COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi speech at the 3rd Annual Irene Grootboom Memorial Lecture Series.

Thank you very much for the honour of inviting me to give this third lecture in memory of Irene Grootboom. Congratulations for having this lecture here in Khayelitsha where the victims of economic marginalisation reside. Most of the time we conduct these important debates away from the people who are the motive forces of our

struggle. I want to congratulate the Social Justice Coalition for its excellent work of mobilising our poor communities. Thank you for reviving the traditions of the UDF! I want to assure you that you have a trusted
and reliable ally in COSATU. We shall walk shoulder to shoulder with you all the way towards the social justice that our Constitution promises.
The timing could not have been better.  Next week, on the 27-28 October 2010 close to 50 organisations of civil society will be meeting in a historic conference in Boksburg.  That conference will aim to:

•  Establish closer working relationships and better co-ordination between pro-poor civil society organisations and the trade union movement in recognition of the fact that both are pursuing social justice and that many of our campaigns will benefit from mutual support and solidarity;
• Strengthen appreciation in the trade union movement and civil society of the centrality of the South Africa constitution as a mobilising instrument that both legitimises campaigns to continually improve the conditions of the poor and provides for mechanisms to address the needs of the poor through the Chapter 9 bodies, the Courts
and other institutions;
•  Debate COSATU’s economic policy proposals and build consensus on the need to campaign for an economic policy that expands the economy and is pro-poor, job-creating and genuinely redistributive;
This conference must be dedicated to the living memory of Irene Grootboom and her family, as well as to all those trapped in homelessness and squalor in our townships. We recall that the Constitutional Court, the highest Court in our land has declared that the government has not met its obligation to provide adequate housing
for residents of Cape Town’s Wallacedene informal settlement.  It is now clear, thanks to Irene Grootboom, that the homeless have legal rights and those Constitutional commitments must not be giant paper promises. The story of Irene Grootboom is the tragic story of millions of South Africans. It talks to their suffering, pain and the humiliating living conditions of degrading poverty, squalor and disease that continue to afflict millions of our people.  But Irene Grootboom also represents so perfectly our slogan that says “Aluta continua! The struggle
After 16 years of democracy and freedom, we can at least say to Irene Grootboom: you may have been a victim of government tardiness which failed to build you a decent home, but at least 74% of South African households live in brick structures, flats and townhouses.  Sadly,Irene Grootboom was part of the 15% of households who still live in shacks, which amounts to 1.875 million households. Yet we know that the apartheid legacy lives on to this day. The quality of housing remains a major challenge; 46% of South African households live in dwellings with no more than 3 rooms, 17% of households live in 1-room dwellings. Among Africans 55% live in
dwellings with less than 3 rooms and 21% live in 1-room dwellings, whereas at least 50% of white households live in dwellings with no less than 4 rooms. We also in her name celebrate the strides that have been registered in the provision of basic needs. The number of households with no access to water infrastructure fell from 36% in 1994 to 4% in 2009.  Access to sanitation also dramatically improved over the same period, from 50% to 77%. Access to electricity also improved from 51% to 73%[1].
All these good sounding statistics do not tell the full story however. The commercialisation and commodification of basic services means that even though water taps may be in each yard where they have been provided, a growing number of these are dry as the poor are being made to pay in advance for an increasing number of these services, including water. I am talking to the fact that 1.3 million households, which account for almost 5 million people, are experiencing water cut-offs due to non-payment[2].  Providing basic services alone, without realising our other economic demands, means that the strides our government has registered are constantly under threat.
This makes true the saying that under the system of capitalism every worker’s gain is always under threat.

Today you may be lucky to have a job, only for it to be casualised and outsourced tomorrow by the notorious human traffickers – the labour brokers. You may have electricity and water today, only for these to be reduced into white elephants by rampant neoliberal cost-recovery policies. The 15-Year Review captures this clearly when it says: “Problems of quality and affordability of services reduce the impact of broader access. For example, women in households which can afford to use electricity only for lighting, and not for heating or cooking, do not
reap the full improvement that electrification can bring to their lives”[3].  We cannot agree more and we have to ask why? Last year I had the honour of going door-to-door in many informal settlements around Cape Town. Every time I did so I came out completely depressed, realising the challenges we still face. Most of these informal settlements do not have the most basic infrastructure – no water, no sanitation, no electricity, no clinics, no schools, and no streets. It is just sand and a terrible stench of poverty and squalor.
So when I heard that the City of Cape Town had been voted one of the best municipalities, I said to myself – surely the panel who decided on this have not been where I have been. I know the challenge facing Cape Town faces all other big cities, not only in our country but also all over the world. Governments have failed to develop the rural areas and ensure food security, leading to the massive rush to the cities, compounding housing shortages everywhere in the world. But Cape Town has to be one of the worst cases.
Irene Grootboom will know that much of the progress in some areas by the government that we are celebrating will not be real unless we are freed from the ongoing economic bondage and neoliberal policies adopted by government after 1996. As we have said often enough, thanks to Irene Grootboom’s generation and many others before her, we are today freed politically. We have a President, Ministers, Mayors and Councillors that reflect our
country’s demography, though I do not get a full sense in this regard here in Cape Town and in the Western Cape.
Everywhere in the country we have political medals to display. Indeed our Mayors wear the same chains previously reserved for the white Mayors. We know however that at the economic level we are far from realising the demands of the Freedom Charter, which amongst others say the people shall share in the country’s wealth, the land shall be shared amongst those who work it and that there shall be work and security for all. Our demands are not new. We have made the same demands for many decades. The Reconstruction and Development Programme was one document in which we made the same demands. There is no reason for confusion, procrastination and dilly-dallying. We know it will take time to fully eradicate the legacy of apartheid
colonialism, which was put together over 300 years. None of us expect that in a short period of 16 years we would have dismantled this terrible legacy. But we must say we worried about the direction we have taken at the economic front. All we have done is to change the skin colour of the driver, but in terms of economic policy the
direction remains the same as the one the apartheid regime was travelling, which was inspired by Margaret Thatcher. I talk here of the discredited Washington consensus that is based on the supremacy of the markets and the limited role of the state. There has to be a real difference between the ANC, a movement with a history
of being pro-poor and pro-working class and the, DA which is essentially an organisation of the rich but has succeeded in camouflaging its true colours.
This road we have travelled has not only reproduced but deepened inequalities and unemployment. Unemployment among Africans was estimated to be 38% in 1995 and it stood at 45% in 2005. A staggering
48% of South Africans live below R322 a month and 25% of the South African population now survive on state grants. Various measures indicate that income inequality has widened. In 1995, the Gini coefficient stood at 0.64 but it increased to 0.68 in 2008. The 20 top-paid directors in JSE-listed companies earned 1728 times
the average income of a South African worker in 2008, whilst state-owned enterprises paid 194 times average workers’ income. Approximately 71% of African female-headed households earned less than R800 a month and 59% of these had no income. Income inequality is still racialised and gendered: an average African man earns in the region of R2 400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000 per month. Most white women earn in the region of R9 600 per month, whereas most African women earn R1 200 per month. Top managers continue to be predominantly drawn from the white population; 62% of all promotions and recruitments were drawn from 12% of the South African population. Almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE listed companies remain white males. Crucial sectors in the economy continue to be dominated by a few large
conglomerates. Though there has been restructuring of the corporate sector, historical links at the level of production between sectors remain strong. Financial and trade liberalisation has opened scope for
conglomerates to globalise their operations and ownership, thereby consolidating their power in the domestic economy.


