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  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi`s address to the South African Football Players Union`s 4th Congress

31 May 2013

National Office Bearers of SAFPU
Delegates, comrades and friends

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to your Congress today. I bring greetings and best wishes from COSATU’s national office bearers and 2.2 million members, and best wishes for a fruitful Congress.

Many members of the public, including workers in our own COSATU ranks, are of the mistaken view that most footballers are both wealthy and individualistic. Your presence here today demonstrates the opposite - that footballers are in the main vulnerable workers, with similar problems as all other workers, who need a trade union as much as anyone.

SAFPU is currently one our smallest affiliates, but that does not relegate you to insignificance. You are very strategically placed. You have an enormous amount to teach other unions, about how to organise workers who are not in typical traditional employment situations.

Given the age profile of your members, you also have a huge amount to offer in terms of how to attract young members. And can you just imagine the impact of a national strike of football players across the PSL and SAFA? Forget about any Mickey-mouse image! Dynamite comes in small packages, and you have what it takes to make a big impact.

Soccer is the biggest sporting code in South African and the world. It has the biggest potential to unite South Africans across race, religion, class, gender and geography. We saw this potential to unite the nation in 1996 when Bafana-Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations and even ore during the 2010 World Soccer Cup, when we witnessed scenes that we never thought we would see in our normally racially and class divided country.

Never in our wildest dreams did we think that South Africans of all classes, all races, all ages and all sexes could be so emotional about their country and its symbols, such as its young flag and national anthem. It is worth reminding ourselves what we said just after the event:

“The whole world has seen the best possible picture of South Africa on their TV screens – beautiful stadiums packed with exuberant fans, a festive atmosphere in the streets and fan parks, efficient public transport, visible policing, minimal levels of crime and an effective and efficient judicial system...

“It has instilled an unprecedented feeling of national pride and self-esteem. It has led to an explosion of patriotism that extended to the entire continent. This patriotism has been rubbed off on the young South Africans now and for many generations to come. It has brought us together as a nation as never before, except possibly for one day on 27 April 1994.”

When Bafana-Bafana failed to qualify for the knock-out stage, South Africans surprised everyone in the whole world when they rallied emotionally behind other African countries, in particular Ghana. When Ghana was knocked out by that cruel Suarez hand-ball, we saw South African crying together in an unprecedented outpouring of emotion. Since then, more White soccer supporters have been attending local matches and have supported Bafana in numbers.

Regrettably, since then there has been one big disappointment. Soccer, which is the biggest and most popular sport in our country and the world, remains seriously underdeveloped in South Africa.

After the 2010 COSATU urged the football authorities “to remain united, around only one goal - the development of soccer at every level... to ensure that soccer and all other sporting codes are developed from our schools. There must be no dithering. SAFA must use all the money they are to receive from FIFA on development, and for nothing else.

“We need to discover the hidden talents of the hundreds of unknown South African Peles, Drogbas, Messis, Xavis and Ronaldos, who have no opportunity for their skills to be recognised. We need to develop academies to hone the skills of these promising players.”

To tell the truth comrades, we have not come close to scoring this goal. Since our AFCON triumph in 1996 we have been declining. That is why we are demanding that SAFA and the Minister of Sports must develop a clear 10-Year-Plan for the national squad and the development of the game in general. They should pay a particular attention to developmental soccer, and other sports, in our schools and working class communities.

I appeal to you the players to offer to coach and mentor many of young players in the schools and the townships.

Comrade delegates

You are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss some really important issues that concern your members individually and collectively, including:

  • The collective bargaining agreement between SAFPU and the PSL, and how to make it work better for you
  • The challenge of the Under-23 rule, which has become a mechanism for super-exploitation of young footballers
  • How to advance women’s football
  • The interests and training needs of former players to ensure that they are not dumped into unemployed misery when their game is finished
  • HIV and AIDS as it affects football players, and the challenges of your union’s project Show me Your Number
  • The importance of internal membership education
  • How to step up SAFPU’s media and communication with members and the public at large

You will also be discussing some important proposed changes to your constitution, including the possibility of formally widening your scope to make all former players eligible for membership. A category of Associate membership will also be considered.

These are very welcome moves, and I would encourage you to give the proposals your serious consideration, as they provide an opportunity for you to grow your numbers whilst at the same time retaining your primary identity as a players’ union.

