SAFTU President, Mac Chavalala’s Keynote Address to the Working Class Summit, 21 July 2018, Soweto

Chairpersons of the session

Leaders from all of the over 137 working class formations represented by over 1000 delegates

Comrades and Friends 

Ladies and Gentlemen 

It is my singular honour to welcome all of you to this historic and long overdue Working Class Summit. This assembly of the working class, rural poor, the downtrodden and marginalised brings together formations that have never met under the same roof before. 

This Working-Class Summit seeks to unite the working class formations, employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the water crisis and the scourge of violence against women and children, into a mass campaign to struggle for a truly free, just, democratic and equal society. 

SAFTU is happy that the leadership meeting preparing for this summit has endorsed the set of principles that will guide our unity as anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-patriarchy and anti-xenophobia.

At our own SAFTU founding congress we adopted same set of principles as well which we wish to share with you. The central lesson we have leant is that we must be truly independent but not apolitical, truly democratic, campaigning, socialist oriented, self-sufficient and should not tolerate corruption within our own ranks and must be internationalist in character and embrace Pan Africanism. 

This is a gathering that seeks as a platform to coordinate our response as the working class formations to the deepening crisis of capitalism. 

The SAFTU Special National Executive Committee (NEC) held on 22 May 2018 took the initiative and resolved to call for this Working Class Summit after it had analysed the crisis visiting the working class not just from the perspective of the past 24 years of democracy, but its historic colonial apartheid perspective. 

Our reading of the current mood amongst the working class demonstrated by their ringing endorsement of the SAFTU demands on the 25 April general strike is that our people are getting angrier and more frustrated. 

Even the very pro-business Financial Mail – representing the capitalist monopolies, which are the main cause of the crisis – has woken up to the fact that “there’s a toxic brew bubbling under on the fringes of our country”

Its editorial (19 July 2018) goes on: “Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a sharp rise in protests around SA — be it increasingly volatile demonstrations near Hermanus, or in Mitchells Plain and the Bo-Kaap near Cape Town or in Centurion in Gauteng or in Kimberley. The country has seldom been so close to the edge… It is beginning to whip up into a squall that, some fear, can’t be tamed.”

They are mistaken to think that these protests are only “on the fringes” of society. They are happening all over South Africa and spreading to all the oppressed majority of the people.

The magazine notes that: “Nothing has shifted unemployment from its stubbornly high level of 36.7% (using the expanded definition). Few other democracies could tolerate the human impact of having more than a third of their labour force out of work. Here, we’ve done it for years.”

We are gather in this unprecedented and historic fashion to tell the Financial Mail editors that, thanks to the ill-advice you have been feeding to our government that our country is now sitting on a ticking time bomb that is exploding all over the country.

The government elected by the majority our people from 1994 until today has sought to address the crisis within the framework of not just the capitalist system but of neoliberalism and to worsen our situation, has since 1996, when it adopted GEAR and since 2008, embarked on an austerity programme in order to solve a capitalist crisis at the back of the working class. 

We are meeting in this historic Working Class Summit in the middle of worst kinds of attacks designed to help the ruling class to be more profitable whilst keeping the workers and the poorest of the poor under their heel.

In this period this attack has been taken to unprecedented levels. VAT has been increased by a whopping 7%. All manner of other taxes has been introduced to punish the poor and make them fix a crisis they did not create. Petrol increases now becoming so regular leading to increased transport and food costs. 

Is it not ironic that the ANC once made this statement about the National Party’s hiking of petrol prices;

“The ill-considered and uncaring decision to increase the petrol price only confirm the NP government does not have the interests of the majority of South Africans, who are poor and struggling desperately to make ends meet, at heart. If the government persist in pressing ahead with these indefensible price hikes, they will be inviting a similar reaction to that when VAT was increased. Now is the time to establish the tradition of a government that cares for and consults its citizens” (16 September 1993 – “ANC demands suspension of petrol hikes”)

Can this be the same ANC who have now taken a conscious decision to impose hardship on the working class and the poor? They have lost the plot altogether since 1994

What is annoying is that the taxes of those who can afford to pay are being driven down systematically in a deliberate strategy to shift the tax burden from the shoulders of those who can afford, to the working class and the poor. 

Labour Laws are being amended to restrict the right of workers strike and to entrench poverty pay. As we speak there are hearings under way to take away a right of bus drivers and educators to strike by getting them declared essential services. This represents the most direct and frontal attack on organised labour and those who have yet to enter the labour market in the future.

These recent attacks seek to worsen a crisis we have lived with for many decades. Despite everything we have done this crisis has been getting worse. We have been marching, we have been in the streets burning tyres desperately to draw attention and some have mistakenly and wrongly even resorted to burning libraries and schools to try to get the authorities to look at their direction. 

Unemployment has got worse. As we meet here there are only 6 countries with worse unemployment rate than ours. A staggering 36.7% of our people are unemployed. 63.3% of our youth between the age of 15 and 34 are unemployed. 

