[Marxism] Jay Naidoo open letter to COSATU
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Sep 9 06:41:23 MDT 2012
An open letter to Cosatu
4 September 2012 01:42 (South Africa)
To my colleagues at Cosatu,
I have no authority to tell you what you must do, I know. But my
conscience as one of your founding leaders begs me to reflect on the
state of our country and nation.
The Marikana massacre is a deadly body blow to the democratic social
fabric, and it leaves my heart heavy with sadness. The weight of the
disappointment is staggering as I think back to my political initiation
as a teenager, listening to the powerful political narrative of Steve
Biko. “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” He presented a bold,
courageous and impossible vision of a free South Africa. We were
inspired as a generation to stand up and be counted irrespective of the
So where are the courageous leaders of today?
The 1976, the Soweto student uprisings were our Tahrir Square. We were
smashed, but we came back and kept building on the foundations of the
sacrifices of Nelson Mandela and his generation. We painstakingly
nurtured a mass movement. The eighties saw the flourishing of internal
mass struggles led by COSATU and the UDF that pitched us into battle
with a brutal Apartheid state. It took us 18 years to make our
liberation movement, the ANC, the majority party in our Parliament and
place Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected
Now, 18 years later, we commemorate a new massacre under the watch of
the supposedly democratic government we elected. I, like many South
Africans, am devastated.
Yet it can’t be denied that the writing has been on the wall for some
time. Why did we choose to ignore the facts staring us in the face?
I was part of the leadership that led COSATU into an alliance with the
ANC and SACP. It had a clear objective. We were making a commitment to a
profound transformation that struck at the heart of Apartheid – the
cheap labour system and its attendant diseases of joblessness, poverty,
gender violence and inequality.
But those same diseases remain, and we desperately need a frank,
no-holds-barred clinical analysis of our condition. It goes something
like this: inequality has grown. Formal employment has shrunk. A single
breadwinner supports up to eight dependants. The content of migrant
labour remains as deeply entrenched as ever, as subcontracted labour and
casualisation continue to marginalise the workers' families.
The education system hopelessly fails the poorest in our townships as
half of our children, mainly of the working poor, are left with almost
no skills to speak of even after 12 years of school. They can’t get jobs
and many of them are unlikely to do so at all in their lifetime. Our
schools have become havens to sexual predators: perverted teachers or
male pupils robbing our girl children of their innocence. The growing
majority of this dispossessed youth cannot see anyone representing their
That’s what I’ve gathered from conversations I’ve held with young people
throughout South Africa. All they see is the arrogance of a ‘blue light
brigade’ that believes it has some divine right to rule. They see a
criminal ‘Breitling brigade’ that grows fat on looting the public
coffers, stealing tenders and licences, and pocketing public funds
budgeted for textbooks, toilets and libraries.
This is not the programme of transformation for which our leaders –
beacons such as Elijah Barayi and Emma Mashinini – sacrificed so much.
This is not the future for which Neil Aggett was murdered by Apartheid
police. This is not the future for which Phineas Sibiya, an outstanding
shop steward, died a fiery death in a burning car at the hands of
Inkatha vigilantes in Howick.
Now is the time for fearless debate. Power has to be confronted with the
truth. The Marikana massacre shows all the hallmarks of our Apartheid
past. Violence from any side is inexcusable, but deadly force from a
democratic state is a cardinal sin. It strikes at the heart of democracy.
The COSATU Congress is important for many reasons, but mainly because it
will draw a line in the sand between justice and injustice. But it needs
leaders with the courage to hold up the mirror. And it needs to ask the
critical question: whether leaders have lost touch with the membership
and the poorest in our country.
I am reminded of our visit to the Soviet Union in 1990. We wanted to
understand how a powerful state claiming to represent the working class
could fall prey to the crass corruption that represented the worst
excesses of crony capitalism.
It was obvious to us. There was no democratic participation. The
nationalised economy and state enterprises were simply the feeding
troughs of the voracious elite. The past symbols of socialist solidarity
and social justice were a sham, appropriated by a rapacious class of
party apparatchiks. The labour movement was emasculated. It had been
reduced to a conveyor belt of the political and predatory party elite.
They were the 'yellow unions'.
I realised then that, had I been a militant unionist in the Soviet
Union, I would have died a miserable death in a Siberian labour camp.
There were no real unions in the Soviet Union. There were just obedient
lieutenants who enforced the orders of their political masters and
enjoyed the minor perks of financial hand-outs. It’s a slippery slope,
and one we can’t afford to send South Africa down.
So today, let us ask ourselves if splinter unions are just the work of
opportunists. Are we saying that seasoned trade unionists are so weak,
pliant and intellectually inferior that they will risk losing their jobs
and their lives – and for what?
I cannot believe that. Of course there is the Breitling Brigade, who
will use workers and the poor as cannon fodder, given half a choice. But
the fact is that there is a deep and growing mistrust of leaders in our
country, and the expanding underclass feels it has no voice through
legitimate formal structures. Violence becomes the only viable language.
So yes, there has to be trust. I remember more than 30 years ago when,
as a naïve student activist entering the labour movement as a volunteer,
I spent a day handing out pamphlets. That is, I spent the day trying to
hand out pamphlets. I was outside the factory gates for the whole day
and nobody took a pamphlet until an old SACTU activist took me aside and
said, “Sonny boy. You look very committed. But no-one understands all
your rhetoric. Workers cannot eat promises and political slogans. And if
they talk to you here they will be photographed and victimised. So come
home and I will arrange for some of the leaders to meet you.”
I understood then that the co-creation of a vision and ownership lies in
winning the trust of the workers, especially the poor. Their trust has
to be won every day. I am comforted that COSATU has done a labour force
survey of its members’ perceptions of their union leaders, but it is a
striking finding that many of the grassroots members are alienated from
their leadership. This should be the core of the debates at the upcoming
Congress. These perceptions need to be answered.
COSATU has a proud history. You stood firm when our government, in its
insane denialism, condemned to death so many people living with HIV and
AIDS, or remained silent on the human rights abuses of Zimbabwean and
Swaziland workers. You mobilised amazing organisations such as the
Treatment Action Campaign to make government accountable.
But where has the social activism gone to in our country? Has it also
submerged below the morass of that the bureaucratic development industry
breeds? You cannot escape your responsibility any longer – our society
is fragmenting and our state becoming increasingly dysfunctional.
Our Constitution demands an effective government that is transparent and
accountable. Our Constitution has laid the proud traditions of social
justice, human dignity and social solidarity as the foundation of our
democracy. Public institutions are there to serve the interests of the
citizenry and not the narrow often corrupt interests of a predatory elite.
That is what we fought for. We need to stop being subjects and become
active citizens. It is now incumbent on us all to stand up and bring our
country back to the path of reconstruction and development. We promised
a better life in 1994, and we need to deliver it.
As our founding father, Nelson Mandela, said, “Poverty, like Apartheid,
is not an accident. Like slavery, it is man-made and can be removed by
the actions of human beings.”
The key, now, is for those human beings to take the appropriate action. DM
Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, former Minister in
Mandela Government and Chair of a GAIN a Global Foundation Fighting
malnutrition in the World. You can also visit his Facebook Page or
More information about the Marxism