COSATU celebrates 30 years of democracy, freedom and workers’ rights

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) joins millions celebrating 30 years of a free South Africa.  Thousands of extraordinary people across South Africa and the world made this freedom possible.  We will never forget Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada who went to Robben Island, Ruth First and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who experienced torture, Solomon Mahlangu and Basil February who died as soldiers of the African National Congress’ armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe; Ahmed Timol and Neil Aggett murdered in detention, Samora Machel and Dulcie September who were assassinated and countless others who stood up for a free South Africa.  We will forever be indebted.

This is a dream made true by generations of South Africans, from traditional leaders who trekked to Mangaung to found the African National Congress in 1912, the 69 martyrs slaughtered by the police in cold blood in 1960, the thousands of youth who defied Bantu Education in 1976, the United Democratic Front rendering South Africa ungovernable to the gold mine and other strikes led by COSATU amongst so many others.

COSATU is proud of this democracy where all are equal before the law, where our progressive Constitution compels the state to address the legacies of the past and the inequalities of today, to our free and fair elections where all views and voices are heard and respected.

We are humbled by the contribution that so many products of workers’ struggles have made, including the elevation of two pioneers of the trade union movement and former General Secretaries of the National Union of Mineworkers, Cyril Ramaphosa and Kgalema Motlanthe, to the highest office in the land.  We have come far from the dark days when the voices of workers were met with unbridled violence.

South Africa has undergone a remarkable journey from the days when workers were treated little better than slaves to our raft of progressive labour laws that guarantee workers the right to unionise, to collective bargaining and when aggrieved to strike.  Today we celebrate workers’ hard-won rights to equal pay for equal work, a safe workplace, paid time off and maternity and parental leave, unemployment and workplace injuries and diseases insurance, and a national minimum wage that has raised the wages of 6 million vulnerable workers.  On 1 September the Two Pot Pension Reforms driven by COSATU will come into effect providing relief to millions of indebted workers.

We are proud that we have moved from the days when the apartheid regime spent more on the education and wellbeing of a White minority to today where 60% of the state’s budget is invested in working class communities.  Today millions of working-class families are benefitting from free schools with meals, NSFAS funded tertiary education, free healthcare for pregnant mothers and infants and more recently Parliament’s passage of the National Health Insurance Bill laying the foundation for universal health care, to 27 million of our most impoverished compatriots who receive financial support from the state, the building blocks of comprehensive social security.

Nations stumble at time, and we did with the decade of state capture and corruption when some amongst us sold the nation for a pittance to their friends and families.  Yet this could not hold South Africa back.  Under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the leaders of this chapter of treason are being purged into political obscurity.  We are seeing the tides turning with the most powerful persons being held accountable by the state when they fall foul of the law.  It is no small feat for a former President to be sentenced for contempt of court or a Speaker of the National Assembly to resign from office when charged by law enforcement.

It is these very real achievements that have changed the lives of millions of workers and their families for the better that has won the African National Congress the loyalty of millions.  It is the difficult challenges that we must still overcome that motivates COSATU and workers to push government led by the ANC to do more.  It is the vision, the decades of struggles and the unquestioned commitment to uplifting working class communities, that inspires and motivates COSATU and millions of voters to come out on May 29th to ensure an outstanding victory for the ANC led by President Ramaphosa.

Issued by COSATU.