South African Federation of Trade Unions President Mac Chavalala’s Keynote Address to the Central Committee

Chairperson of the session,

Members of the NEC of SAFTU

Provincial Leadership

Invited Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my honour to welcome you all to this first ever meeting of the Special Central Committee of the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

It is important to first remind ourselves how this SCC came about, and the purpose of this important meeting. The May NEC resolved that this Federation should convene a SCC as the highest-decision making structure between congresses to deal with constitutional challenges and approval of policies.

Allow me comrades to paraphrase my input by extracting a paragraph from the preamble of our own Constitution which reads as follows:

“Despite the rhetoric, people’s POWER has been stolen from the people, as part of the politics of domination by the elite. In South Africa, it is now more than two decades since the democratic dispensation was established, but still the working class and the poor remain exploited and at the bottom of the pile in terms of access to resources and opportunities”.

POWER is targeted and prioritized in order to impose class domination. So if POWER is stolen, the people must demand their POWER back, and that’s where the issue of contesting for state POWER comes in.

Marches and strikes are good tactically comrades, but the capitalist class does not care because you are not hitting where it is hurting most.

Hence Lenin warned us about a democratic state – that:

“ A democratic state is the best possible political shell for capitalism. Once capital has gained possession of this best shell, it establishes its POWER so securely, so firmly that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it”.

I’m emphasizing “POWER” so that the working class as a class we, begin to understand the importance of Political POWER.  We have declared war against Capitalism. Down with Capitalism down!

Let me share with you what Kwame Nkrumah once said in his book, “NEO-COLONIALISM, the last stage of imperialism”, about South Africa:

“The WHOLE of the economy is geared to the interest of the foreign capital that dominates it. South Africa’s banking institutions, like those of the other African states, are offshoots of the Western banking and financial houses. South Africa is dominated by western monopoly even more than by any other sector of the continent, because the investments are many times greater and the dependence upon gold and other mining as the center of the economy gears it inextricably to that economy. Its vulnerability is intensified by the fact that it is a supplier of crude and semi-finished products to the factories of the west on a larger scale than the rest of Africa, and an earner of great profits for their financial backers”.

Hence the Radical Economic Transformation rhetoric today, which is highly impossible under a capitalist system.

This federation is just 18 months old, but it seems much longer, given the amount of work which we have done in such a short time, and it is so refreshing to be back at the same venue where this giant Federation was born on 21 April 2017.

The highlights are the magnificent mass march and strike in April where thousands of workers across the country in response to SAFTU’s call, took to the streets in defense of their rights. Who can forget the unforgettable working class-summit on 21-22 July, when 147 South African Organizations represented by more than 1000 delegates assembled to unite workplace and community struggles against a cruel capitalist system which plunged the big majority of South Africans into a catastrophe of poverty, unemployment, corruption and crime.

We have not only fought to defend our members against employers and sweetheart Unions, but we have reached out to the broader community and given a voice to all the oppressed people of our country, outsourced, immigrant and marginalized workers, the unemployed, the informal traders, community and students activists, including special-interest groups in areas like education, health, media freedom and human rights.

Our top priority is to take this struggle forward and we must leave this venue with clear plans to build on the working class summit’s successes and turn the tide against the privileged Capitalist class which lives in luxury at the expense of the Workers and the Poor.

We have won so many victories – in the work place, at Bargaining Councils, in the streets and right up to the Constitutional Court- that I don’t have time to list them all. (Well done NUMSA on the Labour Broker Victory and the “David v Goliath” Victory of SACOSWU!!)

We have firmly established ourselves as an important feature on South Africa’s landscape. Let us give ourselves a round of applause!

However, we must also look back and honestly and thoroughly look at where we could and should have done better, and the formidable challenges that we still face.

Although a good way of starting that discussion would be to go back to the nine founding principles we adopted here on 23rd April 2017, and to see how well we have or have not been living up to those principles.



We strongly believe that trade unions must be independent from employers both in the private and public Sector, and from political parties. This does not mean that Unions must be apolitical.

We have remained fully independent of any party and we have definitely not been apolitical. We’ve consistently issued public statements almost daily, on all the big political and labour issues. Our affiliates are also improving in issuing media statements. Congratulations Comrades, you are doing well!!

However, one thing we must discuss is what should be our attitude to the soon to be launched SRWP, noting that both the NEC and the Working Class Summit agreed with our Congress Resolution after an intense debate on the political and economic landscape in our Country.

Our Congress resolved that:

“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 Maxism-Leninism for the nationalisation of the minerals and manufacturing monopolies, the banks and the land in line with the aspirations expressed in the Freedom Charter”.

We shall have to agree on what attitude to take to their policies, most of which we hope will be very similar to our own.

  1. WORKER CONTROL AND DEMOCRACY (We making this point because there are “Unions and Political parties” that belong to individuals)

Comrades, worker control, democratic principles, accountability, transparency and tolerance are non-negotiable principles in this federation.

