Zwelinzima Vavi speech to the Numsa National congress

Zwelinzima Vavi speech to the Numsa National congress

The following is an extract from the speech given by Zwelinzima Vavi to the Numsa national congress in Durban in June this year. A full version of the speech is available at

It appears to me that the reason for the “death of consciousness” is capitalist stratification itself. Capitalism, by its nature, divides people in terms of their income and in the process wins over those that are picking the bones from the tables of the master and convinces them that they have a stake in the capitalist system. It can succeed with their support, and that is what is in part happening in our revolution.

Too many of our leaders stay in Sandton, in former whites-only suburbs, and a lot of them have become visitors to the theatre of the class struggle. They spend six to eight hours going back to the comfort that has been created by those bones falling from the table of the master, the capitalist system.

Too many of our shop stewards do not have to spend eight hours in hospital waiting for a Panado, because they are part of the 17% to19% of our population who have medical aids. The battle for the transformation of our public hospitals is a distant issue for them. They are not affected directly and immediately.

Too many of our leaders have children at private schools; they don’t know the pain of dysfunctional schools and an education system that marginalises 400 000 people every year at matric level, people who go into the labour market without any prospect of attaining any form of skill.

That is the biggest danger we are facing at this moment, comrades, let’s face it.

So, as the leadership, what do we do?
We come to conferences and we give the best of speeches that sound so nice, yet the situation of the working class does not change year in and year out.

People remain trapped in the poverty, unemployment and inequality.
So we clap our hands every year and we sing, but the situation of the poor, of the working class, is not changing. We sing, we clap, we praise the names of our leaders, we say yathetha intokabani namhlanje hawu (so and so spoke) today.

I was at the funeral of Xolile Xunu with Karl Cloete on Saturday, and we were talking about what a real shop steward is. He or she is someone who knows that being a shop steward means service and sacrifice; it means being genuine; it means working all the time without expecting any reward; it means being the last defense for members; it means motivation; it means being a political activist who understands the links between the workplace and our community struggles.

That type of a shop steward is disappearing fast!
Most of the divisions in most of our unions now are not about differences in ideology. At times we fight in congresses kukhankaswe kuse phandle abantu befuna ukwenyulwa (people campaign outside because they want to be nominated)

You know why, there is a battle for the resources of the union.
No, lo azange anginike itransport allowance (No, that one did not give me transport allowance), shop stewards claim now.

Xolile Xnu, Petrus Mashishi and others like them did not even claim allowances. Petrus Mashishi’s story is the one that we always relate: he would work until 11 or 12 o’clock at night in his office; he had no transport and he walked 23 kilometres back to Soweto. And when he came back in the morning and he did not tell anybody who cared to listen that “I am making sacrifices”.

We have come to this congress, comrades and I could not let go of this opportunity to say one big and central thing: there has to be a mindset change in the leadership and in the activists of the federation as a whole.

There has to be a mindset change in the leadership of the African National Congress, in the leadership of the SACP; we have to change for the sake of our revolution and for the sake of our people.

I agree with the sentiment that xa ugula maqabane kukuvuma. Vuma ukuba andiphilanga, so that iyeza lingasebenza. Ungekavumi okokuba izinto azimtakangqika. I can see only the Eastern Cape now is clapping hands. Ungekavumi ukokuba (when you are sick comrade, admit it so that you can receive medication and recover.

Until you admit that, things are not well.) Until you admit that things are not well, it means that you are in denial. The person in denial refuses to take medicines – that is the problem with denialism; you just refuse to accept that you are sick and therefore need to be helped.

We are at the point now where we must convince all of us that if we don’t change our thinking, this revolution is going! Akukho mntu ‘aphe ozonyamezela indlala. Xa uthi heyi heyi safa yindlala uthi kuye yayiliqhawe uChris Hani. Yo yo yo, thina singumbutho ka Luthuli. Hayibo (There is not a single person here who will tolerate starvation. If, you say “oh, oh we are dying of starvation” he responds “Chris Hani was a hero. Oh, oh, oh we are Luthuli’s organisation. Oh, no!”

