployed. This is a ticking bomb - another 1976 waiting to happen. Casualisation of labour is happening at an alarming rate. We face a real danger that soon we may kiss goodbye all the current more secure jobs. These are being replaced by atypical forms of employment that offer no job security or benefits and very low wages. Again this phenomenon afflicts more the youth and women.

Income inequality is also high and growing. Yet inequalities have long been identified as one of the key impediments to faster economic growth. These inequalities have both national and class dimensions. There is realignment that is propelled by this situation. Class contradictions are on the rise and they have affected the Alliance. The national question is slowly taking a backseat.

Class contradictions are moving to the fore. One of the measures of these inequalities is the fact that the workers' share in the national income has been on the decline since 1981 and has continued to decline in the first 12 years of democracy. The share of profits continues to increase. According to the Labour Force Survey figures 16.7% of all officially employed people in South Africa earn less than R500 a month, 34.3% earn under R1000 a month and a total of 60% of all workers earn less than R2500 a month. Many of these workers are sole income earners in their households.

Poverty remains the reality for between 40% - 50% of the population. There is a debate on whether poverty has decreased but there is no doubt that poverty remains extremely high.

This is the reality for the many. This did not have to be, and neither was it inevitable. So when the other side talk of an economic boom and a relentless expenditure and therefore accepting the logic of interest rates hikes, we ask a question - what are they talking about? Equally when we march in the streets, from the luxury of their 4X4s they get irritated and convince themselves that we are mad.

We know that 300 years of colonial legacy cannot be rooted out in 12 years. But only those from the other planet I have referred to would argue that what is taking place in South Africa is entirely in line with the NDR, as historically conceived by the liberation movement.

The ANC's 1969 Morogoro Strategy warned against the danger of superficial change. The question this congress should answer is whether as a movement we have not betrayed those who gathered in 1955 to draft the Freedom Charter and those who gathered in 1969 in Morogoro to draft the Strategy and Tactics document? In the paper we drafted to stimulate debates before the COSATU congress we asked some pertinent questions:

Has democracy failed the workers and the poor? Have we reached a tipping point where the post apartheid state could be defined as one acting on behalf of the affluent in our society? How do we account for the sharp differences in the perspectives about the economy and our society as if we were coming from different planets? What is the weight of the working class politically in South Africa and how has this allowed for the apparent pro-capitalist bias? What steps do we need to take to assert working-class power that is proactive in determining a readjustment of resources in our society? Finally what is the value of our democracy to the working class?

At COSATU we tried to make sense of what could have been factors leading to our NDR producing this order.

I want to offer few points as principal suspects - again there is nothing new in what I am going to raise. We have already raised this in our Possibilities for fundamental social change discussion document.

Firstly political power is concentrate in too few hands. The Alliance is not the political centre that drives transformation and deployment of cadres. It is the presidency that does that. We have under-estimated the power of patronage. The ANC, outside the periodic influence of the deployment of cadres and through development of policy in national conferences, national general councils and policy conference, is itself largely sidelined. Most of the important policy arises from state and the conservative economics from the universities or even overseas.

ASGISA is a typical example of this. The ANC has no 'independent' instrument to effectively monitor compliance of government, with policy directives of its constitutional structures or to monitor effectively progress. This has led to a situation where those in the executive basically monitor their own performance and defend their shifts.

Second, we did not properly analyse the power of capital. We accept deracialisation of the economy. What we did not anticipate is that this would unleash unbelievable levels of crass materialism and careerism that have combined to kill some of the best and finest traditions of our movement such as solidarity and selflessness.

As we have said so often these days, leaders are not standing at the back of the queue for the masses to feed themselves first, they push themselves to the front and actually take the food out the mouths of the poor, as the Gautrain debacle shows. When we raise this we are called racists by the very fellows whose mouths are full.

Third, we have a referee state that only sees its role as a mediator between workers and capital during intense class battles. In the survey we conducted in November last year, most workers perceive that the state is intervening more in favour of business, using law and order as an instrument.

Fourth, in the absence of a coherent development strategy directed toward changing apartheid accumulation patterns, restoring profitability of South African capitalism and fostering BEE have become the overriding imperatives.

Fifth, the state has redistributed from whites to blacks through a combination of social grants and the extension of basic serves. These interventions play an important role in social development and constitute a barrier between a decent life and destitution. However, poverty eradication is conceived more as a deduction from growth rather than a central part of economic development.

ASGISA does not define poverty as a key constraint to growth and it continues to perpetuate the idea of poverty eradication as a trickle down from growth under the new terminology of "leverage of the second economy by the first economy", which means the whole social development agenda is dependant on growth, with the inherent risk that the model will collapse if growth falters and there is no structural change to ownership or distribution of growth or development.

