COSATU President Zingiswa Losi: Address 10th POPCRU National Congress

Programme Director,

President of the Republic, Cyril Ramaphosa and leadership of the ANC,

President of POPCRU, Zizamele Cebekhulu,

Leadership of POPCRU,

General Secretary of our vanguard party, Solly Mapaila,

Delegates of our militant affiliate, POPCRU,

Comrades, thank you for inviting your federation, COSATU, to join you for this historic 10th Congress of our mighty POPCRU.  It is indeed a privilege to join you this week and to celebrate the 34th anniversary of POPCRU.

We gathered yesterday to remember our fallen Deputy President, comrade Pretty Shuping.  As we meet over the next few days, it is important for us to remember that every week we lose at least one member of the South African Police Service and the Department of Correctional Services. 

There can be no greater reminder of why we exist as POPCRU and COSATU than to defend the lives of our members.

POPCRU is a union rich in history.  Few others dared to infiltrate the heart of the apartheid beast and declare a liberated zone within.  Yet in 1989 that is exactly what a young Lieutenant Gregory Rockman and other gallant heroes of the revolution did. 

They risked life and limb to defy the might of the apartheid regime and declare that they will serve all the people of South Africa.  This was deafening blow to the apartheid regime that it never recovered from.  It was the foundation for the eventual post-1994 transformation of the state security force designed to oppress the masses, into one dedicated to serving the public.

We are inspired by POPCRU’s relentless determination 34 years later to continuously seek to not only serve the needs and defend the rights of members of the South Africa Police Service, the Department of Correctional Services and Traffic Police but also its consistent campaigns to ensure our law enforcement organs have the necessary tools of trade to fulfill their constitutional mandates to serve and protect.

If we are to improve the lives of workers and if the trade union movement is to not only survive but thrive, then we must place servicing members at the heart of all we do.

It is disheartening to see once mighty unions die a painful death simply because they lost sight of why we are here and took members for granted.  We must invest in our members.  That is our fundamental mandate.  All too often COSATU receives complaints from members about organisers rarely being seen and shop stewards poorly equipped to defend the rights of workers.

We are always heartened when we see POPCRU lead from the front in defence of members, be it in a disciplinary hearing, at the CCMA or court, in the bargaining council, at the SETA, on the streets or in Parliament. 

Whilst we applaud a job well done, let us reflect on how we can improve our service to members.  Can we do more to defend the rights of members, to ensure shop stewards are well trained, to deploy our organisers to be on the ground?

POPCRU has done well over many years to improve the conditions of service and lives of members.  Yet we must do more.  The wages of members of the SAPS, DCS and traffic services remain depressingly low.  Despite propaganda from neo-liberal elements, the public service remains neither bloated nor overpaid.

The ratio of public servants to the population has plummeted since 1994 when we had 1 million public servants for 34 million South Africans.  29 years later our population has nearly doubled to 62 million citizens whilst our public service has fallen depressingly behind at a mere 1.2 million.

SAPS has fared worse with a decline from over 200 000 to just over 172 000 today.  Yet we are surprised when the police are not able to control rising levels of crime!

The share of the budget going towards paying public servants has fallen from 35% to 31%.  So where is the bloated and out of control public service wage bill? 

What has changed is rampant loadshedding, a collapsing Transnet and Metro Rail, dysfunctional State-Owned Enterprises and municipalities, endemic crime and corruption and dangerously high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. 

The crisis facing the state is not an expenditure crisis, it is a governance and socio-economic crisis.  It requires the state to address the causes and not the symptoms.  If we are to move forward as a society, then the fundamental obstacles to growing the economy and rebuilding the state must be dealt with.  Anything else is letter better than moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

We are deeply concerned by moves by a Treasury seduced by the calls of reckless austerity to roll back the gains of the public servants from imposing a wage freeze in 2020, to subsequent below inflation increases, to reneging on overtime pay to seeking to abandon OSD allowances.

Government may imposed wage freezes but it will rue the day it deluded itself into thinking the pickpocketing of police officers and teachers was a sound economic model.  All that impoverishing public servants will achieve is to fuel the brain drain of skilled public servants to better paying and less stressful jobs in the private sector and overseas.  Recently we have seen Australia begun to recruit SAPS members with attractive packages.  We have seen an uptake in the flight of nurses and doctors to overseas destinations.  This is a tragedy that we must stop.

The attacks on our dedicated law enforcement officers threaten our very constitutional order.  A week does not pass without at least one of our officers being murdered in cold blood.  What is the state’s plan to halt this war on the Republic? 