Site B Hall KhayelitshaPetrochemicals, mining and basic iron and steel make up 69% of total exports, and are highly capital intensive. Past policies have failed to break the dominance of core minerals-energy-complex sectors, and imports continue to be made up of sophisticated manufactured items such as machinery and equipment. Between 2003 and 2008 manufacturing imports rose by almost 10 percent, thereby contributing problems in the external balance. By 2005, the financial sector was growing at almost twice the growth rate of the non-financial sector. Notwithstanding the many strides registered by the government – including free primary healthcare, that has expanded with 1,600 more clinics built, about 248 out of 400 public hospitals being revitalised and refurbished, and the public antiretroviral therapy programme which has enrolled more 1,1 million people living with HIV and AIDS, making our government programme amongst the best and most comprehensive in
the world – generally we face a deepening crisis of healthcare, powerfully demonstrated by the fact that the life expectancy of South Africans which was the highest in 1992, at 62 years, had deteriorated to 48 years in 2009.
Mortality has increased from 230 mothers per 100,000 dying in 2000 to 400 in 2005, with the latest estimates of 575-623 deaths. The MDG target is 38. South Africa stands out internationally for the extent of the deterioration since 2000 when the MDGs were introduced.
At the education front, despite many achievement such as the increased access, our education remain in crisis, with only 3% of the children who enter the schooling system eventually leaving with higher grade mathematics. Of the 1.4 million learners who entered the system in 2008, only 24% were able to complete matric in the minimum of 12 years. Let me repeat what we said during this year’s May Day celebrations. Our crisis is that we are wearing political medals without any economic jewellery. The only way we can honour Irene Grootboom is not
only by erecting her statue but also by ensuring that we force a change in the direction we have been travelling over the past 16 years.
We must put government under relentless pressure to produce a new growth path capable of linking all government policies together into a comprehensive development strategy that will make building a better life and decent work for all not just slogans we shout but a living reality for the family of Irene Grootboom. We should campaign for an end of denialism. We should no longer tolerate the issuing of completely insensitive and naïve statements from our leaders, who have been telling us for 16 years now that the economic fundamentals are in place and we have turned the corner. This is like a doctor declaring that the operation has been successful
whilst the patient has died.

We should no longer allow our leaders to go around the world with massive business delegations, leaving behind
the poor and the marginalised and then use these trade talks to declare that no economic policy will change and that we shall stay the course.

Evidence is overwhelming, now more than any time, that we need to change direction away from the apartheid economic growth path, cemented by GEAR, towards a new growth path based on the demand for decent work and poverty eradication. That is the only way we can honour the memory of Irene Grootboom and all those who, like her, died in poverty and who are maimed by preventable diseases. It is this in light that we need, more than ever before, to intensify the relationship between the trade unions and civil society in our country. The forthcoming civil society conference serves as a platform where we shall solidify this relationship. More importantly the unions must address the weakness of increasing numbers of its members not being active in civil and political organisations where they live. Even when the leaders such as myself try all the time to bridge the gap, many workers do not participate in their own right. This is the single biggest threat to the realisation of creating COSATU as a revolutionary and transformative trade union. From its inception when COSATU was formed 25 years ago we declared that workers’ struggles in the workplace cannot be divorced from the struggles of our communities where we live. It is the same struggle. The struggle for decent work cannot be fully realised unless it is seen to be the same struggle for a better life for all. This is the area we need to address. Our hope is that the Social Justice Coalition, and all these organs of people power, will accept this challenge to politicise workers and build their class consciousness. If we had done this more we would not have allowed the DA to hijack voters here in the Western Cape. We need you to help recruit workers where they live just as we need our leaders, in particular the shop stewards movement, to lead by example. Only when we do all these things we will be closer to the giving Irene Grootboom the peaceful rest she deserves!


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