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Keynote address by Tyotyo James, 1st Deputy President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to Action for South Africa (ACTSA), formerly the Anti-Apartheid
3 November 2014
Thank you for inviting me to address this important gathering, celebrating the 20th anniversary of democracy in South African. I bring greetings and best wishes from the National Office Bearers and 2.2 million members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions – COSATU.
I must begin by thanking all those in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain and around the world whose tireless campaigning against racist tyranny helped us to bring this hated regime to its knees more speedily and with less loss of life than might have been the case.
I must add our thanks to you for in ACTSA for insisting that 1994 did not mean that international solidarity was now just part of history. The achievement of freedom and democracy was a colossal victory, but it did not prevent new challenges coming to confront us, for which we still need your solidarity and support.
This year is a very important national milestone – 20 years since the overthrow of apartheid and the establishment of a constitutional democracy. It is an opportunity to measure our progress against our ambitions and to weigh up the plusses and minuses.
By far the biggest plus is obviously the replacement of white minority rule with, at least in the words of our constitution, a new democratic, united, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, inspired by The Freedom Charter.
Life for virtually all South Africans has improved in those 20 years. Let us never forget just how evil colonialism and apartheid were.
Colonialism stole the country’s wealth from its people, exploited our natural riches and the cheap labour of migrant workers, in order to develop an economy that served to maximize the profits of big multinational monopoly companies in the imperialist countries.
Apartheid denied the majority of South Africans all basic human and democratic rights. It forced them to live and work where the government ordered, barred them from all the better paid jobs and even told them who they could or could not marry.
Now we have a democratic constitution and laws which guarantee human rights and freedoms. We can vote, join any party and protest against the government. We are protected from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and from discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation.
Workers have won important constitutional guarantees, including the right to fair labour practices, the right to form and join trade unions, strike and picket, and the right to collective bargaining.
All South Africans have see their lives improve thanks to, among others:
· Social grants now reach more than 16 million South Africans (nearly one-third of our population) – up from 3 million in 1994;
· Over 7 million new household electricity connections have been made since 1996;
· Over 3.3 million free houses have been built, benefiting more than 16 million people;
· Over 9 million learners in 20 000 schools receive daily meals.
· Over 400 000 solar water heaters have been installed free on the rooftops of poor households in the past 5 years – one of the largest such programmes in the world.
· Twice as many young people attended university, twice as many graduated in 2012 than in 1994 and more than 1.4 million students have benefited from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
These advances explain why the majority of voters in May this year still remained firmly in support of the African National Congress. On social issues they do indeed have “a good story to tell”, as they argued in this year’s election campaign.
But on economic transformation the story is not good at all. Both COSATU and the SA Communist Party, together with many other progressive civil society formations, have concluded that in economic terms the first two decades of democracy have benefited white monopoly capital have benefitted disproportionately from our freedom, relative to the workers and the poor.
Our underlying problems are the terrible level of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption. While most of the poorest South Africans are less poor than before 1994, the richest South Africans are far better off, which has massively widened the wealth gap to the point that South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world.
This is why this year we are seeing an unprecedented wave of strikes and community protests, clear evidence that millions of South Africans feel they have been left out of the new South Africa, that while they have human rights and political freedom, these have not been matched on the socio-economic front.
This was well summed up in the Final Declaration of COSATU’s 11h National Congress in 2012:
· Workers, whether in far flung rural areas, or urban slums, are no longer prepared to tolerate poverty wages;
· Mineworkers, who produce our wealth in the belly of the earth, are earning a tiny fraction of the surplus they produce;
· Farm workers who produce our food work under near slave conditions. • Retail and commercial workers, many casualised women without basic benefits, barely make enough to pay for their transport;
· Security workers who protect us, and transport workers who take us to work, work unbelievably long hours for a pittance;
· Our nurses, teachers and police are not being fairly paid for the valuable services they provide.
“The majority of these workers, together with workers in the clothing factories, the foundries, and countless plants around the country work long hours and face dangerous conditions for poverty wages. Over half of South Africa’s workers work for less than R3000 a month! (Currently one pound is equal to about 17.5 rands)
“Workers are demanding that the People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth (as promised by our Freedom Charter). Our members are speaking through our structures, demonstrating their lack of patience through wildcat strikes and service delivery protests.”
Even before the world economic crisis of 2008 South Africa was in deep crisis. The global crisis simply made this worse, mainly because of South Africa’s underlying structural problems, inherited from our colonial and apartheid past. Our economy remains based primarily on the export of minerals, and the domination of the mining and banking sectors.
Unemployment was already at an outrageous level before 2008. Today it is even worse. In the second quarter of 2014, the more realistic expanded rate of unemployment — taking into account people who have given up looking for jobs — rose to 35.6% in the second quarter, up from 35.1%.
