Vavi speech to Sowetan Dialogues
Who is under siege? Who needs to be rescued and how? Workers, the unemployed, business or politicians?
Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the Sowetan Dialogues, 6 September 2012, Tshwane
Thank you for inviting me to talk on your fascinating topic – “ Who is under siege? Who needs to be rescued and how? Workers, the unemployed, business or politicians?” There is obviously no easy answer to such a question.
I have a problem that the question presupposes that it is individuals, or groups of people, who are besieging others, and from whom we need to be rescued.
Of course individuals play an important role in the history of society, both positive and negative. But we should remind ourselves of the basic truth of Marxism - that it is not individuals but economic class forces, which are the real driving forces in history.
The famous Communist Manifesto by the great teachers of socialism, Marx and Engels, opens with these well-known words:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
They go on to explain that in modern societies, like South Africa today, by far the most important class struggle is between labour and capital. Individual leaders of both workers and their employers come and go, but the same basic struggles between these two classes continue.
It is appropriate to mention this at a time when so much attention is quite wrongly in my view being paid to leadership contests. Whether the US election is won by Obama or Romney, or who wins the ANC’s six top positions at Mangaung, is not unimportant, but it will not in itself make any fundamental difference. That will depend on policy changes and mass action by ordinary citizens to implement those changes.
This is relevant to the big talking point of the moment – the Marikana mine massacre. Of course individuals and organisations must be held to account for such a monumental disaster, and we trust that the judicial commission of enquiry will identify those responsible and they will be punished appropriately.
But this tragedy raises much more fundamental questions about society. And the answers to these specific questions will help to answer the more general ones the dialogue is addressing.
In the mining industry a handful of huge multinational mining monopolies make billions of rands of profits, extracted from the labour of workers who toil in the most wretched, unhealthy and dangerous conditions kilometres underground, for wages that come nowhere close to the value that their labour creates for their employers.
The rock-drill operatives (RDOs) at the centre of the dispute perform a more dangerous, unhealthy and difficult job than anyone else in the world. They face death every time they go down the shafts. Yet their monthly earnings are just R5 600!
Just compare that to the earnings of Lonmin’s Financial Officer, Alan Ferguson - R10 254 972 a year or R854 581 a month, 152 times higher than an RDO!
Those who clean our public spaces in Metros earn R13, 51 and R10, 07 per hour in KZN. The domestic workers who keep fires burning, cleaning, cooking, helping kids with homework and even enforcing discipline whilst their bosses and the middle strata spend many hours away their homes, earn a meagre R1639, 82 in Metro areas and R1366, 84.
Farm workers who toil under all conditions of weather and seasons for long hours, in most cases facing emotional and physical abuse earn R1503, 90. This they do so that you and I can have food security whilst their own kids go hungry. The hospitality workers who clean our hotel rooms and wear a smile after many hours so that they may receive a tip in the hotels and restaurants earn R2240, 60.
The security guards who stand in cold wintry nights for 12 hours in front of factory gates and shopping malls to make us feel safer earn R1828, 00 on grade D. All of these workers will say we are under siege from this cruel system.
Unemployment today means nearly 4 out of every 10 South Africans have no job or adequate social security. Black people who this month will remember Steve Biko, the champion of black consciousness, will tell us of their continuing humiliation by poverty.
They will tell us how they live in fear at the hands of marauding criminals of no particular origin that Hugh Masekela sings about. Poverty even though has declined in the past 18 years remains widespread with 57% of individuals leaving in poverty in 2001.
Black people are asking about the promised redistribution of wealth! They are asking where is the promise that the wealth of the country shall be shared when redistribution of income has worsened. Today there is effectively distribution from the poor to the rich, represented by the reality that the top 10% of the rich accounted for 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. This gap is likely to have worsened when you consider that we lost 1.17 million jobs due to the global economic crisis of 2008.
In 2008 the top 20 paid directors of the JSE listed companies who are still overwhelmingly white males earned an average of R59 million per annum each whilst on the average employee was earning R34 000 in 2009. The gap between this two is 1728.
