Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to NUMSA 25th Anniversary Rally

President Jacob Zuma and ANC leaders
President Cedric Gina
General Secretary Irvin Jim
Leaders and members of NUMSA
National Treasurer of the workers’ vanguard party Phumulo Masaule
Comrades and friends

The honour to address the NUMSA 25 anniversary rally is a singular honour, which I will always cherish till my last day.

I remember very vividly the coming together of MAWU, the Metal and Allied Workers Union, MICWU, the Motor Industry Combined Workers Union, NAAWU, the National Automobile and Allied Workers Union, UMMAWOSA, the United Metal, Mining and Allied Workers of South Africa and NUMARWOSA, the National Union of Motor Assembly and Rubber Workers of South Africa.

Two different COSATU unions also gave their metal members to NUMSA: GAWU, the General and Allied Workers Union and TGWU, the Transport and General Workers Union.

It was on the 17th May 1987. I remember that comrade Jabu Ndlovu was killed by the warlords returning from this congress. Her death was not isolated incident.

She become part of the statistics of countless worker leaders, activists and shop stewards who were killed, had their homes petrol bombed, their children killed in front of them, their families displaced, their communities ravaged, their schools and places of worships destroyed.

We remember today that MAWU was in particular targeted by these warlords who stood at factory gates to demand that workers resign from the COSATU unions and join WUSA, a union that was never a union.

The creation of NUMSA was a huge step for COSATU, which was itself also only two years old. The formation of this giant took us a step closer to realization of one of the most important principles of COSATU – an injury to one is the injury to all.

Lest we forget, on the very day COSATU was launched on the 1st December 1985, Pheneus Sibiya, Simon Ngubane and three other workers from Phophomeni had their car stopped by the warlords and torched on their way to the rally, killing all of them in this gruesome and barbaric manner.

COSATU's venue for the congress was surrounded by these bloodthirsty warlords who did not know what they were doing.

We have come here celebrate a movement that triumphed over evil. We have come to celebrate 25 years of workers' resilience.
We are celebrating 25 years of a movement that defeated an unholy but natural alliance between the bosses and their apartheid state.

The apartheid state had managed to get a few sell-outs within the ranks of the oppressed so that they could legitimize the policy of separate and unequal development through the creation of Bantustans. NUMSA threw some of the most deadly body blows at the body of the apartheid monster.

The congress itself was critical politically. It was in the middle of major battles led by COSATU and the UDF with our ever-present leadership of our movement underground, in exile and with thousands of the youth and even students joining the ranks of the glorious army of our people Umkhonto wesizwe.

This partnership propelled the struggle to our emancipation. Today we recall that NUMSA itself stands on the shoulders of the giants – the heroes and heroines of the workers struggles.

As we celebrate the ANC centenary, as we recall the unparalleled role workers played as a leading detachment of the working class we remember NUMSA's forebears. We recall that the first ever political activist to be hanged by the illegal apartheid regime was a unionist.

He was a leader of NUMSA before it was born. He was the commander of the Eastern Cape Umkhonto Wesizwe. He was a composer of many of the revolutionary songs today. His name was Vuyisile Mini.

Vuyisile Mini on his way to the gallows, together with three other comrades, sang the now famous song: "Nantsi indoda emnyama Verwoerd basopa". We gather here to celebrate heroism, sacrifices, guts, selflessness and heroism.

We are also here to remember your honorary President Harry Gwala – the lion of Midlands. I remember vividly his address to your 1989 congress, urging you to move to the front rows in a final push to render apartheid and its twin cousin capitalism unworkable.

We are here to celebrate worker militancy and their struggles and tribulations. We recall all your struggles and your victories to create centralised bargaining in all your structures.

We can say without any fear of contradiction that workers in the metals, automobiles, rubber and tyre and petrol garages are better than before.

In the garages the minimum wage is still very low at R1816.60; in the metals industry it is at R4300, and in the automobile sector and tyre industry it is R6980.

Hourly minimum rates are:

Metal & Engineering Sector
Minimum rate – R27.35; artisan – R50.00

Motor retail sector
Garage workers – R14.28; minimum rate – R17.16; artisan (minimum) – R36.66

Auto Assembly & Manufacturing
Minimum rate – R42.00; artisan – R96.00

Tyre & Rubber
Minimum rate – R62.00; artisan – R118.00

Let us say that we still have a long way before we can claim that we have won a living wage for our members. We need NUMSA to be even stronger than it has been in the past 25 years.

We need more and not less worker unity; we need even more clarity at the theoretical level so that we can always appreciate the connectives between our struggles for improved working conditions and the community and political struggles.

More so, we need to understand that the capitalist system will not resolve the contradictions between the working class and bosses. NUMSA has taught us that this struggle over social surplus is perpetual – now hidden and now in the open.

Your task is to continue to educate workers so that they develop an intense hatred for the capitalist system and understand they can use their power in unity and numbers to defeat the bosses and their state and in its place put in a new regime whose primary purpose will be to utilize all our country's resources for the common good of society as a whole.

Today, as we celebrate the centenary of the vanguard of our liberation struggle, the ANC, let us recall that NUMSA, ANC and the SACP are involved in a struggle to replace the past with a new future which will simultaneously address all the three antagonistic contradictions of black oppression, worker exploitation and the triple oppression faced by women.

Whilst celebrating 25 years of NUMSA also means celebrating all the gains of liberation, including improved access to education and health care, we are at the same time reminded of the daunting challenges we face.

Unemployment, poverty and inequalities stubbornly remain the biggest challenge of our time. NUMSA must continue to urge us all that we must leave no stone unturned in our search for a lasting solution to this challenge.

COSATU agrees with NUMSA fully that at this point in our history one of the biggest lessons we must learn is that we can't continue drinking the same old wine in new bottles. We can't listen to the advice of those not wearing our shoes that we must redouble the medicine when clearly that medicine has not worked for the past 18 years.

Neoliberalism and its cousins – privatization, commodification of basic services, outsourcing, high interests rates, inflation targeting, low budget deficits – has failed the poor not only in our country but everywhere in the world.

We agree with NUMSA that the time has come for us to implement the Freedom Charter unapologetically. We continue to demand that the land and wealth be shared and that all mineral wealth beneath the soil, monopoly industry and banks be transferred to the people as a whole.

We want radical programmes, not piecemeal peripheral interventions that reproduce unemployment and poverty. We want total emancipation. We want jobs, not just any job we want decent jobs.

We want an end to poverty and inequalities; we want an end to the abuse by the labour brokers; we want a public transport system that is reliable, efficient, accessible and safe.

We want houses near our places of work; we want recreation facilities for our children; we want a national health insurance; we want all efforts be made to improve the education crisis that continue to sideline our youth.

Let this year of celebration be the year of rededication as well, so that we don't end with a better life for some but a better life for all!



Numsa Press Release