Unemployment leads inevitable to poverty, but the employed do not escape either. Working poverty is on the rise. According to Stats SA the median wage in 2013 was R3033, meaning 50% of all workers earned below R3033 per month, a fall from R3115 in 2012 - a real decrease of over 10% for those workers, after taking inflation into account. A shocking 50% of ‘African’ workers earned below R2600 and 35% of all workers earned below two thirds of the median wage- i.e. earned less than R2020.
The levels of poverty and inequality were brought home in the Sunday Times annual Rich List, unveiled on 1 December 2013, exposed just how much some of the very rich people are taking home and how much they own. The highest-paid - David Hathorn, CEO of paper company Mondi - earned over R76m (4,342 million pounds).
So workers on the median wage would have to work for 2,261 years - about 37 average lifetimes - to earn what Hathorn did in a single year. The rich complain when workers demand double-digit wage increases, yet Hathorn`s salary increased by 330% from the previous year.
Inequality is also still highly racialised. The latest report by the Employment Equity Commission revealed that white males still dominate senior management positions in private sector workplaces.
Africans constitute 78.9% of the population, whites 9.6%, coloureds 9.1% and Indians 2.9%, yet at the ‘top management’ level in the private sector, Africans in 2013 held only 19.8% of the jobs, Coloureds 5.1%, Indians 8.4%, and foreign nationals 4.2%, while whites held 62.7%, slowly going down from their 76.3% in 2003 but still nowhere near national demographics.
The Rich List and the Employment Equity Commission reports provide powerful evidence to support the call by COSATU’s 2013 Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conference for a legislated national minimum wage, which, combined with wall-to-wall collective bargaining, comprehensive social security, would be an important first step towards greater equality and a springboard to drag millions of poor, overwhelmingly black, South Africans out of poverty.
Poverty is also creating hunger. A report by Oxfam on - “Hidden Hunger in South Africa: The Faces of Hunger and Malnutrition in a Food Secure Nation” – has been another wake-up call for all South Africans.
It reveals that even though South Africa is supposed to be ‘food-secure’, 14 million people - one in every four people - go to bed hungry every night and half the population is at risk of hunger, despite the country producing more than enough food. A further 15 million, it says, are on the terrifying verge of joining the ranks of the chronically hungry.
As Rashmi Mistry, Oxfam’s economic justice campaign manager says: “How can this possibly be true in this day and age, in 2014, in South Africa, one of the richest countries in Africa? It is a national scandal that South Africa is a food-secure country, yet the stomachs of so many - particularly women and children - were empty.”
We must also fight to transform our scandalous two-tier service provision. A still mainly white, rich minority can pay for top-class private services, while the mainly black, poor majority have to 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”. But we still need to address the appalling conditions under which most educators and learners function, the lack of the most basic infrastructure, sanitation, computers, access to libraries and broadband.
We must insist that the long-awaited National Health Insurance system is implemented speedily to address the current dysfunctionality of too many of our public hospitals. We must step up our campaign for better, safer, more reliable and affordable public transport and an end to the privatisation of our highways by forcing us to pay electronic tolls.
On the critical question of land reform, our Freedom Charter says that "The land shall be shared among those who work it!" and the government is committed to a programme to restore ownership stolen by white farmers under the 1913 Natives land Act and later apartheid laws.
But overall, land redistribution has been moving at a snail`s pace. Shortly after 1994, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) set a target of 25 million hectares, representing 30% of agricultural land, for transfer to Africans within the first five years of the land redistribution programme, but to date only about 7% has been transferred and most of the land distributed is not being used productively.
On top of all these challenges the trade union movement is facing moves by employers and right-wing opposition parties to deprive of us basic human rights to withdraw our labour and to demonstrate and picket peacefully. There is talk of ‘compulsory arbitration’ to end long strikes, something specifically outlawed by ILO conventions.
The solution to all these underlying problems remains a fundamental restructuring of our economy, away from the exploitative economy we inherited form the days of colonialism, which was based on the expropriation of our natural resources and the cheap migrant labour system. We have to replace this with a modern economy based on manufacturing industry.
This is why we are campaigning for the achievement of what we have called our “Lula moment”, inspired by the policies adopted by the former president of Brazil, who faced very similar problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality as we face, but chose the route of economic expansion, and higher minimum wages and social grants.
We need to follow the lead of Brazil under former president Lula, and six other South American countries, which have proved in practice that raising the incomes of the poorest is not only morally but also economically necessary. It increases demand, which then increases production, which creates more jobs for workers who also become consumers and sets in motion a virtuous cycle of growth.
And these positive policies are clearly also popular amongst the people. Last month two left-wing presidents - Evo Morales in Bolivia and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil - have been re-elected with a mandate to continue their progressive policies.
We have by any means achieved all the demands of the Freedom Charter, nor the ANC 1969 strategy and tactics document which said: “Our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass.
“In our country – more than in any other part of the oppressed world – it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy... To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation”.
Let us make sure that our next 20 years will transform the lives of the workers and the poor and bring us closer to the full realisation of the demand in our historic Freedom Charter, and I appeal to you to give us the same high levels of support and solidarity as you did in the darkest days of apartheid.
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
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