Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary, to the Annual Closing Ceremony of the Academic and Professional Staff Association

Thank you for inviting me to speak on behalf of the national office bearers of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, and all the membership, at this closing ceremony.

Let me first of all warmly congratulate your General Secretary, Boitumelo BB Senokoane, on becoming a Professor, which must surely be the first such honour to be granted to a South African union office-bearer.

APSA is one of our staunchest affiliates. You played a key role in the successful planning and launching of the federation and have been one of the most active structures in the seven brief months of our existence, seven months in which we have begun to change the landscape of the South African trade union movement.

The trade union movement has suffered years of decline, during which old federations and unions lost touch with the problems facing their members, as well as the 76% of the workforce not organised in any unions. In COSATU’s case, it became an agent of the government and ruling party.

Now SAFTU has arisen to offer a fundamentally different alternative – an independent, democratic, workers-controlled and militant fighting force, which seeks to transform the lives of all workers, their families and communities and the country as a whole.

Our launching congress in April set itself the target of increasing our 700 000 members to one million by the end of the year, and we are in the process of verifying the numbers in every union to make sure that we do not claim false victories, but are in no doubt we are on track.

We can however take pride in having scored big victories, like the reinstatement of the Midrand municipal workers after an incredible 23-year long struggle to get their jobs back, and 700 dismissed PRASA workers reinstated.

This has inspired hundreds of other workers, including Kumba iron ore mineworkers, Umbhaba farm workers, Jumbo Cash-and-Carry staff and many more – who have been fighting against unfair dismissals.

I am sure too that these break-throughs will have boosted your magnificent campaign for the insourcing of jobs, a battle in which you are playing a major part at the Steve Biko Hospital and elsewhere.

These are the workers which the founding congress made its top priority to recruit – the millions of unorganised and marginalised workers whose jobs have been outsourced, casualised, farmed out to exploiting labour brokers, or who are forced to try to survive as car-guards, waste recyclers or Zama-Zama mine workers.

These are the workers cast aside from the mainstream economy and ignored by the old unions, which are geared to serving the relatively privileged staff in the public service who have job security, medical aids and provident funds.

Of course we must still fight to improve the wages and conditions of these workers but not at the expense of those 76% of workers who are unorganized and vulnerable and have the greatest need of strong, democratic unions.

Part of this battle is to defeat the scandalous national minimum wage, proposed by NEDLAC and which is now government policy, planned to be implemented on 1 May 2018. It is a measure to legitimise and entrench a poverty wage which no worker should have to live on, especially as so many employees support five or more dependent daily members on their meagre salaries.

It is outrageous that President Zuma will be earning 71 times as much as a worker on the R3500 minimum which he believes is enough to live on. It will make what is already the most unequal society on earth even more unequal.

We, and APSA in particular, must not only look at the low wages paid to individual workers but to the social wage – the need for us to be liberated from the burden of spending most of our income on education, healthcare, transport and other services.

Education is in the spotlight, with the debate on #FeesMustFall and the call for free education at all levels, a call which SAFTU supports fully. It is in line with the Freedom Charter’s call that “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children”.

The Federation rejects the notion that this is unaffordable or unfeasible. We could raise the money for free tertiary education just by reversing the situation where today corporate income tax paid by companies has fallen from 54% in the apartheid era of their income to 28% now.

Our friends in Equal Education have added another 15 recommendations on other ways to fund education through, for example, cutting the bloated Cabinet, reducing the employment of consultants, stamping out tax evasion by the very wealthy, a wealth tax and for scrapping the failing R2bn youth wage subsidy.

This is not however what the government is planning. President Zuma’s opportunist plan for free education for the poorest families is a sham, because he knows that the economy which he has wrecked through the implementation of neoliberal, pro-business economic strategies, combined with the bankrupting of the economy and its reduction to junk status, will leave not funds left to honour his promise.

As Equal Education has further said:

“President Jacob Zuma’s reported plan to introduce free higher education for one year at a cost of R40 billion, and at the expense of crucial social services, must be rejected. Reports are that school infrastructure, black PhD students, social grants and homes are all on the chopping block. We cannot allow Zuma to pit poor and working class black students against school children, pensioners and shack-dwellers…We reject the manipulation of legitimate demands and a vital social struggle for narrow political ends.”

Zuma, the ANC government led by successive Finance Ministers and the Treasury are now faced with the result of bending to the dictates of the capitalist class and their enforcers, the credit ratings agencies, through their adoption of policies like GEAR and the National Development Plan, which follow the line of the World bank and IMF, not the people of South Africa or ANC voters. As a result they are faced with an economy on the brink of implosion.

Unemployment, at 36.85% by the more accurate definition, is six times the world average, more than a quarter of the population are hungry every day and half of all South Africans do not have sufficient access to enough food to meet basic health needs. We are the most unequal society in the world and the economy has been downgraded to junk status. There is no way this economy can afford to implement Zuma’s empty promises.

But what has turned this economic crisis into a nightmare and led to the timing of the downgrades is the mounting evidence of the corruption and looting of the country, and the political instability this has caused.