It is time we tightened our laws to deny bail to any person charged with attacking law enforcement officers and similarly introduce mandatory life sentences for those convicted of murder and attempted murder.

The state must ensure all SAPS, DCS and traffic officers have the necessary tools of trade to fulfill their work.  This includes ensuring all vehicles are working, police stations and correctional facilities are fully modernised and fit for purpose and the skills and training of our members are continuously invested in.

There is a critical need to shift the deployment of SAPS officers from desk duties to community and specialized police units.  There is a need to reinforce our correctional facilities and break the stranglehold of gangs. 

In 2021, Parliament overhauled the criminal legislative framework with 3 progressive gender-based violence acts.  If these laws are to achieve their critical objectives in this war against GBV and sexual harassment at the workplace and in society, then government must move with speed to ensure all frontline public servants are trained and empowered to enforce their implementation.  Mass public education campaigns are needed to empower citizens to understand their rights and obligations.

POPCRU and COSATU must lead this war in defence of women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities and members of our LGBTQI Plus communities.

COSATU has been working on amending our pension laws to allow financially struggling workers early access to limited parts of their pension funds without having to resign from their jobs or retire early.  We have made significant progress and have legislation before Parliament to enable this to come into effect.

We are working on resolving the two remaining issues on the two pot pension reforms.  Firstly, to increase the amount of immediate relief that workers could tap into from R30 000 to R50 000 and secondly to ensure that this law comes into effect in 2024.  Workers cannot afford another year’s delay. 

If needs be, we engaging Treasury and Parliament to persuade them to COSATU’s progressive demands.  Workers are drowning in debt and need this helping hand.

POPCRU and COSATU have worked closely together in the Alliance, at Nedlac, in Parliament and in the public discourse.  This is an umbilical cord that must be nurtured daily.  A strong POPCRU, is a strong COSATU.  A weak POPCRU, is a weak COSATU.

We often lament about the state of the Alliance and indeed it has experienced many challenges over the years, some due to our own failings as the movement, and others due to subjective socio-economic and other external factors.

It is easy to dismiss the relevance of the Alliance, to be angry and ask what has it delivered?  Yet we should not dismiss the strategic foresight our predecessors exercised when the Alliance was built painstakingly over decades in difficult times. 

The founders of not only COSATU but also POPCRU saw the strategic importance of the Alliance in not only being a vehicle to defeat apartheid and liberate the nation, but also to lay the foundation for a socialist society.  They understood the strengths and limitations of each of the Alliance partners, ourselves included, and appreciated the value in building unity in struggle.

We must diagnose the many weaknesses of the Alliance and what do we mean by a reconfigured Alliance?  How will we assert the Alliance as the political centre of government?  How will we ensure the state implements decisions of the Alliance?  How will the Alliance extend its influence over spheres of provincial or local or even national government where it is not the majority party?

The movement has been in power for nearly 3 decades.  We are showing wear and tear.  We need to reflect on what is our vision for the next administration and beyond. 

We are all frustrated, hurt and angry when our comrades let us down in government.  But we must also be sober, the ANC and the Alliance remain the best and only vehicle to advance working class struggles and improve the lives of our members.

We are going to the polls in 6 months’ time.  Do we have an elections programme?  An elections machinery?  Or are we content to head into our most difficult elections where polls indicate we may not win a majority nationally and in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape and possibly other provinces. 

Are we participating in by-elections?  Are we assisting the ANC in these elections?  Or are we content to sit on the sidelines?  Are we prepared to place the lives and jobs of the working class in the hands of the opposition parties?  Where we have lost power, what is our plan to win the voters back to the movement?

We have much to discuss and most importantly we have much to action.  Words matter, but most important is for us to action what we want. 

Workers are looking to us defend their jobs and improve their lives.  We dare not fail them.

Whilst we wage battles on behalf of our members, we must remember workers across the world who remain under siege from Cuba to Venezuela, from Western Sahara to Palestine, from Zimbabwe to eSwatini.  We must consider what practical steps we can take to increase our solidarity campaigns, in particular with the people of Palestine who yearn to be free.

Before I conclude allow me on behalf of the Federation to pay tribute to the outgoing leadership.  You have served POPCRU and COSATU with distinction. 

Workers, COSATU and the nation is better off having such a dedicated and visionary union.  We wish Congress well and know that we will continue to work closely with POPCRI as we seek to build a better life for all.

Thank you.  Amandla.