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General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the funeral of Thembisile Yende, 3 June 2017

On behalf of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, we bring a message of condolence and support to all Thembisile Yende’s family, friends and comrades. It is a tragedy that we have lost a beloved daughter, sister, mother and friend, made even worse by the fact that it is a tragedy that should never have happened. She lost her life because her employers callously refused to provide its workers with the protection and security they should receive.

They refused to listen to NUMSA’s pleas that workers at substations should always work in pairs. They withdrew security and the cameras were not working when this fatal attack took place. They, and the police, took an unforgivably long time to follow on the report that Thembisile was missing.
We support NUMSA’s demand for the fullest possible investigation into this event so that we know exactly what happened, who was responsible and what must now be done to prevent any similar fatalities. At least some good can come of this tragedy if Eskom management are forced to prioritise the safety of their staff instead of lining their pockets through corrupt deals.
Sadly of course this outrage is not an isolated incident. It is just the latest example of murder, rape, kidnapping and violence against women in South Africa which must force all of us to do more to combat these appalling crimes. SAFTU is joining the battle to end this national disgrace.

The statistics of violent crimes against women and children are appalling. One in five women have experienced physical violence and the figure is even higher in the poorest communities, but these terrible figures do not begin to convey the pain, fear and trauma faced by thousands of women every day of the year, as so horrifically illustrated by what has happened to Thembisile
But we must go beyond just expressing our horror at these atrocities and turn our anger into action. It must not be a problem we only mention once a year during the 16 Days of Activism, and do nothing in the nothing about it in the other 349 days.
The problem is rooted in a society in which patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia and violent suppression of dissent was entrenched under colonialism and apartheid but still thrives today. Women are continuously side-lined and discriminated against in leadership positions at work or in union, community and political structures.

Patriarchy is still pervasive in society, seen in the way boys are brought up – to be tough, to fight and not to show any soft feelings; they are told “boys don’t cry” from a very early age. Many children see their fathers hit their mothers as they are growing up and see this as normal and acceptable.

When they become adults, men feel expected to be in charge of the family or workplace and justified in using violence to enforce their will against wives, children and women workers. Culture and religion are also  used as an excuse for men to dominate women and even to beat them.

There is often a reluctance by police and courts to treat violence against women as seriously as other violent crimes. The painfully slow response to the first reports that Thembisile was missing is an example of the low priority given to such cases.

To counter this state of affairs a massive national campaign is required and unions must play a leading role in educating and mobilizing their members to set an example by desisting from violence against women and reporting other who they have witnessed behaving violently to women. The central demand must be for zero tolerance to all forms of violence against women and children, fast-tracking of the legal processes and the harshest possible sentences for those found guilty.

At the same time workers must be at the forefront of the campaign for gender equity in the workplace, the community, political parties and civil society, to rid society of the scourge of violence against women.

Our country has a terrible culture of violence that we must eradicate. We are country at war with itself. In 2015/2016, 18,683 people were murdered which was a 4.9% increase from 2015/2015. This means 51 people die every day!

What should shock us even more is what the Treasury official Rendani Randela told parliament when he said “Criminals know they have little chance of being caught. Should they be arrested, they know the chances are even less that they’ll eventually appear in court. And, should they appear in court, the chances are even less that they’ll be found guilty,”

Let us present you with more frightening statistics that demonstrate that our judicial system is as sick as the perpetrators of crime. We are told that the police arrest only half of all the crimes reported annually. Of those arrested a meager 42% eventually appear in court; the rest are released. And less than a third (30%) of the suspects who do appear in court are found guilty.

In 2009 according to the police statistics, the conviction rate for murder in this country was 13% and for rape is 11.5%. But other estimates in 2014 said the conviction rate is as low as 10%.

This means even if we were to go back to the days of hangings, these will be the pathetic numbers we deal with. The deterrent to crime will only be when criminals know they will be arrested when they commit crime, they will be convicted and will stay in jail.

But then in a country where 36.4% are unemployed, where 14 million are going to bed on empty stomachs of more than half of the population living in poverty, a function judicial system will not be a panacea. We can truly conquer criminality when we succeed to uproot the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality which are all intractably linked to the capitalist exploitation.

As we bid farewell to Thembisile Yende, let us commit to the new struggle for the total and true emancipation from the real reasons behind these horrendous statistics! We have been fiddling on the periphery for 23 years now!

SAFTU call on all workers irrespective of political and ideological divisions, on all the organs of people’s power to embark on this new struggle for the emancipation of the working class and the black people.

Let us not let Thembisile Yende die in vain. Let’s liberate ourselves from the drugs that are the drivers of the violent crimes and the only we can succeed doing that is to fight for a high quality, free and decolonized public education system that will eliminate the current rush to get kids out of the township schools into the private schools.

Let’s fight for a new economic structure that will lead to massive industrialization of our economy. Let’s fight until the mineral wealth of this country can be owned by the citizens of this country. Let us fight for the realization of the demands of the Freedom Charter.  Let us fight for the return of our land without compensation but then let’s campaign and force the government to help us support community cooperatives to work the land and move us to food security and food sovereignty.

Let’s fight neoliberal policy including austerity measures that undermines the struggle for total emancipation of the working class. Without this struggle to dismantle the pillars of colonialism, apartheid and capitalist exploitation we will bury more of our young flowers. We will risk descending into barbarism and as more resort to eye for an eye and vigilantism or will have to build more prisons instead of schools and hospitals.

That’s the only way we can truly honour the memory of Thembisile Yende.

May her soul rest in place. May her parents, family friends and comrades gain strength to cope with her tragic death.

Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary: 079 182 4170