COSATU Human Rights Day Statement 2023

The Congress of South African Trade Unions joins millions of South Africans to commemorate the historic Human Rights Day(Sharpeville Day)  for the year 2023. On this day, we remember the 69 heroes and heroines that were slain and the 180 people injured in Sharpeville, on the 21st of March 1960 in their quest to free South Africa from the shackles of apartheid. They shook the foundations of an oppressive regime and exposed the evil apartheid dictatorship, therefore, rallying the international community behind the struggle to demolish it.

We honour the memory of all the martyrs of our liberation struggle, whose commitment, bravery, and sacrifices won the human rights that we enjoy today, by highlighting the plight of those who are still denied their rights.  Our progressive human rights-centric Constitution and the progressive labour and socio-economic laws are the legacies that these and countless martyrs of the struggle left us with.

Despite these sacrifices, the policy choices made by successive governments have failed to deal with the essence of colonialism and apartheid capitalism. The colonial and apartheid economic and political policy platform is firmly intact, and we remain the most unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank.

There is rising popular discontent, and a growing sense of alienation, frustration, and despair amongst a significant stratum of the youth, the unemployed, and the working poor.  The mainly black majority suffers from extreme landlessness, the nation is sinking under the weight of corruption and the economy is a victim of illicit outflows of billions of Rands.  Millions in this country still find themselves trapped in sprawling slums and haunted by the spectre of avoidable diseases and death.  The vulnerable sections of the labour force suffer severe exploitation and are subjected to slave-like conditions, where their rights are violated with impunity.

Nowhere are human rights more at risk than on farms, across the country, where workers enjoy the fewest rights and are the most exploited and abused. Ruthless employers still pay poverty wages, summarily evict tenants from their homes, and sometimes assault, rape and even murder their workers. They are also often forced to work on public holidays and do not enjoy their hard-won rights.  It is time we took seriously the need to provide farm workers and their families with their own homes and land and thus shield them from the perennial threat of evictions.

Domestic workers also remain outside South Africa’s Labour Law and its protection. While the abuse of domestic workers is prevalent, we have seen few prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for these violations. The government needs to show some political will to make sure that employers comply with the country’s laws. It is not enough that South Africa has adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), we need to see more deliberate action to implement the convention.

The Federation remains deeply alarmed by the large number of employers who choose to undermine the National Minimum Wage Act. It is critical for the Department of Labour to increase its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to help domestic workers from sexual and emotional abuse, including those that are subjected to human trafficking. 

Without any deliberate and adequate training and awareness amongst workers and employers, the Department of Labour (DoL) will continue to struggle to monitor and enforce sanctions. The lack of training and awareness makes many employees feel afraid to confront employers even if they know their rights as workers are being violated or they are feeling exploited.

Workers, in particular women, travel to work on trains and taxis in fear for their lives.  Every week at least one mine worker and one police officer died at their workplace.  Month after month we witness the trauma of a young child drowning in a pit latrine in a nation that could run a world-class Soccer World Cup tournament.  Each year, thousands of workers die from pollution and easily preventable communicable diseases like tuberculosis. About 93% of workers cannot afford to retire in comfort when they reach retirement age.

However, on paper, we have some of the world’s most progressive laws and policies.  What is needed from the state is the political will and capacity to enforce compliance.  Business too needs to lead by example, in ending the apartheid wage gap prevalent in the private sector.  Ordinary residents too need to play their part and respect the human rights of others, in particular women and the vulnerable in society.  COSATU will continue to play its role in holding the state, employers, and other parties accountable in defence of everyone’s human rights.

Issued by COSATU 

For further information please contact:

Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911

Cell: 060 975 6794