COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe’s Speaking Notes for the COSATU KZN PEC

Remarks on the political developments in the country, a reconfigured alliance and the 2024 elections, defending the NDR from counter-revolutionary and demagogic tendencies

Salutations and protocol observations

Important historical background on the contribution of KZN in our struggle

The national revolutionary struggle against colonial and apartheid oppression, from which our movement overcame through our democratic breakthrough in 1994 was in many ways achieved through significant contribution and sacrifice by our people and struggle stalwarts in this province. We must recall, from King Cetshwayo to fought against British Imperialists at Isandlwana, to iNkosi Bhambatha ka Mancinza of the amaZondi, who in 1906 led an armed resistance to the imposition of poll tax by the colonial authority, infamously called ukhandampodo, which increased hardships for African households, and forced increased migrant labour. From its earliest formation, the ANC and its alliance featured numerous leaders born and bred from this province, ranging from John Langalibalele Dube, Saul Msane, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Josiah Gumede, Anton Lembede and Albert John Luthuli, to mentioned a few. Even after the banning of all liberation organisations, the movement, i.e., SACP/ANC/SACTU and MK featured prominent comrades from this province, gallant soldiers and revolutionaries like Moses Mabhida, Harry Gwala, Eric Stalin Mtshali, Archie Gumede, AB Yengwa, Jabulani Mzala Nxumalo, to mention a few. So, the province of KZN has always been central and continues to be central in the national democratic revolution.

But at the same time, because of its significance in our struggle for liberation, the province has also a long history of counter-revolutionary and regressive tendencies that have arisen, although our people have always been able to distinguish between authentic leaders of our movement vis-à-vis demagogic tendencies. We can recall how AGW Champion of the ICU, because of his anti-communist tendencies and narrow ethno-nationalist tendencies contributed to the division and subsequent collapse of the ICU, forming an ICU yase Natal. Obviously, the late Mangosuthu Buthelezi is the ultimate counter-revolutionary figure, not only did he claim he was following “the correct mandate” of the ANC of Luthuli, he went on to oppose and used his Bantustan police to kill and destabilise the UDF, as well as trade unions, claiming these were from a rouge communist terrorist ANC that had taken up arms against his government.

Analysis of the current political scenario

Comrades, this year marks 30 years since our democratic breakthrough, through which we overcame centuries of colonialism and racial oppression, which reduced vast majority of South Africans as second-class humans, a mere reserve for the reproduction of cheap labour. Africans, were only useful for migrant labour, yet excluded from political, economic and even social rights of citizenship in our own country. The 27 April 1994 elections, for the first time enabled all of us to be recognised as huma, as citizens, and for black workers, set the basis for promulgating of labour laws that recognised our rights as workers, rights of representation and association into trade unions, rights into collective bargaining, even though these gains are increasingly being contested and eroded. But, our struggle was not just about rights to vote every five years, but for the national democratic revolution, that is the total transformation of society and economy, through the hegemony of the working class—socialism. While the democratic breakthrough has brought many gains, looking retrospectively over the 30 years, many of our people still live in poverty, with more than 40% of South Africans unemployed (many of whom have no chance of employment in their lifetime). Our youth is the most affected, with above 64% of young people unemployed and many of our people in the rural countryside continuing to live under severe underdevelopment in infrastructure and services.

At our respective recent national congresses (COSATU’s 14th National Congress, the SACP 15th National Congress and the ANC 55th National Conference, we all analysed the South African condition as the one in which the gains of democratic breakthrough are being undermined by continuing modus of capitalist accumulation that driving our economic system. The entire Alliance also agrees on the urgency to intensify the national democratic revolution (NDR) as the only possible outcome to ensure meaningful transformation of our economy and our society. We have also respectively highlighted significant weaknesses and lapses in our Alliance, primarily the neoliberal trajectory that has persistently been pursued by consecutive ANC government administrations since the 1996 promulgation of GEAR. Both COSATU and the SACP have consistently identified the neoliberal agenda as the basis for the arrogance of nationalists in the ANC, ignoring its base, that is workers and the poor, in their policy formulation.

