he Congress of South African Trade Unions joins all South Africans in celebrating this year’s Freedom Day, marking the twenty eighth anniversary of our first democratic elections. There was hope on the 27th of April 1994 that the new administration was going to do away with the inherited privileges of the minority and transform the economy to accommodate the previously disadvantaged majority.
Sadly, twenty-eight years later that dream remains stillborn. The gap between the rich and the poor has not just widened but South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank. Inequalities have risen with about 71% of the population in South Africa living on less than R100 a day.
Budget cuts are directed at the poor and retrenchments in the SOEs are throwing more workers on the unemployment line. The public sector workers and workers in general are being berated by purveyors of bourgeois ideology for demanding a living wage.
The country’s rate of unemployment has soared to unprecedented levels and attempts at revitalising the capitalist economy, within the neoliberal framework of cutbacks and bailouts has only induced new and bigger rounds of crisis.
On top of unemployment and poverty, the country is dealing with the twin curses of racism and gender-based violence. Another most disturbing development is the growing xenophobia and tribalism, things that were at the heart of the apartheid strategy of divide and conquer.
The criminal apartheid regime’s strategy was to sow tribal and racial divisions to deny us our common identity as South Africans in particular and Africans in general.
Sadly, during these 28th anniversary commemorations of our democratic breakthrough, millions of South Africans remain imprisoned by poverty and trapped by poor services because of corruption.
Despite remaining the majority of the population, it has been reduced into a status of passive recipients of ever shrinking state grants and other services such as free housing precisely because of its hopeless and miserable socio-economic conditions that do not allow it to afford the basic necessities of life.
The government’s approach to economic transformation is focused on the integration of few black elites into the economic structures of ownership, while leaving these structures unchanged. This integrationist strategy that does not tamper with the capitalist logic of accumulation means that workers cannot look at the current government to defend and liberate the working class from this economic quagmire. Experience in other countries has taught us that the elite has often succeeded, in their offensive against the workers and the working class, where the unions are weak and fractured, mostly over narrow sectarian differences.
The message is clear today, we have nothing to celebrate but every reason to mobilise. The current economic developments should send a very clear message to the working class that sectarianism and fragmentation are not an option or the solution anymore.
The unity of the working class, starting with the organised component of the working class the trade union movement is very important during this critical period. Trade unions should abandon their narrow sectarian differences and start to cooperate and work together.
There is a need for trade unions to unite with a range of mass formations organizing students, women, religious groups, and youth to among other things build and strengthen working class power in society.
Permanent mobilization of the working class and the poor, through variety of their organizations is necessary to build capacity and momentum against this working-class onslaught.
Happy Freedom Day to all!
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794