COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe:  Address to COSATU Eastern Cape PEC 

09 June 2020 

Comrade Chairperson,  

Provincial office bearers 

PEC Members 

Our alliance partners in this meeting 

Our staff, our guests, our locals. 

The leadership of COSATU and Affiliates in the Eastern Cape, the province of Vuyisile Mini and John Gomomo and so many other stalwarts of COSATU and our predecessor, SACTU, thank you for inviting us to join you today. 

It is always good to be with you in the Province of Legends and to hear about the challenges facing nurses at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, farm workers in Sterkspruit, and municipal workers in Mthatha. I am looking forward to hearing from you on your programmes to defend and champion the needs and rights of our members.   

Comrades, we are meeting not simply to fulfill the obligations COSATU’s Constitution imposes upon us to gather, but to reflect and act upon the challenges facing the working class. 

Whilst we have seen a further decrease in the unemployment rate, it is still far too high at 42.4%.  Our communities remain mired in poverty and inequality.  Workers are drowning in debt trying to take care of their families. 

Inflation is at a 14-year high due to the war in Ukraine and the subsequent rise in international oil prices, though we have begun to see it lower.  The Reserve Bank has moved too far and too fast in raising the repo rate by nearly 500 points in the past 18 months, putting further pressure on workers and making it even more difficult for them to pay their debts and survive.   

We are engaging the Governor and government on this.  We need to look at alternative measures to reduce inflation and not simply suffocate workers and the economy. 

Parliament and the government have responded to COSATU’s call to slash Eskom’s debt burden by R254 billion.  We hope that this will free Eskom’s resources to focus on ramping up maintenance and end load-shedding.   

We are witnessing an outbreak of cholera and the loss of more than 30 people.  This is a painful reminder of the need for the local government to invest in water infrastructure, the provincial government to invest in healthcare facilities, of the national government to invest in healthcare workers.  It is also a reminder to all of us to ensure that we, our families, our members, and our communities vaccinate against cholera, polio, and all the other deadly pandemics.  We should not be putting the lives of our families at risk. 

The local government is in serious trouble.  A decade ago, 10% of municipalities were in financial trouble.  Today it is 90%.  A year ago, 20 municipalities in 4 provinces were struggling to pay workers.  Today it is 27 with Amathole, Amahlathi, Raymond Mhlaba, Enoch Mgijima, and King Dalindyebo failing to pay workers.  I have not heard what the Eastern Cape’s plan is to help SAMWU in this struggle.  Why are we not picketing and occupying the Mayors, MECs for Finance and Local Government, and the Premier’s Offices? 

The government has adopted the Municipal Systems Amendment Act banning municipal workers from holding office in a political party.  We are working with SAMWU on a Constitutional Court challenge to defeat this attack on workers’ constitutional rights. 

We applaud the efforts by SATAWU and COSATU to show solidarity with the 56 workers dismissed at Mathimba Power Station in Limpopo.  It is critical that this not be a once-off event but that we continue the fight to help reinstate these workers. We must call the ANC government to respect its manifesto adopted in the 2019 election, to do away with outsourcing, we must act and call for full employment of contract and casual workers who have been employed for more than three months as full-time municipalities, all government including private sectors. 

Our last CEC resolved that come the 6th of July 2023, it must be a National Day of Action, we must go and defend our gains, against our enemy, our enemy is capitalism which includes government. 

Equally, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to help farms and other vulnerable workers.  Worker’s approach COSATU every day asking for help.  Do we follow up on the issues they raised?  Do we sign them up with Affiliates? 

I’m raising this as we have raised the hopes of workers.  The worst thing we can do is to raise the hopes of workers, only to disappoint them. 

We are a trade union movement, we receive our mandate from our members, but we also seek to advance the struggles of the working class, including vulnerable workers.  We have made strides in Parliament, including amending the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act to extend cover to 900 000 domestic workers.   

What programmes do we have in the Eastern Cape to recruit, empower, and protect domestic workers, taxi drivers, and farm workers? 

We are working with the government and Parliament to ensure that the pension laws are amended to allow financially struggling workers early access to their pension funds from 1 March 2024. 

We have won many victories for the working class since the 1994 democratic breakthrough.   

Key victories COSATU has won through our alliance with the ANC and SACP include our progressive labour laws, the 27 million South Africans who receive social grants, NSFAS covering 1 million students, and more recently the National Minimum Wage raising the wages of 6 million workers, releasing R64 billion to help 5.7 workers during the COVID-19 lockdown feed their families and many laws passed by Parliament in favour of workers. 

These victories are in danger of being lost if we fail to win the battle against corruption that has become endemic throughout society. We are pleased that the ANC has embraced the call to renew itself.  This needs to be intensified.  We are engaging with the SACP on how we can support it as it seeks to fulfill its role as the vanguard party. 