Poverty that robs our people their dignity and sense of self worth continue to be a reality. In 2015, 30.4 million South Africans were living in poverty with 26% going hungry a day but more frighteningly a 14 million facing hunger.

We hold the unwanted distinction of being the most unequal society in the world. Oxfam also revealed that “about two-thirds of South Africa’s wealth is held by the top 1% and about 90% is held by the top 10%”. In 2017, 82% of all growth in wealth went to the top 1% and the bottom half saw no increase at all.

The transformation in the private sector is moving at snail’s pace. As we meet in this Summit 72.23% of top managers in the government are black, 71% of those in the private sector are white. Similarly, 69% of senior managers in government are black, 61.7% of them in the private sector are white. Among the professionally qualified the figures are 71.1% and 47.7%, 

Living standards are in free fall, with the revelations in BankservAfrica’s latest Take-home Pay Index that show that the take-home pay levels declined dramatically in May 2018.

The main reason for this disaster is the ANC government’s neoliberal economic policies which, as Professor Sampie Terreblanche has written, were agreed upon at “secret meetings between the ANC and big business — behind the high walls of Harry Oppenheimer’s estate and at the Development Bank of Southern Africa” These meetings, he wrote, “laid the foundations for the continued beggary of the majority”.

There was a trade-off under which the ANC leaders surrendered economic transformation for democracy and human rights, thus leaving economic power in the hands of the white monopoly capitalists who had captured the state in the days of colonialism and apartheid and still have it in its grip today. 

This deal led first to the misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy of 1996 followed by the National Development Plan. These free-market, pro-big business policies led to the exact opposite of what they promised – slower growth, less employment and redistribution from the poor to the rich. It had disastrous consequences in every of area of the life of the majority, the working class and the rural poor in particular.

The current crisis, which is simultaneously political, economic and social, is rooted in the Codesa negotiated settlement, which led to the end of apartheid. The settlement conceded democratic political rights, but ensured that the economy remained firmly in the hands of white monopoly capitalism, through the property clause. 

The only way out of the crisis has to be through a mass movement of the working-class based on a program guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism for the nationalisation of the mineral and manufacturing monopolies, the banks and the land, in line with the aspiration expressed in the Freedom Charter. This discussion will be further developed in an Ideological and Political Commission. 

Whilst we must continue to celebrate that we have the biggest antiretroviral programme in the world, thanks to the wonderful work of TAC, Section 27 and others, we must recognise that the public health care remains in a deep crisis. You have to read the letter penned by Mark Heywood to President Cyril Ramaphosa to appreciate the magnitude of the crisis. 

We have seen the death of 143 and possible over 200 psychiatric patients under the care of the government in what can only be described as the worse example of an uncaring government that has a disdain against the working class and the poor.

The education crisis is not getting any better. The education system of those who can afford the exorbitant private school fees compares with the best in the world whilst the poor majority is trapped in a dysfunctional poor and inferior quality education system that we cannot rely upon to climb the ladder out of squalor.

We welcome the fact that Government was forced to announce the norms and standards following years of campaigning by the Equal Education Campaign. The challenge is to transform these victories into reality. In fact, we must ask the fundamental question about whose class interest the current education serves?

One of the main reason for this crisis is that government’s spending on basic education per learner over the past seven years declined by 8% in real terms.  Despite increasing total expenditure in money terms by the rate of inflation, about 7% a year, there was a big increase in the number of new learners, as a result of a sharp rise in the birth-rate between 2003 and 2005, which only came down slightly in 2008.

The quality of schools in poor and working class communities remains scandalous. The Department of Basic Education has confirmed that, after 24 years of democracy, there are still 3 532 pit toilets at schools across the country which put children’s lives at risk.

The Department estimates that it will cost about R7.8 billion to address the sanitation backlog in all schools, yet the budget for school infrastructure has been cut by R3.6 billion – which could have met nearly half this need.

While SAFTU fully backs the campaign for free, decolonised education for all, it will still exclude all those poor learners who have already been failed by the basic education system and have no good enough matric passes.

On the question of land expropriation without compensation, we note the decisions of both the ANC and Parliament to endorse this long overdue step looking at the Section 25 of the Constitution to ask a question, does this section help us advance the demand of our people for the return of the land without compensation or does it inhibit it? Throughout the hearings held so far our people are absolutely united in demanding land expropriation without compensation. 

The debate we will have in this Working Class Summit is who must own the land – the state or the people and the next question is how we make sure that the land does not like the economy end up in the hands of BEE tycoons or a twisted continuation of white monopoly capital and a rented BEE elite? 

It is appalling that 24 years after the ANC came to power, its leaders have until now done virtually nothing to implement this policy. By 2012 land reform had transferred only 7.95 million hectares into black ownership, equivalent to just 7.5% of the 87% owned by whites in 1994. 

Comrades we can go on and on to articulate the crisis facing the working class and the marginalised. We don’t have time to do so. 

One can make one bold conclusion that says; in the first 24 years of democracy the main beneficiaries of the economy are the same beneficiaries of the colonial and capitalist apartheid era. 

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