There is a point when that comes to an end, and let’s face it comrades, the fact is that the DA is now increasing its confidence, including now marching on Cosatu, leading 3 000 unemployed, mainly African youths. That means that they smell something and they are saying they want to take us on at some point. They have 2019; they are saying that we will be so weak at that time that they will just be walking in the park.

They have the Western Cape – don’t take them for granted, we are unable to win the Western Cape back. Bendipha over the weekend, ndiyacinga ukuba by the way (I was there over the weekend and was thinking) we were once in charge, not only of this province, but of this city. What happened?

We scored a rain of own goals! Twa, twa, twa, twa, siyazidubula ezinyaweni. Bha, bha, bha, ama-divisions, factional battles, the Afrikaners, the Coloureds gone. Imkile. (bang, bang, bang, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Bang, bang, bang, divisions, factional battles, the Afrikaners and the coloureds are gone. It’s gone.)

And those followers are looking for the next thing, they smell something. In Port Elizabeth siphume nje ngokulambisa. Zilapha eza-chap. Zisifuna apha. And they are telling us now that that struggle is over (in Port Elizabeth we won by the skin of our teeth. These chaps are on our heels).

What do we do to correct that? No, we are not correcting the weaknesses, we are scoring own goals again.

So we are not working in a vacuum; already the DA has 5% of our people in the townships, something unheard of in the past. We must change our thinking.

Lengxaki (this problem) of being defocused – it is the most dangerous thing.
We are defocused completely. Into esiyithandayo zizitulo nokulwela zona (the thing that we love is positions and fighting for these positions) and we love corruption.

The day we succeed, and that is what I hope we can get an agreement on during this policy conference and all the coming congresses, is when we start creating a new society, a new ethos, a new principle in the organisation that says two things:

• Take that fellow from Gauteng who allegedly used his credit card to hire a hotel to sleep in, which is five kilometres from where he stays, who bought a suit when he went to India, it is alleged, worth R20 000 to 30 000, who went to McDonalds and came out with a bill of R8 000 or R10 000, and everybody said where does this man take the burgers. He had a friend who was selling a painting and he went to McDonalds; he got his painting but the slips are written for McDonalds.

We must change our thinking, so that a person like that will know that he can be guaranteed no support whatsoever in the movement for doing things like that and knows that he must resign. He must spare us all the pain of setting up committees of inquiry and months and months of bringing the name of our organisation down. If we can’t make that happen, then we must know we are continuing to score own goals.

If lanto eqhubeka eNorthern Cape (if what is occurring in the Eastern Cape) continues, where the chairperson of the province faces these heavy charges but is guaranteed the PEC and the cabinet’s support to the point that everybody will leave their posts to go to court and say “hands off”, then we must know ukuthi kusekude ngaphambili (we still have a long way to go).

If the fellows who killed Moss Phakoe in Rustenburg can recruit an army among our people which, and when they are charged for a murder of another comrade have people marching to say “hands off”, then we must know that we are in trouble as an organisation.

Unless we can change that, comrades, this revolution is gone, because the battles now are about “hands off” and not about unemployment, poverty and inequality – and that is what we must talk about in the Cosatu congress.

I am happy that Numsa is proposing radical policy shifts. Of course, comrades, you are not going to win everybody over to be your friend. Someone who seeks to be the friend of everybody you must never trust.

uMantashe uyibeka kakuhle lento, ndiyayithanda lento. Athi andiyomali, awunakuthandwa ngumntu wonke, yimali kuphela into efunwa ngumntu wonke. (Mantashe summed it up well; I like what he said. He said that he is not money.

You cannot be liked by everyone. Only money is liked by everyone). But a fellow with character and principles will have enemies just because he speaks the truth, that’s the basis of your enemy.

Nayo iNumsa ke injalo (likewise, Numsa is like that), and it must continue to be like that. Sukuthi wawuva ingathi (do not say you heard) there are people who are saying Jim is replacing Malema. They are trying to ridicule him so that no one listens to him.

