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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi`s keynote speech at the First Annual Workers` Day Celebration

3 May 2013, University of Cape Town

Thank you for your invitation to address this historic meeting, the first of what is to become an annual celebration of workers` day - in solidarity with those who work here on the UCT campus and throughout South Africa. I would suggest that you extend its scope even further, since May Day is celebrated all over the world, a day when workers demonstrate their common interests and international solidarity.

I also welcome the opportunity to speak to a predominantly young audience. It is vital that those of you born after our democratic breakthrough in 1994 know about the struggles which led to your freedom and that you will never take for granted the rights and opportunities you enjoy today, which were denied to most of your parents and grandparents.

That is why COSATU will fight to defend the public holidays which mark the historic milestones in those struggles - the Women`s March 1956, Sharpeville 1960, Soweto 1976, Freedom Day 1994, as well as May Day of course.

It is also important for future generations to remember the key personalities who led those struggles. On Sunday we shall be marking the tenth anniversary of the passing of Walter Sisulu, just after we marked the month of heroes in April, which saw the twentieth anniversary of the passing of both Chris Hani and OR Tambo.

These leaders, and many other giants of the liberation struggle, must never be forgotten or betrayed. We must encourage the youth to learn from the example they gave of selfless commitment to the struggle for liberation without any thought to their own personal enrichment.

Two days ago, in 25 May Day rallies all over South Africa - under the theme: A united working class for a radical economic transformation! - workers confronted the challenges which face our movement - how to radically improve the performance of trade unions in defending workers` rights in the workplace, while also fighting for the creation of decent jobs and the elimination of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

While we have made huge gains since 1994 in establishing democracy, entrenching human rights and extending social benefits - for which we give full credit to the efforts of the ANC government - on the economic front workers` lives have not been fundamentally transformed; we still face massive problems in our economy.

In the longer term the only way we can create sustainable jobs, eradicate poverty and build a more prosperous and equal society is through a radical restructuring of our economy, to escape from the over-reliance on the export of our raw materials to an economy founded on modern manufacturing industry.

But we cannot sit back and wait for jobs to come on stream only after these long-term structural changes in our economy have been implemented. The youth in particular want jobs now. 73% of the people who are unemployed in South Africa are below the age of 35 and it is crucial that we find a way to give these young South Africans the opportunity to work, earn a living and have a secure future.

If we fail, the outcome will be disastrous, not just for the young people themselves, but for all South Africans who will lose the massive contribution that those young workers have the potential to make if given the opportunity to work and earn a living.

That is why we welcome the recent signing of the Youth Employment Accord which commits government, business, labour and community to a strategy to inject additional urgency into job-creation efforts and a national consensus on ways to grow youth and total employment.

It promises to “ensure that the total number of South Africans employed in significantly stepped up, that the benefits reach many more people through sustainable, decent work opportunities and avoid youth employment schemes that simply displace older workers”. We applaud this clear rejection of the dangerous notion that “any job is better than none”, even if it delivers no training, pays poverty wages, displaces an existing job and disappears after a few months.

Workers` living standards are not determined only by the size of their wage packet, but also by the quality and affordability of public services, such as education, healthcare and transport. We must transform our scandalous two-tier service provision, in which a still mainly white, rich minority pay for top-class private services, while the overwhelmingly black, poor majority struggle with inefficient, under-resourced facilities.

On education we have made some progress to take forward the Freedom Charter vision - that “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened”, that “education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children” and that “higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit”.

The ANC governments have effected a number of very important advances in education and training, including that since 1994, 140,000 students have benefited from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). More and more schools are being declared no fee schools. But challenges remain. Most of the Freedom Charter`s aims have yet to be realised. Education is certainly not free for all and we have huge inequalities.

As the text book scandal in Limpopo brought home so tragically, the children of the poor remain trapped in inferior education with wholly inadequate infrastructure. 2 400 schools, mainly in rural areas, have no water supply, 3 600 have no electricity and 1 000 schools have no ablution facilities. Only 7% of schools have libraries, only 5% have stocked science laboratories and just 1% of the schools have internet access.