There are other Constitutional proposals which to make the structures of your union more accessible and workable for members. This is critically important, because worker control – a central theme of your Congress – can only be exercised when workers feel they belong to and understand the structures of the union. The Constitution of a union must work for the members, not the other way around. I urge you to engage the proposals vigorously, and collectively to work out what will work best for you, the members.

Comrade delegates

A small and growing union needs a strong Federation. I want to reassure you that contrary to what a lot of newspapers have suggested over the past week, your Federation is definitely not about to disintegrate or collapse.

Fed by anonymous ‘sources’ - some of whom, scandalously, come from within the ranks of our own unions – the media has been predicting that this week’s Central Executive Committee meeting would become some kind of bloodbath, leading to splits and fights.

The same media predicted a similar outcome at last year’s 11th National Congress, and they were just as wrong then, as they are now. It is worth quoting what we said yesterday in a statement to the media, about the CEC meeting.

“... The CEC resolved to fight harder than ever for the workers; we have to show them that we are not splitting or paralysed, as the media and their ‘sources’ want us to believe. We are recruiting new members in the Workers’ Month of May, listening to the workers with our ear to the ground, fighting against e-tolls and labour brokers and defending individual workers and unions like the NUM and SATAWU which are under attack. COSATU’s flag is flying high!”

COSATU will never let small differences, which arise from time to time, to cause us to lose sight of our primary task – to struggle to liberate the working class from exploitation, poverty and insecurity. Nothing must stop us from fighting for the measures we agreed to at our 11th National Congress in 2012, and the Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conference in March 2013, to struggle to put an end to poverty pay, labour brokers and all the other ways in which working people are abused and ill-treated.

Comrade delegates

These are just some of the campaigns we are involved in at the moment

COSATU stands four-square in solidarity with workers in struggle, like the SAPS admin workers who find currently find themselves forced to strike to win a decent living wage, proper housing allowances and the honouring of negotiated agreements, because management refuse to reach a settlement. We fully support their actions and urge you to do likewise.

As we meet here today, our members are on the highways of Ekurhuleni demonstrating against to e-tolling, as part of a broader campaign for better, safer, more reliable and more affordable public transport.

Now that the government and Sanral have confirmed that e-tolling will be rolled out all over the country, contrary to promises made last year, we hope that our campaign of mass action against this privatisation of our public highways will spread to all provinces. We are determined to make e-tolls unworkable!

We are keeping up the struggle to ensure that the National Health Insurance pilot projects succeed, while keeping up the campaign for the full roll-out of the NHI, and tackle the current dysfunctionality of our public hospitals and the whole public healthcare system.

On education we have made some progress to take forward the Freedom Charter vision - that “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened”, and that “education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children”.

But we have a very long way to go. We must campaign with the Alliance and progressive civil society, in particular COSAS and SASCO, to end the shameful conditions under which most educators and learners function, including the lack of the most basic infrastructure, sanitation, computers, access to libraries and broadband. And, I must of course add, the lack of grounds, facilities and equipment for sports.

We must demand that the whole education system be adequately funded and staffed and continue to wage war on corruption and waste.

Another issue which I must mention is the deepening crisis of the abuse of women and children. We have to embark on a serious campaign in our communities to stop violence in general, particularly against women and children. We have to fight patriarchy and put the working class at the forefront of the fight to protect the rights and dignity of all. Promoting and supporting women’s empowerment is critical in this fight. Your union’s promotion of women’s football could help lead the way to women’s empowerment.

Finally we must confront the burning question of workers’ unity. South Africa has 193 registered unions. This is far too many! We need to strive for the principle of ‘one-union/one-industry’. You are fortunate in that you are the only football players’ union, but it would be a good idea to start thinking about how you can link up with workers in other sports and entertain sectors – not necessarily in one union, but at the very least in some sort of collaborative alliance.

To achieve all of these great things I have been talking of, we have to do the work on the ground. Wherever workers and exploitation exist, we must be there! Your union SAFPU, reminds us of that. You exist in a space that many would never have believed was necessary to have a trade union. Your very existence reminds us that no corner of the working class should remain unorganised.

I want to thank your national office bearers for pulling the congress together, under circumstances which have not always been easy. I wish you a highly successful congress, with fruitful debates and maximum unity.

  • Forward with the unity or our great workers movement!
  • Forward to the programme of radical economic transformation!

VIVA SAFPU

VIVA COSATU

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Street
Braamfontein
2017

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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