ANC leaders who were elected with a mandate to realise the ideals of the Freedom Charter to build a free and equal society which belongs to all who live within it, have betrayed those who voted for them. They have used their power to enrich themselves, their relatives and cronies and a family of ruthless crooks, in alliance with heads of state-owned enterprises and government officials, to steal billions of rands from the people.

This in turn has caused to civil war with the ANC and its alliance partners which has created the political instability which the ratings agencies have used as the justification for downgrading the economy to junk status, with all its severe consequences for the majority of South Africans.

Corruption however is not a problem confined to one family and a few political leaders who have betrayed those who put them in power. ‘State capture’ has involved a wide network of global corporations. As well as McKinsey, KPMG, Bell-Pottinger and SAP and now Naspers, researchers at Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project have found evidence that more than 20 international banks sent money to or received money from Gupta-linked companies.

Corruption is an inherent feature of monopoly capitalism, a system that is structurally corrupt, a system which enriches a few by exploiting workers, swindling consumers and colluding with each other to fix prices and maintain their profits and power over the state.

The headline on a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times by life-long pro-business commentator Peter Bruce reads “Naspers saga shows greedy capitalism is ripe for reform”!

The problem is also undermining our basic constitutional rights, as corruption’s tentacles reach into state institutions like the Hawks, NPA, and the National Intelligence Agency which are not only refusing to investigate allegations or prosecute those implicated, but are spending pubic money fighting legal battles against perceived opponents, even in two recent cases when the President’s lawyers withdrew the cases when they got to court.

These captured agencies are also posing a threat to free speech, with attacks and threats aimed at the media and political opponents. It is crucial therefore that academic staff should speak out about our national crisis and not be intimidated. I urge you all to read Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers. Our NEC has agreed to invite him to address a seminar of workers to discuss the issues he raises in the book.

The crisis which your members see daily in educational institutions and which we see in run-down and dysfunctional hospitals, the appalling conditions in shack settlements in which so many have to live, and the runaway epidemic of crime and gangsterism are all symptoms of a deep crisis of the monopoly capitalist system

We shall never fully achieve the goals of the Freedom Charter, while the economy remains in the hands of unelected, unaccountable, still mainly white- and male-owned capitalist businesses, their policemen in the credit ratings agencies and corrupt allies in government and the public service.

Talking about the Freedom Charter, let’s remember the ANC the ruling party that has brought us to where we are is going to have a conference this coming weeks. Once more Marxism and Leninism that inspired our congress is so relevant when we remember what Vladimir Lenin said:

“People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be, until they have learned to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises.”

The battle between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa is not based on any political and ideological differences. It is not about who will implement the Freedom Charter’s demand for the sharing of wealth or land. The battle between the factions is about who will be in pole position to distribute patronage. It’s about sorting out the eating queue now and post 2017.

The working class without consciousness and which is blinded by undying love will realise after 70 years that they have deceived themselves. The ANC is gone! It has been stolen by the black bourgeoisie from the working class. Anyone who is still labouring under the false impression that the ANC remains a left-leaning, working-class-biased liberation movement is deceiving him/herself. All the Nasrec conference is going to do is to replace one butcher of the working class with another butcher of the working class.

The exploitation of the working class will simply continue! Labour brokers will not be banned; outsourcing will not be ended; the R20 per day minimum wage will be the order of the day; deindustrialisation will continue; the march away from decent work into precarious types of employment will continue; South Africa will continue being the most unequal society in the world; poverty afflicting the very black majority will continue, etc.

The struggle for genuine freedom and democracy will not be led by any of the factions unless they embark on a real introspection why that party is increasingly a rural party. They have been unable to give real meaning to the Freedom Charter’s economic demands and in particular the ANC’s own Morogoro conference resolution that said:

“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.

“Our drive towards national emancipation is therefore in a very real way bound up with economic emancipation. We have suffered more than just national humiliation. Our people are deprived of their due in the country’s wealth; their skills have been suppressed and poverty and starvation has been their life experience. The correction of these centuries-old economic injustices lies at the very core of our national aspirations.

“We do not underestimate the complexities which will face a people’s government during the transformation period nor the enormity of the problems of meeting economic needs of the mass of the oppressed people. But one thing is certain — in our land this cannot be effectively tackled unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals be they white or black.”

Regrettably this warning has been ignored as leaders get co-opted into the boardrooms of the very monopoly capital they pretend to be fighting. And once they taste the bones falling from the master’s table they abandon everything they believed in yesterday. It is white monopoly capital that has most reasons to celebrate our “freedom and democracy”. I would challenge anyone who can argue to the contrary to a public debate.

Accordingly our interrupted march must continue! We have to continue with that struggle until the land question has been addressed until that land has to be given back to its owners without compensation, until the property question has been addressed and all mines, banks and strategic monopoly industries has been placed under democratic workers’ control. We have to use the countries’ wealth for the benefit of the majority, and not, like both Dlamini Zuma and Ramaphosa, capitulate to the dictates of the parasitic rich white monopoly capitalists.

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