Sixth, public-sector restructuring has resulted in power shifting to managers. Managerialism limits interference by politicians and collectivism in the name of achieving efficiency. In this context, who wields power between politicians and managers becomes a highly contested issue.

Seventh, democratic processes are either by-passed or totally ignored. Parliament has largely been subordinated to the executive and NEDLAC is being weakened. Some major policies are no longer referred to NEDLAC. If this trend continues NEDLAC itself will be reduced to a spectator.

Eighth, the State institutions have been deployed very effectively to impose a particular hegemony. The SABC and the rest of the bourgeoisie's media are powerful instruments that are used to parrot the capitalists' and their shop stewards' propaganda. The capitalists' myths are repeated so often that they settle as the truth in minds of many. If you contradict them you get isolated, ridiculed and labelled 'populists'. In this age very few dare raise their voices and contradict the status quo. I won't say anything about NPA and other state institutions because I have heard you talking about them over and over again.

Ninth, floor-crossing legislation fosters a new culture where individuals position themselves to serve their own interests instead of serving the people.

Tenth, the PR system also undermines independent thought, as individual careers depend on those in party leadership and the deployment committee. This inevitably leads to a situation where deployees lick the boots of the leaders rather than serve the movement.

Eleventh, political party funding and chequebook politics can subvert the will of the people exercised through the right to vote.

What do we do about this situation? What is the challenge facing this congress and the congress of the SACP in 2007? Must we abandon the struggle and give up on the dream of millions for a better life for all? Must we abandon the ANC and throw the towel and admit that it has been hijacked by the 1996 class project and all we must do is to break the Alliance and contest elections as the SACP?

I know we are advised by some from the left and the right that the time has come to break the relationship between the ANC, SACP and COSATU. This view is erroneous and its ultimate aim will be to defeat the revolution itself. The time is now to defend the Alliance on the basis of a progressive platform for change. We cannot hand over the ANC to capital and reactionaries on a silver platter. Those who want a black bourgeois party must leave and form their own party. The ANC will become a bourgeois party over our dead bodies - it must remain firmly entrenched within the radical traditions of radical liberation politics of Amilcar Cabral, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Lilian Ngoyi and other stalwarts of our revolutions.

The working class have invested too much energy, effort and hopes in the ANC to walk away.

Yet our response to this can't just be a narrow traditional, old-record sounding slogan "build the alliance and swell the ranks of the ANC". So far that strategy has not produced much. This congress must go beyond just repeating this. In my view a combination of this "swell the ranks" with the real struggle and unity of the broadest working class is what we now require to deepen contradictions and guarantee a shift to the left. I am not suggesting that we have not done this already. But I am arguing that the scale has been far less satisfactory.

There are encouraging signs that we are in a different space compared to the hard-core GEAR years, 1996-2000. The political climate is certainly different from the acrimonious recriminations of that period. 'Denialism' is slowly giving way to a serious acknowledgement and appreciation of the social crisis of poverty, unemployment, inequality and HIV and AIDS.

In ASGISA, government finally acknowledges that the fruits of growth are not equitably shared and that more ought to be done to change the apartheid colonial economy.

I am citing all of these to show that we are in a different political climate than the early and late 1990s. All these changes are a product of struggle and we must intensify grass-roots activism on all fronts. The changes I have cited do not mean that the class project has been defeated. The tentative shifts in the government stance have not yet gelled into a development strategy to transfer both wealth and power to the poor and the working class.

Moreover, the strategy as it stands is riddled with contradictions as the state seeks to appease both the wealthy and the poor. This is more reason why we must remain vigilant and intensify the struggle on all fronts.

We have laid the basis to further tilt the balance in favour of a more radical change. But what we have done so far is far smaller in scale than what is required. We need to build our organisations into powerful instruments of the people's power. We need to build the broadest possible unity of the working class. We need to coordinate more our demands into a single class struggle that will evolve into a single demand for socialism. Yes we need like never before to place the demand for socialism firmly on the agenda.

Comrades, a year ago when I was addressing your inaugural congress I made the observation that the YCL is a breath of fresh air in youth politics. The remark was based on my observation that the youth movement was too weak and fragmented. Politically, the ANC Youth League had shifted rightwards and offered no progressive programme to mobilise young people to confront the challenges of under-development, poverty and mass unemployment.

In fact the Youth League was facing the danger of being reduced into storm-troopers whose main vocation was to silence the dissenters. It was facing the danger of becoming a stepping stone to government and business careers, shorn of character and content. The re-emergence of the YCL therefore heralded a new revival in youth politics that has been absent for brief period in the post apartheid South Africa. In this Congress we must ask ourselves whether we have lived up to the challenge of providing young people a real political home.