We have correctly understood corruption, hollowing of the capacity of the state to deliver to be related to neoliberal austerity, and we argue that any attempt to explain the ‘corruption’ epidemic in the public sector, outside a critique of neoliberal austerity, is tantamount to applying a bandage to fix a deep wound. The COSATU 14th National Congress CEC as well as the SACP 15th National Congress CC, both endorsed a resolution that we campaign collectively behind a Reconfigured Alliance with our long-standing revolutionary ally, the ANC, to defend our democratic gains and to advance the national democratic revolution.

Comrades, our resolution to campaign behind a reconfigured alliance is informed by both our analysis of material conditions in the internal (local political) balance of forces as well our analysis of international situation. Internally, we are fully aware of the extent of paralysis and decay in the ANC, but in the liberation movement as a whole (including us as workers as well). For a while, the ANC only existing for elections, the buying of branches, districts, provinces and national structures. We have observed over a while how elective congresses and BGMs became money enterprises, with cabals and slates at the forefront. But we know, this phenomena have also been observed in some of our structures as well. Both COSATU and the SACP have said, we want a reconfigured alliance, in which the Alliance becomes the strategic centre, and in which both COSATU and the SACP can hold their deployees in the executive, in parliament, in provinces, in municipalities and in SEOs accountable, when contravening our mandate and resolutions, without hiding behind an ANC deployment ticket.

In assessing all the weaknesses in the ANC as the governing party, we have also correctly assessed the political situation of South Africa today, concluding that the NDR remains the only programme for transforming our economy and society. Leninist analysis of the national democratic revolution through the alliance of workers (working-class) parties with revolutionary national liberation organisation remain the progressive alliance to pursue to advance the NDR. In this case, with our careful analysis of contradictions presented by the ruling ANC and its paralyses as a governing party, both COSATU and the SACP have resolved on a campaign for a reconfigured alliance. We have resolved on a comprehensive alliance election programme, starting with a comprehensive review of the 2019 manifesto, as well as an Alliance 2024 Election Manifesto development.

‘through the eye of the needle’ analysis would lead us to understand the following, the NDR remains a contested concept, even more contested today within the Alliance then was during the struggle to defeat apartheid. The trajectory of transforming our economy and society is contested, as we should correctly remember that the ANC is a broad church, represented by all kinds of interests. To advance and defend the NDR, the working-class axis of the Alliance has to struggle to shift the hegemony in our alliance, ensuring the victory of the ANC in next elections translate to real victories of workers and the poor in the coming 7th administration.

We can’t be confused by recent developments

Comrades, in our old traditions of revolutionary analysis and critique, as well as of our theory and practice, the question is ‘how do we understand the political situation in South Africa today, as we face the 2024 national elections?’ The answer to this question is our return to “through the eye of the needle” theory and practice. First, we must answer this question: ‘is the NDR no longer our primary modus for transformation? Second, ‘is there now a different revolutionary national liberation organisation for workers and working-class party to form alliance with?’ third, ‘is the NDR an emotional or scientific struggle?’ The answer to these questions is, first, we have agreed as workers that the NDR remains our only programme for attaining socialism in our lifetime. If the NDR is our only programme, with all its contradictions, failures and at times intransigence, the ANC remains the national liberation organisation to align to transform our society.

Here are important facts we must acknowledge regarding challenges with the current ANC leadership. For instance, in December the ANC PEC here ignored our political education programme, even failing to honour our 37th Anniversary rally in December last year. You will also recall that at our 14th National Congress, the anger of our delegates against the intransigence of the ANC and its deployees in government resulted in delegates refusing to be addressed by the ANC National Chairperson. We are also aware of frailties in the alliance, starting from the era of President Mbeki. This was shortly addressed in the immediate aftermath of the Polokwane Conference, then in his 2nd term as ANC President, President Zuma returned to ignoring the Alliance immediately after the Mangaung Conference. We also saw the similar tendency in ANC, taking alliance seriously when they needed Alliance partners to defeat state capture syndrome and faction leading to NASREC Conference in 2017 and the National Elections in 2019. After that, the current administration followed its predecessors, also ignoring the Alliance, even undermining workers by reneging on the 2018 PSCBC Collective Bargaining. That is why COSATU and the SACP are adamant on a reconfigured Alliance and on setting basic principles and minimum requirements for a reconfigured alliance campaign leading to the 2024 elections.