Irvin Jim must have character, must follow certain principles and those principles are yours not his, he is only the mouth that articulates them.
So if we go to the congress, siyothetha ngezozinto. Sifike khe eMangaung singafuni nothing else except to say size apha sifuna iFreedom Charter.

Abangathi umntu usibizela kwiCaucus; sithi hayi sifuna iFreedom Charter kuphela (we are going to discuss those issues. We will arrive in Mangaung wanting nothing else except to say we are there to demand the Freedom Charter.

People must not attempt to call us into a caucus; we must continue to state that the only thing we want is the Freedom Charter). We will have done our movement a big favour. We want all of the Freedom Charter, including the demand that says the wealth of the country shall be shared and that the mineral wealth beneath the soil, monopoly industry and the banks shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.

Sifike pha sime sithi sifuna nje lonto. Hayi, hayi, isingesi, no, no maqabane kudala sithetha. It is now 18 years, Freedom Charter please. No, no, no come to the caucas ebusuku asilali namhlanje sine braai kwa-hotel simung’mung. Aphosizothetha khona ngeFreedom Charter siyeza. Apho singazuthetha khona (we must get there and tell them that that is all we want.
No, no comrades we have been talking for far too long. It is now 18 years, Freedom Charter please. No more of this come to the caucus at night; we are not sleeping; we are having a braai at such and such a hotel. We will only attend meetings where the Freedom Charter is discussed.) Where it is not being discussed – sorry we are not coming, the conference must be about our liberation, our freedom and the return of our dignity in its totality, so that we are liberated from poverty and inequality and unemployment.

Makhe siyeni kwii conference maqabane zonke (let us attend all these conferences comrades). Away with divisions, away with narrow factional battles of leadership, away with politics of the palace where the elite is battling against each other while sidelining the real interests of the people – we want the Freedom Charter.

Ndifuna nje ukucacisa inti benye maqabane. Kukhona into endiyibonayo ukuba tyhini! Izile and ndiyayibona futhi ize kum le qha amacomrades awayibeki kakuhle (I want to explain something comrades. I see that there is a matter that is directed at me and I need to explicitly comment on).

From the beginning in 1987, after the inaugural congress of Cosatu, we said that we want to be in alliance with organisations whose principles are not in conflict with ours, that have mass following and a track record in the struggle.
We therefore said no, we don’t want to be friends with everybody. At that time we said our friends could only be the UDF and its affiliates, and we knew that our real friends had been pushed out into exile, the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

Ever since then, we have been working on one slogan, and we again affirmed the correctness of that slogan in 2003, when we said that we are building now on a 2015 plan towards our 30th anniversary and that congress must be here because that is where we were born.

In that congress, we said we want to ensure that we achieve certain things –build the alliance, strengthen Cosatu, build a developmental state – and we recognised then, as we did in 1987, that the workers must be in the forefront of the struggles.

They must swell the ranks of the ANC and the SACP, because we understood at that time, as we understand now, that the ANC is a contested terrain. Kuthwa ngukhwela sowubhatele, okanye ngugalele bhayini; wonke umntu wamkelekile (they say you pay before you ride or there are no rules; everyone is welcome).

Everybody, and if workers are not there to contest the direction, then others may use their power and influence to change the direction of the train away from the Freedom Charter. We are quite aware of that.

That is our policy – Cosatu will adopt no new policy in relation to that issue. It is our policy, existing already, and every congress we repeat it: “swell the ranks”.

What we are battling against?
We are battling against low levels of consciousness among organised workers and among the working class in general, and that is why we now have a full complement of staff that can help increase the levels of our consciousness. We must know that, in society, there are two main contending forces in a battle that never ends: the working class and the capitalist class. We know who lines up on the side of the working class and who lines up on the other side; we know that – we are battling against low levels of consciousness.

That is why in the last congress, among others, we said our priorities must be about improving the political and ideological consciousness of the workers, so that every time any of our leaders breaks ranks we celebrate that we are achieving our own goals.

So today we celebrate the fact that the president of the ANC is a product of the workers’ struggles, we celebrate the fact that the deputy president is a product of the workers’ struggles.

