COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe

Message of Support: NUM 41st Anniversary

04 December 2023

Programme Director,

Leadership of NUM, the Federation, ANC and SACP,


Thank you for inviting your Federation, to join you in this important occasion honouring the 41st anniversary of our militant affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers.  The link between NUM and COSATU is as unbreakable as that between a mother and her child.  Our history and our destinies are one. 

We are proud of the role NUM has played during the darkest days of apartheid when our detractors were nowhere to be seen, to playing a leading role in the building of our democratic nation, to continuing to champion working class struggles.

The history of NUM did not simply start that day 41 years ago, but in fact was painstakingly built over many years of struggles, in particular the strike by African mine workers in 1946 led by the legendary JB Marks.

It is not a coincidence that a young Cyril Ramaphosa was tasked by the movement to help launch NUM and that this fledgling union played a pioneering role in the formation of COSATU three years later.  It was not an accident that the first President of COSATU, Elijah Barayi was a son of NUM.

It was the militancy of NUM and the mineworkers that led to the historic 1987 strike that dealt a deathblow to the apartheid regime.

The relationship between NUM and the liberation movement continued beyond 1994 with three former General Secretaries of NUM being called to serve the movement and the nation as Secretaries-General of the ANC and to the Presidency and Cabinet of the Republic.  This is indeed a rich history to be proud of!

As we entered the democratic dispensation of 1994, NUM helped play a key role in drafting our progressive Constitution and our progressive labour laws.

Whilst we are correctly proud of our many gains from the defeat of the apartheid regime to our constitutional democracy to the 60% of the budget geared towards uplifting working-class communities, we dare not become complacent when four out of ten South Africans and six out of ten young people cannot find work.

Our many gains since 1994 are under threat due to many crises we are facing from loadshedding to cable theft, from corruption to criminality, from low economic growth to poverty and inequality.  The solutions to these are to rebuild the state, stimulate the economy and provide relief for the poor and the working class.

COSATU will not agree to an agenda that speaks to privatisation, neo-liberalism or austerity budget cuts that hurt the poor. 

We have travelled a long way from the dark days of apartheid when workers were treated little better than slaves, when for millions the only hope of earning something to buy food was to become a domestic worker or a gardener. 

Today the doors of learning have been opened with billions being spent on educating working class students at our universities under NSFAS.  Mothers and fathers now have the right to paid maternity and parental leave.  

In 2019 a National Minimum Wage was passed into law raising the wages of 6 million workers in particular farm, domestic, construction, hospitality and retail workers.

During COVID-19 COSATU, government and social partners at Nedlac worked to release over R64 billion from the Unemployment Insurance Fund to help 5.7 million workers across the private sector take care of their families. 

NUM led campaigns mobilising thousands of workers to vaccinate to save lives and livelihoods.  Similar campaigns were led by Affiliates across other workplaces.

COSATU has worked tirelessly since 2020 to convince government and Parliament to allow financially struggling workers early access to limited portions of their pension funds.  This has not been an easy journey yet as we speak there is legislation before Parliament that will soon be passed into law allowing workers to tap into part of their pension funds in 2024 and once a year from then on.  The two pot pension reforms will come into effect in 2024.  Workers have waiting long enough!

We have championed the call for a basic income grant for many years.  Today with the roll out of the SRD Grant, with all of its imperfections, the foundation for a BIG has been laid and the discussion is now on how to expand it.

Healthcare is a constitutional right, but this right has been commodified leaving millions to die of preventable, curable and manageable illnesses.  Parliament is now seized with passing the National Health Insurance Bill laying the foundation for a single healthcare system to provide quality care for all, a pillar for our socialist vision.  Industry is fighting to stop this progressive Bill.  We must defend it.

As the energy transition occurs, COSATU and NUM must continue to be at the front in defence of the jobs of mine and energy workers, value chains and host communities.  There can be no transition that will send workers to the unemployment queue or that will create ghost communities, particularly in our coal belt of Mpumalanga.

COSATU has always understood that working class struggles, in particular against the excesses of capital, require a working class that not only wages struggles on the shopfloor but also in the political arena.  It is this consciousness that led COSATU to join the Alliance with the ANC and the SACP.

It is correct that workers and indeed all of us are angry with the blunders and failures by many in our movement and the state.  Indeed, we are deeply opposed to the reckless neo-liberal austerity budget cuts and policies of Treasury.

We appreciate that the Alliance, in particular a reconfigured Alliance, remains the only viable and progressive political formation dedicated to championing working class struggles, with a history of working with the trade union movement and a track record of delivering critical victories to workers, from our progressive labour laws to the 60% of the budget aimed at uplifting the poor.

We will not be seduced by parties with no history of struggle or delivery.  We will work flat out to ensure the Alliance, led by the ANC, is returned to office with a decisive majority nationally and provincially in 2024.  We cannot risk the gains of 1994.

COSATU is resolute in defence of the rights of not only teachers but all workers to assist the IEC to ensure the 2024 elections will remain free and fair.  No political party will be allowed to intimidate teachers or any other worker from playing their part in nourishing our democracy.

The Federation applauds the recent court victory by SAMWU declaring the ban on municipal workers exercising their right to hold office in a party unconstitutional.  This is the COSATU of John Dlamini that never shies from defending workers!

The Federation of James Motlatsi has always been guided by the principles of working class and international solidarity.  We cannot remain silent when workers in Cuba and Venezuela are subjected to sanctions, when women and children are being butchered in Palestine, when human rights activists are being assassinated eSwatini. 

We must intensify our solidarity campaigns, just as generations before did, from Mozambique to Lesotho to show solidarity with our struggles at great cost to themselves.

The challenges facing our members and their families are daunting.  They require us to be united.  If workers are divided, they will be defeated.  If they are united, they will be victorious.  The tasks we have been given require us to be on the ground, our shop stewards to be well trained, our unions to be well oiled machines.

If we are distracted by fights for positions, or looting investment funds, or purging those we believe to be threats, then workers will look elsewhere for those willing to lead.

The many victories we win at Nedlac and Parliament will be little more than nice English words, if we do not empower our members to exercise these hard-won rights.

Parliament recently overhauled our criminal legislation to protect women, children and other vulnerable persons from gender-based violence and sexual harassment.  We need to ensure workers understand their rights and responsibilities and that we hold those who violate the rights of others accountable.

COSATU’s voice is heard across the nation, but we cannot be happy that 38 years into democracy, only 1 out 4 workers is unionised and half of these are within the Federation.  The call of David Siphunzi and Nana Abrahams for one federation, one country, one union, one industry, remains as relevant as ever.  Let us grow our unions.  This is only way to defend workers and improve their lives.  No one will do it for us.

Programme Director, allow me to conclude by thanking NUM for organising this wonderful celebration.  This is a moment to celebrate our struggles, honour our fallen comrades, to rededicate and reenergize.  It is a moment to prepare ourselves for 2024 and the many battles we will wage and win!  Thank you.  Amandla!