Women in general, black women in particular, remain second class citizen in our male dominated society. They will tell us that largely they remain the worst victims of poverty and the main victims of HIV and AIDS, which they get mostly from their bullying and untrustworthy husbands and boyfriends.
Whilst celebrating Charlotte Maxeke, Lilian Ngoyi and the 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings they will be reminded that whilst they have made many strides in the past 18 years they still the main victims of all the sins of our society.
Women will tell us that they are under siege because health crisis is disproportionately on their shoulders. Women will know as their reality and not as a statistical jargon that they still face a reality that maternal mortality has increased from 81 to 600 per 100,000 between 1997 and 2005 against the MDG target of 38. They will be tell us of the child mortality has been on the decline, but remains high at 68 per 1000 live births, yet a comparable country Brazil has reduced this figure from 58 in 1990 to 22 in 2007.
They will relate to us the gory stories of mothers who suffer watching daughters dying from HIV and AIDS. Women constitute the bulk majority of the 1 000 people dying every day and they are the overwhelming majority of the 1,450 people becoming HIV infected each day. They will tell us that they form the majority of the 70% of the case load in the public health system as a result of the HIV and AIDS crisis.
Because they have the worse jobs and employed as mainly casualised they will tell us they form the bulk of the 90% South Africans who do not have a medical aid and therefore who use the crisis ridden health institutions.
Regrettably everything in our country retains the apartheid parking order – the apartheid train with three coaches. This is reflected in the imbalance in terms of life expectancy. A white person born in 2009 expects to live for 71 years, whereas an African born in the same year expects to live for 48 years. This means that white people expect to live 23 years more than Africans. These facts had not changed by 2011.
Mineworkers the majority of whom are black and coming from the old apartheid labour reserves know that South Africa takes the first prize in terms of being the most unequal society in the world. The richest decile is earning about 94 times more than the poorest decile. Africans, who constitute 79, 4% of the population, account for 41, 2% of the household income from work and social grants, whereas whites, who account only for 9, 2% of the population, receive 45, 3% of income. The poorest 10% of the population share R1, 1 billion whilst the richest 10% share R381 billion. Our country is trapped in a developmental paradigm that has simply reproduced these conditions for 18 years now.
The poor are beginning to ask themselves a question whether we have not reached a point where they can conclude that the main beneficiaries of the freedom they gallantly led as the motive force under the leadership of the working class is not reaching a pendulum where its main benefits are enjoyed by those who had it good under the apartheid system.
The marginalised majority knows that their country today takes the first prize in terms of being the most unequal society in the world. The richest decile is earning about 94 times more than the poorest decile.
Africans who should be the main beneficiaries of the liberation struggle, who constitute 79, 4% of the population, account for 41, 2% of the household income from work and social grants, whereas whites, who account only for 9, 2% of the population, receive 45, 3% of income.
The poorest 10% of the population share R1, 1 billion whilst the richest 10% share R381 billion. COSATU talks of a country trapped in a developmental paradigm that has simply reproduced these conditions for 18 years now.
So ask workers if they are under siege, and they will definitely say ‘yes’, we are under siege by greedy bosses who exploit us ruthlessly every working day, when we put our lives on the line every time we go underground to mine the minerals from which they make massive profits, and who cannot even provide us with decent homes for our families.
Today Prof Eddie Webster who has agreed to become a Director of the Chris Hani Institute reminded me of the words of Chris Hani who on 31 March 1993 few days before his assassination had an interview with Luli Callinicos where he had this to say about the challenges we were to face post liberation.
