COSATU congratulates its Affiliate, SACTWU, for its successful congress and wishes its new leadership well

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) congratulates it militant Affiliate, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) for its successful congress and wish its new leadership well. 

SACTWU held its 15th National Congress in Cape Town from 14 to 17 October under the theme of “Unity, jobs, growth and service to members.  Advance the working classing struggle.”

SACTWU has proven itself to be a reliable vehicle that defends the interests of its members and champions working class struggles in its 34 years.  It is a union rooted in democracy and owned by workers at the shop floor.  SACTWU was painstakingly built by clothing and textile workers in factories across rural towns and large industrial areas in our cities from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western Cape, from the Free State to the Eastern Cape.  It has grown whilst many unions have struggled.  It is now not only the leading clothing and textile workers’ union in South Africa but also leading the unionisation of food, agriculture, fishing and other workers.

The Union has led with remarkable foresight and vision against difficult odds.  The clothing and textile industries were battered when government recklessly and prematurely lifted import tariffs in the 1990s at the cost of thousands of local jobs.  Through SACTWU’s strategic interventions with government and industry, not only have these industries stabilised, but they have begun to grow and create thousands of badly needed jobs. 

Whilst some prefer to dwell on their sorrows, SACTWU has led from the front.  Its participation in the industrial master plans, has seen local retailers commit to increase locally produced clothes in stores from 40% to 60% of their products.  These and other interventions, particularly its relentless buy local campaigns, have helped save and create thousands of local jobs and businesses.

Whilst some employers have sought to undermine collective bargaining, SACTWU has not only successfully defended it, but continuously won above inflation salary increases for its members.

During COVID-19 and the July 2021, SACTWU worked tirelessly to ensure workers in its sectors were paid and received relief from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.  It engaged and mobilised clothing and textile workers and their families to vaccinate against the pandemic with remarkable success.

SACTWU has invested in the lives of its members and raised millions for the education of their children, uplifting thousands of families from generational poverty.

Some in South Africa have chosen to abandon the non-racial vision of the Freedom Charter.  SACTWU has boldly embraced it and ensured that its membership and leadership reflect the diversity of the nation. 

South Africa has benefited from the legions of leaders this mighty union has produced, including the current Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel, former COSATU Deputy President Connie September and countless other giants of the liberation struggle. 

We want to pay tribute to the former leadership collective of SACTWU led by President Themba Khumalo and General Secretary Andre Kriel.  They steered SACTWU and the industry under very trying circumstances.  They encountered many serious challenges and crises that appeared overwhelming.  Time and again they rose to the occasion and showed clarity, strength and leadership.  They led with humility.  SACTWU is what it is because of their decades of service.  COSATU is immensely proud that a clothing worker from Nkandla and a young organiser from Lavender Hill could find a home in SACTWU, held shape its emergence as this pillar of the trade union movement and themselves to grow as individuals with remarkable leadership qualities and legacies.  We wish them well in their retirement but will continue to tap into their experience and wisdom.

The Federation congratulates SACTWU for not only electing its first woman President, Susan Khumalo, but also simultaneously its first woman General Secretary, Bonnita Loubser.  This is a first for the union movement in South Africa.  It is not only a moment to be celebrated but an example for the entire trade union movement and society to learn from.  We are confident the new leadership team, who themselves are steeped in years of working-class struggles, will take SACTWU to new heights.

The workers of these industries and sectors, the working class at large, COSATU and the entire nation are better off having such a dedicated and visionary union.  We wish SACTWU well and know that we will continue to work closely with it as we seek to build a better life for all and a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:

Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687