ANC centenary and the workers’ struggle

On January 8 2012, thousands of workers flocked to Mangaung to celebrate with the ANC, 100 years of selfless struggle for freedom.

The celebration was attended by people from all walks of life, from American civil rights activist Rev Jesse Jackson to ordinary peasants from the rural areas of uMthatha.

The South African liberation was achieved after a protracted struggle that involved many people from different sectors of society.

Because political organisations like the ANC, SACP and PAC were banned, the trade unions became the only viable organisations that could be formed, albeit along racial lines.

It must not be assumed that it was easy; it was a mammoth task because all trade union leaders were followed and harassed to ensure that they did not further the aims of South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) whose leaders were all banned after 1960 along with the political parties of liberation.

It must be remembered by all today that Vuyisile Mini, the first liberation fighter to be hanged by the apartheid regime, was a worker leader.

He received his political education in the trade union movement.

It was through this political consciousness that he sang a song warning Mr Verwoed that “a black man is coming, he must be careful”.

This bravery inspired many people to join the ranks of Umkhonto weSizwe.


Many trade unionists were arrested and banned from operating but they did not stop fighting for the formation of black trade unions.

The strikes that started in Durban in the ’70s and spread to the whole country were as a result of intense work by many workers, some of whom were Umkhonto weSizwe underground operatives, within the trade unions.

It was in the unions that people spoke about leaders, like Nelson Mandela, who were languishing on Robben Island.

Many Sactu leaders had gone to exile. Many were based in the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) offices around the world.

It is an undisputed fact that some of the international contacts that were successfully utilised by the ANC were as a direct result of Sactu’s affiliation to the WFTU.

Esteemed stalwarts such as Mark Shope, Moses Mabhida and Eric Mtshali were based in Prague, where the WFTU head office was located, in different epochs of our struggle for liberation.

Our history tends to highlight the role of the 1976 Soweto action by students against Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, but I want to argue that the 1973 strikes were not spontaneous and contributed to the consciousness of the young students who led the 1976 action that started in Soweto and spread around the country.

This year represents 39 years since the Metal and Allied Workers Union (Mawu) was formed.

Many other independent trade unions were formed at about the same time.

The 1973 strikes and ongoing worker strikes in the 1970s as well as the 1976 student uprising put further pressure on government to try and find a way to control African workers who at the time fell outside of labour legislation.

Government’s Wiehahn Commission in 1979 for the first time allowed African workers to join trade unions but also set up ways to control them.

Workers did not rest on their laurels. Numsa’s predecessors and other independent trade unions came together to form the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu).

Its principles focused on non-racialism, building worker control and strong factory floor structures so as to defend the organisation against apartheid oppression.

The work of building unions continued inside the country. More and more worker leaders were arrested, detained and killed.

White academics that aligned themselves with the struggle of workers were also murdered.

This galvanised people to strengthen unions even further and this building of unions led to the formation of Cosatu.

It was 1985 when Cosatu was formed, but this did not stop the apartheid government’s attempts to use divide and rule tactics, while abusing state resources.

Cosatu offices were bombed, Cosatu leaders were arrested and affiliates’ offices were burned.

The state funded the formation of the United Workers Union of South Africa under the banner of the Inkatha Freedom Party to counter a successful disinvestment campaign which was starting to apply pressure on the apartheid government.

Cosatu’s first president, Elijah Barayi, called for the release of Nelson Mandela in his first public speech – he gave PW Botha six months to do this.

Between 1985 and 1990, when Mandela was released, Cosatu participated in many campaigns to put pressure on the Botha regime.

The international campaign and internal resistance led by workers and mass democratic movements that had formed themselves into the United Democratic Front delivered freedom to all South Africans when on February 2 1990, FW De Klerk announced the unbanning of our liberation movement and the release of Mandela.


From 1990 to 1994, workers worked tirelessly for the victory of the ANC in the elections.

It is workers who provided a platform to counter lies about the ANC that were spread by some Bantustan leaders.

Workers went into no-go areas to campaign for the ANC and manned polling stations.

It was they who defended the announcements of February 2 1990 against those who wanted to retain the pre-1990 status quo.

The ANC government has done so much for our people.

While it is true that it will take years to undo the damage of colonialism and apartheid, the pace at which we deliver the changes to our people can be improved.

Workers have continued to return the ANC to power because workers appreciate all that it has done for us, while insisting that more can be done.

It is for this reason that I celebrated the ANC centenary.

In my reflection, I said that we must work for a stronger ANC in the second centenary so that all problems brought to us by colonialism and apartheid can remain in the history books and not be felt by our children.

Workers must not abandon the ANC. Instead the Cosatu 2015 resolution must be implemented: the ANC, SACP and Cosatu must be strengthened by workers.

In the Cosatu congress that will take place in this centenary year, I hope the federation resolves to affiliate to the World Federation of Trade Unions.

I wish the ANC, a successful centenary.

I wish Numsa a successful 25 years and hope that SACP enjoys its 91st year of existence.

Cedric Gina is Numsa president

Numsa News No 1