Friday, September 28, 2012

Monday September 17


After a weekend off in Kruger National Park, we arrived back in Johannesburg. 


In the morning we settled into our accommodation at Genderlinks, a collection of small thatched roof cottages run by an NGO dealing with issues of gender equality.  We were privileged to meet up with a friend of Luisa’s, Patrick Lesole, and had a very interesting breakfast discussion before heading off to the COSATU convention.  Patrick began his working life on the docks and had great stories of smuggling in revolutionary books and materials (banned in South Africa under Apartheid) and the exhilaration of the underground movement, living on the edge. This comrade began the struggle against Apartheid as a member of the Black Conscious Movement whose leader, Steve Biko was killed by the Apartheid regime.  He was part of the Soweto uprising by students, fled the country with thousands of Black South Africans in the late 70s and subsequently joined the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).  As a member of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), he fought in the underground and later immigrated to Canada where he and his wife lived for 10 years.  They returned home to South Africa after the defeat of Apartheid.  Patrick has many differences with the current regime and one of the greatest challenges, he says, is that Black South Africans have been robbed of their land. Regaining their stolen land should be an urgent priority.

Monday afternoon

Back in April 2012 our union and NUPGE wrote to COSATU to request our attendance at the COSATU Biannual Congress in Johannesburg as observers on Sept. 17 and 18.  This was not to be as only officials of the Canadian Labour Congress usually attend as guests or observers.
Cde Zico and OPSEU

Comrade Zico Tamela invited us to come in the afternoon of the first day and he would arrange some meetings for us with other unionists during the Congress.  It is a tense time among the affiliates of COSATU as they struggle with the aftermath of the Marikana Massacre on August 17 where 34 striking miners were shot and killed by South African police.

Nomcebo Gumede - South African Municiapl Workers' Union (SAMWU)

As we gathered at the entrance of the COSATU Congress, we met many comrades from various unions. They were shocked that we could not be seated as many and varied media representatives were allowed credentials. 
We visited the South African Clothing and textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) mobile HIV/AIDS vehicle and talked to many unionists coming in and out.  Finally, at around 7 pm, close to the end of proceedings, an ANC comrade whisked us through security and took us to the back so that we could listen to the last few speeches by trade unionists addressing one of the Congress reports. We marveled at the huge crowds gathered for this Congress, the overwhelming majority being Black South Africans.



At the close of proceedings we were lead into a huge dining area and joined thousands of delegates in a lovely meal of chicken, rice, pap (maize dumplings), pumpkin (squash) and other vegetables. A wonderful band played South African jazz.  After eating, we gathered with some other comrades from the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), SATAWU and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Comrade Lucien Segami, International Solidarity representative for the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), spoke to us about his union, a union of 265,000 members and the third largest union in South Africa. Their biggest campaign right now is focused on creating a National Health Insurance system. There is stiff resistance from the private sector but NEHAWU and the union movement is committed to a system where all citizens have access to health services.   

Most of NEHAWU’s international solidarity is focused primarily on the African continent where unions are struggling for basic rights and there is a strong need for unity to confront the bosses and protect the rights and gains made so far. In Swaziland, for example, the unions and human rights organizations are struggling against a brutal regime and Zimbabwe unions have been similarly attacked.
SATAWU comrades - (left) Zico Tamela, Xolile CHubana and Desmond Mpofu


Presenting our Southern Africa Solidarity Tour banner

Union comrades talked of the current struggle for a minimum wage in South Africa.  The mining sector is key in this fight but it has to be for more than just a minimum wage – it has to take into account a social wage which allows for decent housing, health and security. What is needed is state intervention and legislation to proscribe what is a minimum wage.  At the convention COSATU did call for a judicial inquiry into conditions for workers in the mining industry and the comrades emphasized that South Africa has to eradicate the labour brokers (labour contractors), outsourcing and all of the other forms of exploitation faced by mine workers and other workers today.

Once again, we had many more questions but had to end our discussion and make our way back to Genderlinks, please that even though we did not get seated formally at the COSATU Congress, we were able to meet and have rich discussions with South African union comrades.

Comrade Nkosinathi Jikeke spoke as a representative of the Eastern Cape chapter of the South African Communist Party (SACP).  He reiterated that in 1994 the three major organizations came together again to form the Congress Alliance and this Alliance was charged with the responsibility of rebuilding the country – the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the SACP. Cde Nkosinathi stated that his area, the Eastern Cape is a more militant area and there are sometimes tensions within the Alliance.  He spoke of the grassroots movement begin strong there and lots of involvement in local cooperatives and Communists are active in all local boards and committees – for schools, hospitals etc. Where the government may be lacking in delivery, he said, the SACP can step in.  Regarding Marikana and otehr struggles, the SACP lives amongst the workers and has a responsibility to mobilize workers and promote socialism of the entire working class.

For us as Canadians it is amazing to hear South African “comrades” articulating a clear analysis of capitalism and the need for working class struggle and international working class solidarity.











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