We celebrate that the secretary general is a product. Go to cabinet and you will celebrate a sea of comrades who cut their teeth in our movement, the trade union movement, the greatest school of society.

So there is no convincing maqabane ndifun’ ukuyi clarifaya le nto, ama-comrade ke ikakhulu apha kwi-movement yethu angayi understandi (comrades I want to clarify, especially to those comrades in our movement that do not understand) the internal debate, are mistaking a personal difference, a personal view of one individual and he understands his position to be the position of the movement as a whole.

It is not a position of the movement as a whole. It is the position of one individual and a lot of comrades, even within our ranks, do not agree with the position of this individual and that individual has taken that says “everybody must go, swell the ranks, we must work for that”.

But in the view of this individual, the fellow who is the public face of the workers’ message to society, who is the voice of workers on the basis of their mandates, must be spared from this push to swell the ranks for obvious reasons.

I want to explain today these reasons – and I am going to go back to Numsa’s position in 1997 on this matter, when your general secretary, alone at that time, battled against the entire congress of Cosatu and did not succeed in convincing everybody that the Numsa position at that time was the correct line.

You remember that congress – the younger fellows will not know.
We were in Kempton Park when Mbuyiselo Ngwenda, your former general secretary stood alone, literally, niyazi bendiyenza ntoni ngalo mini? Ndandiyi deputy kaShilowa.

Sathi sisakuyibona ukuba ‘si! Izekakubi iNumsa. Sabaleka sayo fowunela uJZ. Sathi heyi mfondini kubi, iza (you know what I was doing that day, I was Shilowa’s deputy. When we realised that Numsa had a bone to pick, we made a call to JZ and informed him that things were bad and he had to come).

There is this matter here, we want the congress to agree, it is okay for all the leaders to swell the ranks and Numsa is standing firm that it is not alright, it is not strategic, it is not tactically okay to have the president and the general secretary also serving in the ANC or SACP.

That was the argument which at that time I was not convinced about, but which I am now convinced of more than at any other time. And by the way, it is your choice even now, you can push me away but when I come back with a hot potato under my tongue; don’t complain.

Umm, umm, hayi ayivakali ngoko into ethethwayo? Umm, umm, uthini ngento ethile? Umm. Umm! Ishushu itapile phantsi kwelimi (don’t complain when I am dumbfounded).

This is not a Cosatu position; please don’t beat me for advancing a personal position; it is my position, I have seen enough ukuthi tyhini uMbuyiselo waye right (to say wow, Mbuyiselo was right). The patronage thing, comrades, is no small matter; it is the most powerful weapon in any capitalist society.

Every person walks around with a demon of power inside him. It is natural; every person wants to be something in life ndiyibonile lento ukuba tyhini lento ethetwa ebhayibhileni, ithi ndiwaphakamisele phezulu amehlo am entabeni apho ubuzolwani lakuvela khona, tyhini ikhona le nto.

Uthi icomrade ubuyithembile, uthi uyayibona tyhini ijoyine kulento, ngikamisile Nkosi yami faka, sengikamisile Nkosi, galela, galela (I have realised that this thing written about in the Bible,“I will lift my eyes up to the mountain where my help cometh”, truly does exist.

A comrade, whom you know and trust, joins this thing and says “Oh God my mouth is open, fill it up, fill it up.”) There is nothing more compromising than to get the GS saying this on this platform and something else on another platform on the same issue, because people are not fools, they can see ukuthi siya-manejwa apha. Lo mntu uthethe kule nto izolo, namhlanje uthetha enye (that they are being taken for a ride. This person said one thing yesterday on the topic, today they say something different). I don’t want to find myself in that situation ever!

Ningangifaka ke manje. Ndivile uCedric esethi kwiSunday Times headlines bathi akahambe, makangene. Ndizakungena. Ningakali xandibuyela apha ngetapile elishushu (now you can send me out. I heard that Cedric in the

Sunday Times headlines said I must go and get involved. I will do so but don’t complain when I return with a hot potato).
Ndiyabulela maqabane

Zwelinzima Vavi is Cosatu general secretary