COSATU President Zingiswa Losi: Message of Support – Elijah Barayi Lecture

Programme Director, Professor Mandla Radebe,

President of the Republic and founding General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa,

Minister for Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi,

Leadership of the Organised Labour, distinguished guests, comrades and friends,

Most importantly of all, the family of Elijah Barayi,

We are honoured to be at this inaugural Elijah Barayi Lecture, joined by the family and comrades from across the labour movement. 

This is a moment to reflect on those who sacrificed so much for us to be here today, from Elijah Barayi to Ray Alexander.  It is an occasion to celebrate the many gains we have won and most importantly to remind ourselves of how much more we have to do.

Elijah Barayi, born in Cradock, experienced first hand the pain of poverty and racism.  History and the colour of his skin denied him the opportunity to pursue tertiary education, forcing him to seek work on the mines.  Today millions are able to attend free schools with meals as well as access tertiary education with the help of NSFAS.

More must be done to ensure workers, in particular young people, have the skills needed not only for the jobs of today, but also the jobs of tomorrow.

We recently celebrated 30 years of democracy.  No doubt comrade Elijah would be proud of our progressive Constitution, admired across the world, that compels the state to address the legacies of the past and the inequalities of today.

Whilst we mourn that he did not live to cast his vote in 1994, he would be proud of our constitutional democracy and equally pained by how some among us betrayed the trust workers placed in them and chose to treat the privilege to lead as a license to loot.

Without a doubt, he would encourage his former General Secretary to continue cleansing the nation of corruption.  It is no small feat that today whether you are a Commissioner of Police, a President or a Speaker; all are equal before the law.

President Barayi would chuckle to know two of his products, Cyril Ramaphosa and Kgalema Motlanthe, would one day occupy the highest office in the land. 

When comrades Barayi, Ramaphosa, James Motlatsi and many others built NUM from hostel to shaft, the reward was dismissal, detention and even death.  Today the right to unionise, collective bargaining and to strike are enshrined in the Constitution. 

We have travelled far from when a mineworker died each day at work to less than one a week, but still, we must do better.

Workers now have the right to a safe workplace and to refuse dangerous work, yet the tragedy of George where possibly 50 workers died because an employer chose to ignore our labour, health and safety rights, is a reminder of how far we have to go.

In 2023, we celebrated the inclusion the inclusion of 900 000 domestic workers under the Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Fund, yet less than 15% of employers register domestic workers with the Compensation Fund.

The National Minimum Wage has raised the wages of over 6 million workers.  This was a call of the Freedom Charter that inspired the journey of Elijah Barayi yet all too often employers exploit the desperation of workers and ignore the law.

We look forward to the President assenting to the Companies Amendment Bills requiring the CEOs of listed and State-Owned Companies to disclose their exorbitant salaries and the pittance they pay their most junior staff.  This must be the first step towards compelling all employers to reduce the apartheid wage gap.

When comrade Barayi was building NUM, workers had no guaranteed annual, sick, family, maternity or parental leave.  Today these rights are enshrined in law.

During COVID-19 government working with Labour and Business at Nedlac, released R65 billion from the UIF helping 5.7 million workers feed their families.

Whilst we applauded the strengthening of the Employment Equity Act last year, we must not continue to accept that 57% of senior management posts are held by White males despite only constituting 4% of our population. 

We celebrate the many gains we have won in law, but we must ensure more labour inspectors are appointed, delinquent employers are held accountable, and workers are empowered to exercise the hard-won rights.

Whilst we are correctly proud of our many gains since 1994, we need to do more to slash the crises of unemployment, poverty and inequality. 

Comrade Barayi would be proud that today 60% of the budget is invested in uplifting working class communities from free education, to laying the foundation for universal healthcare to 27 million of our most poor, receiving financial relief from the state.

He would be pained by a mining industry that has shed 600 000 jobs since the 1980s, by CEOs who pay themselves a million Rand a day and force mine workers to strike for an extra R150 a month. 

He would expect the labour movement to do more to organize vulnerable workers, put aside our differences and live the call of one industry, one union, one country, one federation. 

He would want workers to go to the polls in 2 weeks, to defend the rights of workers and the gains we have painstakingly won over so many decades.

Let us be loud and clear, we will defend the victories workers have won through the struggles of Elijah Barayi.  No politician will dare scrap our labour laws.  Nor must we allow any employer to defy the rights of workers.

We are pleased government has started this wonderful tradition.  Let us ensure this is the beginning of a journey to honour those who came before us, to celebrate the workers who make South Africa what it is, and to rededicate ourselves to continuing to improve the lives of the most vulnerable. 

Thank you.  Amandla!