We are making this point because some Unions in some Federations have become completely dysfunctional because of leaders who have ignored and betrayed their members. Some of their leaders are waiting for their day in court on charges of stealing the members’ money.

SAFTU Unions have been built on the foundation of worker democracy, based on mandates from, and report backs to, the members, and there must be no complacency. We have had a few problems and must remain vigilant to keep making sure that our members are fully informed and involved.

Worker control cannot be guaranteed only through constitutions or resolutions, but through constant interaction between the electors and the elected, and between members and leaders.


As trade unions we must fight for maximum worker’s unity and reject all divisive and negative sentiments such as xenophobia, tribalism, racism and ethnicity, all of which are the products of a capitalist system which exploits divisions within the working class.

We should welcome and recruit migrant workers!!

We have been very good at writing and talking about Women’s empowerment, yet we still have far too many Federation and affiliates’ meetings that are male dominated. we have taken a firm stance against SEXUAL HARASSMENT and we must keep ensuring that woman members are free and indeed encouraged to reports and that complaints are followed up and where necessary acted on.

The attendance of so many migrant groups at the working class summit was very encouraging and we must now cement these links and unite our class in the struggle against xenophobic attacks and in support of the Principle of WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!!!

We must continue with campaigns against the rape of woman and children.


(And opposition in words and deed to business unionism, corruption, fraud and maladministration within its own ranks and in a capitalist society which is inherent corrupt, which we must fight continuously and support workers exposing corruption, e.g in Prasa and the former Midrand Municipality.

We have an excellent record of fighting corruption, not just in words but in deeds, like our court case against Trillian. Right now we are planning to expose and stop corruption in the PIC where there are allegations of misappropriation of millions of Rands of workers’ pension Money.

Financial Self-sufficiency is a major problem. Some of you are struggling to maintain your subscription to the Federation, and sadly a few of you have forfeited your constitutional rights to remain as affiliates in good standing of the Federation.

This is an issue which must be discussed and resolved by the Central Committee, so that going forward we are able to manage the affairs of the Federation from an informed position.

We shall not refuse donations from outside sources. But we must never take the path of business Unionism and find ourselves forced to act in the interest of outside funders or become victims of business Unionism.


Our application to affiliate to ITUC has not been confirmed and this is an area where much work needs to be done to forge links with our fellow workers across the globe.

In the same breath comrades, in line with the principle of international solidarity, this Federation cannot afford to be quiet when leadership of trade unions, federations and the working class in general are being attached by the ruling elite in any part of Africa and the World. Brutality against the working class is on the increase.

Recently Comrades, the Mnangagwa regime arrested the President and the GS of ZCTU and 5 others for challenging the logic of capitalism in Zimbabwe.

This Central Committee must discuss and resolve on how best as this Federation can we show solidarity with those leaders and ordinary workers in Zimbabwe. We must expose this lie that the leadership of Mnangagwa represent a “New dawn” in Zimbabwe.

We must equally condemn the harassment and arrests of trade union leaders in Egypt by the Egyptian Government. We are reliably informed that union leaders are arrested almost every week in that country.

So the same harassment some of the Unions under SAFTU are going through in this country is the same as what other comrades are going through in some parts of Africa and the World, because capitalism is inherently violent comrades!

We must continue to support the liberation of the people of Palestine against the brutality of the Israel Government, and we must show the same support to the people of Western Sahara.


We are a Maxism-Leninist and Marxist Pan-Africanist inspired Federation, based on a commitment to socialism, internationalism, all of which are complementary.

This principle has been honored to the letter. All our speeches are  inspired with the ideals listed above and we have refused to make the kind of compromises with government and business which other Federations have made at NEDLAC, like the Poverty National Minimum Wage and the recent “Business as Usual” outcomes of the so called ”Job Summit”.

SAFTU was right for refusing to be part of the sellout summit! They have betrayed then other unions’ own members and the working class as a whole and enabled our class enemy to claim that there is a “National Consensus” around policies which only benefited our class enemies.


The best evidence of our success in honoring this principle is the Working class Summit which I have already dealt with. It has continued with our involvement with such organizations as the #Totalshutdown movement and Abahlali.

We must thank NUMSA in KZN and other SAFTU affiliates for supporting Abahlali’s successful march on the 8th of this Month!!


We have made major strides but much more needs to be done to coordinate the work of affiliates through the cluster structures, and to merge those Unions operating within the same sector. We must end the unfortunate tendency of meetings of subcommittees and task teams being badly attended and not being fully representative or effective in taking the programs of this federation forward.


I believe that this is an overarching Principle for which we have stood firm as illustrated by the progress I have just listed above. There are many other issues which you will want to raise Comrades, and I appeal to you to be frank but also comradely and constructively in the way you raise them.

I wish you a successful Central Committee.


Patrick Craven, Acting SAFTU Spokespoerson: 061 636 6057

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