Comrades, there have been a number of emotional, counterintuitive and impulsive reactions to issues and challenges of the ANC in our long history of struggle. We may recall how the the PAC was formed by a splinter of ‘Africanist’ and ultra-nationalist faction, opposed to the adoption of the Freedom Charter, as they were opposed to the ANC alliance with the communist party, as well as our character of non-racialism. We also remember different versions of narrow nationalism (in fact tribalism) represented by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Kaizer Matanzima, Lucas Mangope, Hudson William Edison Ntsanwisi, Lennox Sebe and others, apartheid collaborators and leaders of Bantustan homelands, all claiming to be observers of original values of the ANC. Again, after the defeat of the 1996 Class Project at Polokwane in 2007, we saw the formation of Cope, yet another iteration of people claiming to be truest representatives of ANC values. Now, yet again we see people forming MK Party, using same modus operandi, claiming to want to contest the ANC, in order to save the ANC. As with all the previous iterations, the MK is exactly a demagogic aberration, by those who either don’t understand democratic centralism, or those with a strong “I want to rule from the grave” syndrome. In fact, the MK treads the similar lines of narrow ethno-nationalism which Mzala Nxumalo decried and rejected when he wrote ‘Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda’. Fortunately, history has been consistent in judging all these formations, for what they really are, with internal turmoil, strife for power and their collapse in a very short time.

What then must be our programme?

At our 14th National Congress, the SACP General Secretary, Cde Solly Mapaila argued that workers must contest the ANC, i.e., workers must contest reactionary influences and force to return the ANC at branch structures and at the district level to authentic revolutionary movement. Congress adopted the resolution on the political programme for workers to swell the ranks of the ANC, to return back the ANC of OR Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Moses Mabhida. Our congress also acknowledged that the ANC is a contested organisation, which workers must contest to gain hegemony. Our organisational programme outlined in the MTV 2035 detail what this federation and our affiliate unions should do, not only to build a strong federation, but to also build a strong alliance. We must build solid programs for political education. We already have a schedule for our political commission, which we have to make sure it is successful. Together with the SACP, we are already planning a joint political school, which we should build upon to cascade from national to provinces and our locals. Umrabulo must be our utmost priority, so that we develop worker leaders abarabulile, fully conversant with our theory and practice of workers struggle.

Comrades, our Federation has faced many challenges, many of whom result from very intentions of employers who want to weaken workers, in order to have free reign to exploit workers, but also a free reign to steal our natural resources without recourse. But some of the challenges are internal, some even self-inflicted through contest for power, weaknesses in the ability of our structures to represent their members. Comrades, at the centre of a trade union is servicing our members and representing them against the onslaught brought by repressive and exploitative employers. No matter how accurate our politics is, if we fail to service our members, we lose the basis for being a trade union.

Concluding remarks

The leadership of this province should in the same fighting and revolutionary spirit of comrades MB Yengwa, Harry Gwala, Eric Stalin Mtshali and many others, must defend and advance our revolution, by developing a comprehensive campaign programme to mobilise and galvanise all our structures as well as necessary resources to campaign for an outright victory of the ANC in the coming elections. Our shopfloor-based structures, our locals and regions should be energised to campaign, equally to swell ranks of ANC, to ensure manifesto programs, deployment programs, the setting out of national and provincial lists have worker and conscientious representatives. Comrades, we must ensure thieves and corrupt charlatans no longer find space to be elected.

Comrades, in campaigning for a decisive victory, we must build this federation in this province, COSATU trade unions must become trade union of choice for workers across all sectors in this province.