COSATU Freedom Day Statement 2023

The Congress of South African Trade Unions wishes workers and South Africans in general, a wonderful Freedom Day today, 27 April 2023. This year marks the 29th anniversary of our freedom which marked the demise of the apartheid regime and heralded our democratic breakthrough. 

This remains an important day in our calendar that we need to celebrate because it reminds us of where we come from and the sacrifices that gave us this political freedom.

On this day, we need to take time to reflect on the painful reality that the benefits of democracy have only accrued more to the rich and have created a new elite from the former oppressed.

The working class and the poor have been side-lined to the periphery. Most of the qualitative government programs that started by promising benefits to the poor and when they are implemented have benefitted the rich.

Unemployment-induced poverty is the dominant form of poverty in South Africa.  The lack of access to land and the incapacity of the state to expropriate land has frustrated and slowed down economic transformation.

Twenty-nine years later, many South Africans are starting to ask whether our government is in power or in office.  We now know that it is possible for a party of the working class to win the elections and assume political office, without that in any way altering the fact that political power remains in the hands of the capitalist class.

We know it’s possible that a party of the working class can be allowed to administer the capitalist state, introduce ameliorative reforms, and even impose certain controls on the activities of the capitalists just if it does not tamper with the central sphere of capitalist political power.

The experience of the last three decades has taught us that forming a government, therefore, is not the same thing as acquiring political power. We also know that even political power alone will not necessarily translate to economic freedom.

After twenty-nine years we still live with the reality that the colonial and apartheid character of our society remains intact. We are confronted with a double challenge to deal with the Apartheid legacy and the legacy of colonialism whilst at the same time having to remind those in office that the struggle is not over yet and to also remind them what our struggle was all about and, in many instances, to also remind them what the struggle was not about!

We should not tire to remind them that the struggle was not about converting our organisations into weapons to pave the way for better tenders for the selected few. We should make it clear to everyone that our struggle was not about creating better chances for friends and closer circles to secure huge business deals.

There is a distinction between being in office and being in power, we still see leaders occupying positions of power but are surrounded by the reality of the continued existence of centres of power dominated by the old order.

Truly being in power means the ability to use access to state power to drive an agenda of social change and implement your agenda.

Workers in South Africa still believe that the democratic movement has only changed the complexion of state institutions while their orientation has remained intact. Many SOEs are still being accused of favouring white companies when it comes to awarding contracts.

While celebrating this important day in our calendar we should also recommit ourselves to a new struggle to pushback against some powerful forces locally and internationally that continue to engage in a series of manoeuvres, some coordinated and some disconnected, which collectively represent a counter-offensive aimed at redirecting the path of South Africa’s democratic transition.

Our commitment going forward should be about contributing to the fight to reduce poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. We are not free when many of our compatriots are struggling to have three meals a day, and clothes on their backs. There is no freedom when people do not have a roof over their heads, and many remain unemployed.

During this Freedom Day, as we celebrate our political freedom, we reaffirm our international solidarity with Cuba in defense of the Cuban revolution, against US imperialism, and assert the country’s sovereign right to pursue an independent path of social, political, and economic development. We reaffirm our support to the Palestinian, Swati, and Saharawi people, and include all those suffering from occupation and colonial aggression around the world.

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