The role played by the YCL in its brief history should be saluted for re-channelling young people's energies into politics. We are facing a daunting challenge of de-politicisation of young people by a cultural stereotype that depicts people as just fun-loving. Young people have been caricatured into such shallow egocentric and fun-loving beings that lack character. Yet we know that young people have played a pivotal role in critical moments of our history. All they need is political direction and a political home to channel their energy.

In that respect the YCL has helped shift youth politics to the left. The tone of the ANCYL has changed from one targeting COSATU to one raising critical issues facing the youth. We can attribute this to the emergence and role of the YCL.

It is important to re-emphasise that we need both the YCL and ANCYL to play a pivotal part in the unfolding national democratic revolution. The role of the progressive youth movement, SASCO and COSAS included, is to mould young people in the Congress traditions and, to that end, deepen the political consciousness of the youth.

The progressive youth movement must also be at the forefront of developing new ideas and challenging the older generation. It will be a sad day when old people are more radical than the youth. Conceptualised in these terms, the role of the youth movement is that of torchbearers who catalyse the movement to move forward. On your shoulders rests a heavy responsibility to revitalise our movement and build future generations of leaders. You must therefore take your task seriously and inculcate among your members a culture of reading and debate so that you can be at the forefront of producing new knowledge.

The struggle is not going to be won by revolutionary sounding rhetoric - we need seriously considered alternatives and new knowledge if we are to challenge the hegemony of capitalist ideas. COSATU is keenly aware of the challenges that facing the progressive youth movement and is willing to be an active partner to help strengthen your organisation.

The YCL must redouble its effort to organise young people and address their political, social, cultural and economic needs. It must build a strong vibrant youth movement and teach them working class ideas.

Comrades, I would like to shift focus and talk about the challenges confronting the ANC-led democratic movement. This year will go down as one in which the unity and resolve of the movement was put to the test. COSATU's Congress was marred by negative publicity and speculation about its leaders. The YCL has itself faced similar negative publicity. In short comrades, all the democratic formations have faced some form of negative publicity. The media has characterised this phenomenon as the struggle to the end between the Mbeki and Zuma camps. Any discord or genuine disagreements about the direction of the movement is analysed through this narrow lens of how it fits into this battle between the two camps.

I will be shirking my responsibility as one of the leaders of the alliance if I fail to put this issue in its proper perspective and hopefully it will help clarify our members and the broader public.

Admittedly, there are genuine discussions and disagreements about how we take forward the NDR in the context of an ANC that is in political office. This debate is about the relationship between the social power that lies in the mass democratic movement led by the ANC and the state in which the ANC play a dominant role. It also centres around what programme will best advance the goals of the NDR given the terrain in which we are executing the struggle.

The movement is however united about the goals of the revolution - to build a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society. Substantive disagreements rest on both the programme to achieve these aims, the role of the alliance and its relationship to state power. What is the role of the people's movement in the current period and how do we ensure vibrant internal life in all our organisations is a pertinent question facing our movement.

So comrades the debate is about the future of the revolution and the character of the movement implementing that revolution. It is not a debate about this or that would-be messiah but the programme and the collective will required to pursue the NDR to its logical conclusion.

Having said this it is also important to clarify why we support the ANC Deputy President. I would like to emphatically state that the support to the Deputy President by all alliance formations, the ANC included, is based on our belief that he has not been treated fairly by some organs of the state. His dignity and constitutional rights have been trampled upon as if he has been found guilty.

The shabby treatment of comrade JZ has led a significant section of our comrades to believe that he will not receive a fair trial, given the prejudicial manner in which his case has been handled. It is for this reason that COSATU has called for the withdrawal of the case and the reinstatement of comrade JZ.

I understand that the YCL has also taken a strong stance in support of the deputy president. We must do more to work for change in our movement and as I said earlier the debate ought to shift from personalities to the programmes to take forward the revolution. We must not allow current debates to degenerate into clashes of personality.

I have no doubt you will be equal to the task and the country and COSATU is waiting with bated breath for the outcome of this congress. I will appeal that you place unity to the League above petty leadership squabbles. This Congress must be remembered for taking forward the League rather than digging its grave. Comrades let us not be tempted to elevate contests for leadership positions to be the defining moment of this congress. Remember tomorrow you must all work together to build a strong and vibrant movement - don't be diverted from the challenge of building unity by narrow desire to deal with your perceived opponents.

I wish you a successful congress

Amandla

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