COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe’s Address: National Union of Mineworkers NEC

05 December 2023

Comrade President,

Local Leadership of our militant Affiliate, NUM,

Thank you for inviting the COSATU to join this important NEC meeting. Please accept the revolutionary support of COSATU as you deliberate over your tasks for the coming year. 

Your Federation of Elijah Barayi is proud of how you have built the National Union of Mineworkers into the formidable union it is today. 

NUM has proven itself to be a reliable vehicle that defends the interests of its members and champions working class struggles in its 48 years in its various formations.  It is a union rooted in democracy and owned by workers at the mines, power stations and construction sites. 

NUM was painstakingly built by workers in the platinum mines in the North West, the coal power stations of Mpumalanga, the construction sites in the Western Cape.  It has grown whilst other struggled.  It remains the leading mining, energy and construction workers’ union and has made positive strides unionising motor manufacturing workers.

The union has led with foresight against difficult odds.  The mining industry has shed thousands of jobs and has been marked by decades of violence, the construction industry by its nature is temporary work and the energy sector has experienced the most painful effects of state capture and corruption. 

Through NUM’s strategic interventions the rights of thousands of mining, energy and construction workers’ jobs have been saved, working conditions improved and collective bargaining defending.  Whilst some prefer to lament, NUM has led. 

During COVID-19, NUM worked tirelessly to ensure workers in its sectors were paid and received relief from the Unemployment Insurance Fund.  It ensured members and their families were mobilised to vaccinate against the pandemic.

Some have chosen to abandon the non-racial vision of the Freedom Charter in pursuit of narrow nationalism and reckless populism.  NUM has instead embraced and ensured that its membership reflect the diversity of the nation. 

South Africa has benefited from the legions of leaders this mighty union has produced, including JB Marks and David Siphunzi and countless other liberation giants. 


Comrades, the Federation joins all the mining industry workers in extending our deepest condolences to the families , comrades of mine workers that lost their lives in the recent tragic incident at Impala mine , on Monday the 27th November 2023, the loss of not less than 13 mine workers, with a further 75 workers bearing physical and emotional scares of disaster that should have been prevented, this tragedy adds as another grim chapter, account  in the ongoing saga of corporate negligence and workers exploitation in the mines. This year alone, we have already lost over 55 mineworkers, each death an avoidable consequence of a system that values profit above human life.

As COSATU, we denounced the profit -driven negligence and call for full investigation to hold accountable those who are responsible for this tragedy. We also calls for such investigations and findings of negligence on part of the company bosses be effected with criminal prosecutions, not just fines, as a measure of ensuring accountability and deter negligence. We also call on all workers to intensify the struggle for a fundamental change , to reaffirm our   commitment to workers rights and safety.

We call for unity of all workers in the mining industry under NUM, our 2035 MTV adopted by our 14th national congress calls for building our affiliates, this remains the primary task for all of us, building of organisational engines of our trade unions and that of our federation. The MTV 2035 also highlighted the significance of accelerating our servicing of our members as fundamental in rebuilding workers, trust on shop floor.

It is important though comrades not to take for granted what you have achieved through many decades of blood, sweat and tears. 

Yes, NUM is a formidable machine.  But it can easily be destroyed in a single moment of insanity, in one divisive congress or the election of a divided or compromised leadership. Divisions along regional or factional lines may be momentarily entertaining but they can destroy the union the day after the excitement of a congress dies down.

These are not idle words or scare mongering.  COSATU has seen the pain of once mighty unions destroyed when comrades seek office not to serve workers or build the union, but to rather serve themselves and feed their lifestyles.  It takes years to build unions, and days to destroy them.

We have seen the devastation that has destroyed once strong and united unions when corrupt elements have been allowed to loot union investment funds.  Do not for a second believe that this cannot happen to you.  The funds must remain there to benefit members and their families, to sustain the union, to reduce unemployment.  They must never be used to enrich leaders or individuals.