We are engaging the ANC and the SACP on the need to radically reconfigure the Alliance, to ensure that it is the strategic center of political power and gives direction, sets the policy discourse for the state, and holds the government accountable for its implementation.

The time has arrived for the SACP to play its role of being a vanguard and leading from the front. Our national democratic revolution has entered the most dangerous and difficult period and as a component of the working class, we are looking to the South African Communist Party (SACP) to provide strategic and tactical guidance to help the working class chart the way out of this current disturbing political situation.

We need the SACP to lead in the quest to build up the socialist foundations of our economy and rescue the working class from this life of brute survival and helplessness. We are reminded of the words of the SACP General Secretary, Comrade Blade Nzimande who warned of what could become of our revolution at the COSATU 8th National Congress.

On that occasion, he said, “Unless, the working class leads, working programmatically and in action with the widest range of the mass of the urban and rural poor unless this is done, the promise of 1994 will collapse into agendas of narrow self-enrichment, and general confusion. The SACP is prepared to work with all potentially patriotic and progressive forces – but one thing is clear, the bourgeoisie, and the emergent bourgeoisie, separately and together are incapable of charting a way out of our persisting crisis of underdevelopment. The working class must lead”.

This is a period for the working-class leadership to lead to chart the way out of this gloomy situation. We are now challenged more than ever to unite a range of popular and patriotic forces to push back against poverty, inequality, and unemployment.

The party must consist of the advanced section of the poor and the working class, the party must first be the advancement of the detachment of the working class, their experience, their revolutionary spirit, and their selfless devotion to the cause of the proletariat.

The party must put forward political ideas, and slogans that appeal to and are of interest to the masses, in defense of the masses, to win the masses to their side, and raise the level of their consciousness.

The point here is that the masses should not be left behind and the vanguard should take them along.   

The 2024 elections will be our most difficult since 1994.  There is a real chance that we will be forced to go into elections nationally, in Gauteng, KZN, and maybe the Northern Cape.  We cannot afford for the ANC to go under 50%.  It will place many of our victories at risk.  It will make it more difficult to drive working-class agendas in the state.  If we complain now that the ANC and government don’t move quickly when we raise issues, it will be worse when the ANC depends on other political parties for votes. 

We need to work flat out to ensure that the Alliance wins the elections with an outright majority.  We should not allow our irritations and emotions to persuade us to sit at home and leave workers vulnerable to political parties who are hostile to unions and working-class demands.  What is our plan to win back the confidence of workers in Nelson Mandela Bay and Graaf Reinet? 

I want to hear how COSATU in the Eastern Cape is helping the ANC campaign in the by-elections that take place every month.  We should not be a once in 5 years ally. 

If we do not invest in our machinery, our Affiliates, and the Federation, then we cannot expect to be victorious in our campaigns. 

I have been asking comrades for their recruitment campaigns.  Where are our red Fridays?  We have not heard from the PEC on your plans to ensure COSATU reaches 2 million members.  When is your next visit to recruit factory workers in Buffalo City?  Or teachers in Bisho? 

What are we doing to help Affiliates and hold them accountable for service members?  It is painful when workers call COSATU and complain that their union is not helping them with their workplace grievances. 

We need to ask the CCMA to provide training to shop stewards on our labour laws.  We need to work with the Department of Employment and Labour on-site visits to ensure employers abide by our laws and are held accountable when they are not. 

I am pleased that the Eastern Cape has been among the most active province when it comes to campaigns.  We need more campaigns on the ground.   

Can we work with POPCRU on a campaign to ensure our police stations are in a fit condition and not in wendy houses?  Can we work with NEHAWU, DENOSA, SAMATU, and SAEPU on a campaign to tackle shortages at hospitals?  We applaud the work comrades have done to support SACCAWU in its battles with Makro which has now resulted in a historic victory for SACCAWU with a signed agreement yesterday. We call that all those dismissed workers during the strike to be reinstated unconditionally. 

We need to see COSATU active in the media space in the Eastern Cape.  Write statements and articles.  Our communications department is there to help you.  Let’s see COSATU in the Daily Dispatch, on Umhlobo Wenene FM. 

In addition to being on the ground, with workers, we must be united.  The fights between comrades must end.  NEHAWU is not the enemy.  Nor is SADTU or SACCAWU.  We are one with the same demands and needs.  We will be defeated if we are divided.  We will be victorious if we are united.  Our task as leaders is to unite workers.  We must all reject any attempts to divide COSATU, Affiliates, and workers. 

Comrades allow me to conclude here. This is a working visit. I expect a working programme, not just for this visit but throughout the year and in fact through the 2024 elections and to the next Central Committee,  

Leadership is not about power but about responsibilities. 

Thank you.  Amandla!