COSATU’s General Secretary Solly Phetoe Africa Day Message

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) joins millions of Africans on the continent, as well as in the diaspora, in celebrating the 60 years since the formation of the OAU, the predecessor to the AU, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a culmination of a process of deliberations and engagements between leaders of the newly liberated (de-colonised) African countries, which were seeking to define the path of the new Africa and how it will move forward post-independence.

This day grants us a chance to contemplate the advancements we have achieved in promoting shared socio-economic advancement, development, and effective leadership. Our region or continent boasts some of the fastest growing economies globally, and as separate nations, we are taking measures to diminish poverty and inequality, while enhancing healthcare and education.

Whilst we have many achievements to celebrate, the road ahead is long – as we tackle the many faces of inequality, deprivation, joblessness, and labour exploitation With high levels of unemployment and vulnerable employment on the rise, work in Africa is still facing tremendous challenges in terms of job creation and sustainability.

In addition to the challenges we were already confronting, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, bringing immense suffering worldwide. This virus has not only resulted in a significant loss of life, both directly and indirectly, but it has also highlighted the vulnerable and precarious position of the working class in our continent.

The hardest hit are the proletariat and the lumpen proletariat who must rely on dysfunctional governments to render social assistance, whilst getting medical healthcare in defunct healthcare institutions. This is causing further uncertainty in a continent already grappling with widespread geopolitical and economic instability.

The African trade union movement has been no small player in these battles and building a common cause with the African liberation movement against colonialism, occupation, capitalism and imperialism itself. However, neo-colonialism remains Africa’s most daunting task, as the forces against progress and seeking stranglehold and further bondage of the African people remain active and alive in all parts of the continent. From sponsoring coups, and proxy wars, to looting our mineral resources and further enslaving Africans, the infrastructure of colonial reproduction and subjugation remain alive.

COSATU recognises the importance of international solidarity, from which we so immensely benefitted, with millions of people, the world over, pledging and offering support for our struggle against apartheid and colonialism, which taught us that the world is a struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors, hence the class struggle. This means, across the world, people are fighting for justice on the one hand and finding a common cause with all others facing oppression of varying forms and those who are a minority. But rich and oppressive, who also find common cause with elites and oppressors in all other parts of the world. This is the essence of the class struggle. It is not possible to be neutral in a class struggle. 

From Swaziland, where our comrades are fighting to the end against a crude royal fascist regime that has killed thousands of ordinary people, to Palestine where the racist, apartheid and colonial regime of Israel is daily killing Palestinians and other parts of the world. The US blockade against Cuba and Venezuela are also instruments of further subjugation that have killed and maimed millions of people fighting against the empire led by the US against humanity seeking alternative developmental paths free from capitalist bondages.

The African Union is contested by foreign forces seeking to impose their interests against the African people and their sovereign right to development and progress. That is why peace keeps escaping the African people, hence the inability for development and democratic progress to happen freely.

Africa and African workers, in particular, must reject imperialism, as they should, elites who benefit and sustain the system of imperialism on the continent, which furthers the suffering of the African people. The unity of the African people must not just be symbolic, but a fundamental necessity for real progress, economic development and social emancipation of the people. Workers are key to building unity and ensuring further integration than fragmentation among the people.

Despite the above challenges which are exacerbated by COVID-19, COSATU is confident that as a continent, we will remain resilient during this crisis. We are hopeful that the rebound from COVID-19 will coincide with the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which should provide an additional boost to economic activity in Africa in the coming years. The AfCFTA is the first continent-wide African trade agreement, with the potential to facilitate and harmonise trade and infrastructure development in Africa, with great prospects for our people.

Having known this, Africa has no option but to unite. In unity lies our strength to resist any form of foreign domination and oppression. In unity, we can fight against imperialism and the lingering effects of colonial politics. In unity lies the socio-cultural, political, and economic development for which we clamour. In unity lies our solution to fighting against the continued “scramble for Africa” by opportunistic nations. 

As we reflect on our long and hard-felt journey to freedom, we also call upon the African Union (AU) to act decisively against the acts of gross human rights violations on the African continent. We also urge the continental body to not only foster collaboration in tackling COVID-19 but to chart a development path in which accountability, transparency and inclusive governance are the norm post-COVID.

Towards this end, COSATU is calling on the African people; workers, students, land justice activists, climate and environmental justice activists, community activists, those fighting various forms of oppression, exploitation, inequalities, hunger, corruption, crime, GBV and other forms of social problems to unite in the form of a regional and continental solidarity body, which should also seek to build Popular alternatives to neo-liberalism and all forms of economic and political injustice. 

With these few words, COSATU joins the millions of Africans all over the continent and throughout the world in celebrating this important day. We celebrate not because there are no problems, but we celebrate because we have overcome many problems and remain determined to overcome many more of them.