It is easy to attach labels to each other, to gossip and demean each other.  Yet NUM needs all of you.  We need all of you.  COSATU needs a strong, united, a focussed and determined NUM.  Whilst you may not have the largest membership in COSATU, your presence is felt by the maturity, the foresight, the dedication and the work ethic you have brought to COSATU.

The relationship between NUM and COSATU has been built over many years of struggle and has grown stronger through each year. We have been enriched by the sterling work NUM has done in the Bargaining Councils, the master plans, at Nedlac, with government, in the Alliance, at Parliament, in the public discourse and most importantly on the ground with workers.

NUM has led on behalf of COSATU in many critical debates from customs enforcement to protect local jobs, to public procurement to tackle corruption, from mobilising workers to vaccinate to save lives, to working with the UIF to save jobs.  Indeed, we have learnt much from NUM. 

It is because the tireless support that we receive from yourselves, that the Federation of Ray Alexander has been able to achieve many victories on behalf of our members and the working class, both before and after 1994 and as we speak.

Ours is to provide solutions and not lamentations.  This is the COSATU which was in the trenches with the ANC and the United Democratic Front ensuring we achieved our hard-won constitutional democracy in 1994.

This is the COSATU of John Gomomo that drafted the progressive labour laws that guarantee workers the right to strike, to paid time off, to maternity leave and the right to work in a safe workplace.

Our armchair critics lament and say don’t tell us about the victories of the past when workers are struggling today. 

Well, it is your COSATU working with NUM that achieved the National Minimum Wage in 2019 raising the wages of 6 million workers, in particular home textiles, certain categories of clothing, farm, domestic, construction, retail, hospitality and many other vulnerable sectors. 

Whilst our critics sat comfortably at home during the pandemic, it was NUM and COSATU that worked day and night to ensure that over R64 billion reached 5.7 million workers across the private sector who had lost wages. 

Some may chant slogans of gender equality, but it was COSATU that went door to door at Parliament to ensure that maternity leave benefits and cover were substantially increased and that for the first time we have paid parental and adoption leave.

When the nation was witnessing corruption at the Public Investment Corporation, it was COSATU that forced Parliament to amend the law to require worker representation on its Board and a workers’ mandate for how its funds are invested.

In 2020 SACTWU tasked COSATU to engage government to allow financially struggling workers early access to their pension funds.  Today we have legislation before Parliament creating the two-pot pension regime that will provide workers early access to their pension funds when it comes into effect and access to one third of their annual contributions once a year going forward. 

We are working hard with Parliament and Treasury to ensure this critical relief for workers happens in September 2024.  Whilst we are disappointed it will now be happening in September and not March 2024, it is critical Parliament, Treasury, SARS and the pension funds move with speed to ensure that there are no further delays.  Workers have waited long enough.

When it does, NUM needs to action a mass financial education campaign to help workers understand their rights and responsibilities.

Do not be shy about these victories.  It pains us when Affiliates do not claim these and use them to recruit and mobilise workers. COSATU is strong because NUM is strong.  We need a strong NUM so we can remain a strong 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.

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

The founders of not only COSATU but also NUM 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 that unity in struggle.

But 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 government where it is not the majority party?  How will we retain the Alliance as we navigate an era of coalition governments?

The movement has been in power for nearly 3 decades.  We are showing significant wear and tear.  We need to reflect on the state of the National Democratic Revolution, to assess where it has achieved its objectives and where it has not.  We need to reflect on what is our vision for not only the next administration, but beyond that. 

We are all frustrated, hurt and angry when our comrades let us done in government.  But we must also be honest, 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?  Recently the ANC lost its majority in the Sol Plaatje Municipality in Kimberly on Wednesday for the first time.  We lost a by-election in Msukaligwa in Mpumalanga.  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 like in Tshwane, 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 depending upon us here to defend their jobs and improve their lives.  We dare not fail them.

Allow me on behalf of COSATU to thank you for the leadership NUM continues to play.

The workers of your sectors and at large, COSATU and the entire nation are better off having such a dedicated and visionary union. 

We wish this NEC well and know that we will continue to work closely with NUM as we seek to build a better life for all and a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it. 

Thank you.  Amandla.