“The ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring: the creation of jobs, building of houses, schools, medical facilities, overhauling our education, eliminating illiteracy, building a society which cares, and fighting corruption and those moving into the gravy train of using power, government positions to enrich individuals. We must build a different culture in this country, different from Africa, different from the Nationalist Party. And that culture should be one of service to people. Some of us, especially we in the Party, have been discussing how we should cut down the salaries of Ministers, of parliamentarians and all the subsidies, so that if you are in parliament in Cape Town or Pretoria, you actually rent a flat like everybody. We are thinking in terms of a number of guidelines so that those people who go to parliament or go into the government should be those who are prepared to serve the people, not because it is a way of enriching people. And I think the ANC therefore must now position itself to tackle the problems of grassroots people. And that is why the ANC must allow the formation of many democratic formations in this country, organs of civil society, like the civics, independent trade unions, students’ organisations, teachers organisations, organisations of housewives, women, gays and everybody else, so that it is kept reminded of the need of the people on the ground.
How we wish that Chris Hani could return today to witness the unending pandemonium and dog fights for positions. How we wish he could see how his comrades are rolling on millions worth of cars whilst Rock Drillers Operatives in Marikana and other mines embark on desperate measures to try and get their demands met.
Lonmin executives may well claim that they too are under siege, from militant workers who make ‘unreasonable wage demands’, at a time when the world demand for platinum is falling, profit margins are threatened and potential foreign investors could be frightened away from putting their money in South African mining.
So the answer to the question ‘who is under siege?’ is that it all depends on which side of the class divide you are sitting - business or labour – and both expect ‘politicians’, i.e. the government – to rescue them from the perceived threat from the other.
The government’s role is more complex. The traditional Marxist view is that the state - which includes governments, civil servants, the judiciary, the police and the armed forces - are all instruments acting on behalf of the ruling class, the capitalist owners of industry. In most countries today that is undoubtedly the case.
In many developing countries however the situation is not as simple. Governments like South Africa’s, and many in South America, have been elected by an overwhelmingly poor and working-class electorate with a mandate to change the existing structure of society. This leads to the concept of a ‘developmental state’, which must transform the economy and redistribute the country’s wealth.
The government, and the ruling party, are committed to transformation but finds themselves caught in the middle of the underlying class contradictions, which they have to try to manage, and to mediate between the conflicted class forces, a problem which lies at the heart of many of South Africa’s problems today.
The Marikana tragedy reflected these contradictory pressures. The President commendably cut short his international engagement, hurried home, brokered talks with employers and unions to try to resolve the conflict and set up the judicial commission of enquiry.
But that enquiry will have to ask profound questions about the role of the state, in this case the police, for which the government itself has ultimate responsibility.
Whatever the judicial commission will say one thing we know is that if we cannot drastically narrow the yawning gap between the poorest and richest South Africans, we are sure to see more angry, and unfortunately violent, protests in both workplaces and poor communities, by people who feel marginalised and ignored by the government which most of them voted for.
That is the challenge of the second phase of the transition, which COSATU congress in 12 days and the ANC delegates have to resolve at Mangaung in December. We have said over and over again unless we can develop a new growth path to restructure the economy and confront all its structural challenges we will not succeed to build a better life for all.
Unless we confront the existing monopolies and in particular challenge the dominance of the mining-finance complex we will not succeed to industrialise.
Unless we can again be guided by the above words of Chris Hani to serve our people instead of individuals and their cliques, we shall forever postpone the real liberation of our people.
Unless we can end divisions that are informed not by the need to address this unfolding economic apartheid, but by factional battles informed by the “it's our time to eat” mantra will shall continue to produce costly mediocrity that has delayed service to our people for 18 years not in some respects.
Unless we change our mindset and rediscover the very reason for the existence of COSATU and the ANC in particular as we celebrate its centenary we shall continue to be on a downward slope in a route to betray the very ANC – its heroes and heroines.
Unless we can come to the conclusion that our country is more important than our positions and careers and that at this moment, doing what is right for the country is more important than serving our factions.
That is the challenge every victim of justice must do. This is what are the tasks of all those calling themselves revolutionaries. This is what we should do so that another 18 years do not arrive with us saying we remain the victims of apartheid colonialism and that we remain under siege.
Thank you for listening.