All this is symptomatic of an ineffective and dysfunctional education system. Yet education takes up the largest share of government spending, at 21% of non-interest allocations, and receives the largest share of the additional allocations. Neighbouring states with far less resources have far better education outcomes than South Africa.

So we shall work with the Alliance and progressive civil society, in particular COSAS and SASCO, to address the horrific conditions under which the majority of educators and learners function. The whole education system must be better resourced and staffed and we must wage war on corruption and waste.

We must also ensure that the National Health Insurance pilot projects receive full support from all our people and that they succeed, while keeping up the fight for the full roll-out of the NHI, and addressing the current dysfunctionality of our hospitals and the whole health system.

We will step up our campaign for better, safer, more reliable and more affordable public transport. Now that the government and Sanral have made it clear that e-tolling will be rolled out nationally, we hope that our campaign of mass action against this privatisation of our public highways will spread to all provinces. We vow to make implementation of e-tolls unworkable!

We face a deepening crisis of the abuse of women and children. In February, prompted by the recent spate of brutal cases, particularly the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen, COSATU convened an emergency meeting of organisations from all sectors of society to address gender-based violence. It resolved to embark on a serious campaign to stop violence against women and children, to fight patriarchy and to protect the rights and dignity of all, especially the most vulnerable.

Another key issue is corruption, the biggest single threat to our democracy. A report this week from the law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, based on research by the Public Service Commission and parliamentary committee reports, estimated that in the public service alone corruption, theft, fraud, extortion and forgery cost the country almost R1 billion in 2011-12.

This is consistent with the annual reports from the Auditor-General, confirming that a culture of corruption is becoming embedded in South African society.

And these reports cover only the public sector; there is abundant evidence that is it at least as rife in the private sector, with regular reports from the Competition Commission of such practices as price fixing in the milk, cement and bread sectors, collusion in the allocation of contracts in the construction industry, and the adulteration and mislabelling of food.

The lawyers` report echoed a concern we have often raised - that there "appeared to be no meaningful consequences for financial misconduct". Although 88% of those alleged to be involved in 1,135 incidents of financial misconduct reported in 2009-10 were found guilty during disciplinary proceedings, only 19% of them were fired. More than 40% of guilty individuals got away with a warning.

This points to an appalling tolerance of corruption, as if stealing the people`s money is not really a serious crime. In our view such people should not even wait to be disciplined but offer their resignation.

All this is wreaking untold damage on the moral fibre of the country. We are moving towards a society in which the morality of our revolutionary movement - selflessness, service to the people and caring for the poor and vulnerable - is being swept away a culture of individual self-enrichment and ‘me-first`, which promotes greed and selfishness as against our values of solidarity and selflessness.

Corruption is also corrupting our political life, as some corrupt politicians and officials build political support by bribing people to back their factions, which are not based on ideological differences but on who has the biggest treasure chest to dole out favours.

This will destroy the democratic traditions of our movement and lead to paralysis and disunity. Worst of all is the growing evidence that corruption is becoming literally a matter of life and death, as people are being intimidated or even killed for exposing and preventing corruption.

The crisis of corruption surely has a bearing on what is now becoming known as ‘Guptagate`. We still await any proper explanation or justification for somebody`s shocking decision to allow a private wedding party to land their jet plane on an SANDF air force base and then getting a police escort to Sun City.

We demand the fullest possible investigation into the whole incident, to find the real culprits - not just scapegoats from among the officials, who surely could not have independently taken such an obviously politically sensitive decision.

In particular if it emerges that any bribery or corruption was involved, the harshest possible action must be taken against those implicated. We are not a banana republic and we must make sure we never become one!

I appeal to you - our next generation - to join the fight against crime and corruption and help to root it out of our democracy.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 or Direct: +27 10 219-1339
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za

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