Open Letter to COSATU Eastern Cape on the COSATU Civil Society Conference

In The Politics of Politics on August 24, 2011 at 11:10 am

19 August 2011

Dear comrades

We all know that there will be no solution to the escalating crisis of our society without an alliance between organised workers and the organizations of the unemployed, shack dwellers and the landless. Without unity between workers and the poor our society will continue its descent into authoritarianism and growing inequality.

We welcome the invitation to the civil society conference. It is, indeed, encouraging that COSATU is reaching out beyond the shop floor. But, as has been noted by some of our comrades, the first steps towards a broader progressive alliance were disappointing in that popular organisations were excluded and COSATU only sought connections with NGOs. Some of those NGOs, most notoriously those organised as the Social Justice Coalition, had, scurrilously, joined the SACP in trying to criminalise popular organisations in Cape Town. This has been a cause for serious concern.

But we are very pleased that at this conference popular organisation have also been invited. This is a step forward. We warmly welcome this step and reiterate our full support for all attempts to build unity between organised workers and the organised poor.

However unity has to be based on a shared understanding and, in the spirit of honest and open debate, and in response to your note that the program is subject to discussion, we wish to state our concerns about the proposed program for this conference.

To be honest we were shocked when we first saw the program. This does not look the program of a progressive trade union federation. This looks like a standard NGO program. This program does not acknowledge the seriousness of our situation and it does not acknowledge the need for united mass action in support of social justice.

Our five suggestions for the program are as follows:

  1. Repression – a discussion about ways to join together to resist the growing repression of popular movements. We propose that the discussion about repression does not only include the direct violent repression of movements like Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban and the Landless People’s Movement in Johannesburg. We are also talking about the police killing of unarmed protesters and the harassment of activists, the arrests on trumped on charges, the repressive bail condition and so on. And we are also talking about the increase in state violence against ordinary people whose only crime is to be poor. We are thinking, for instance, of the recent shootings of teenagers in Kennedy Road during armed disconnections of people from electricity. But we are also including the attacks on media freedom under repression. We reject, with contempt, the idea that there should be negotiation around the Information Bill. This attack on our basic freedoms must be rejected out of hand. This discussion on the issue of repression should include a proposal to reach an agreement that all progressive organisations will support each other against all forms of state repression. In the past COSATU’s silence while the movements of the poor are facing repression has been very dissapointing.
  2. The predatory elite – like comrades around the country we have been inspired by Cde Vavi’s attacks on the predatory elite. Corruption is predation on the working class and the poor and we need to be clear about this and to discuss a proposal to organise against the predatory elite. We must move from verbal condemnation to direct action against the likes of Julius Malema, David Mabuza, Khulubuse Zuma etc.
  3. Capitalism – capitalism has failed. We need a clear commitment to bottom up, people driven and democratic alternatives to this failed system.
  4. Social conservatism and chauvinism – a discussion about renewed xenophobia, homophobia, racisms and patriarchy in the country and a proposal to reach an agreement that an injury to one is an injury to all in the community as well as on the shop floor.
  5. Fascist tendencies in the ANC – a discussion about the development of fascist tendencies in the ANC Youth League. This should include a proposal to reach an agreement that all progressive organisations will unite against the developing tendencies towards fascism in the youth league. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that the fascist tendencies in the ANC are not only located in the youth league. As we will be meeting in East London we must recall and condemn Nceba Faku’s public call to burn The Herald.

We support the initiative for a civil society conference called by COSATU, as long as we all remain honest about the crisis in our country and what will be required from us, as the workers and the poor, to resolve this crisis. We we will not be frighten by some lost souls in one building in Johannesburg, who want to keep us drunk on the memory of our struggle, the same struggle that they have betrayed.

We would like to close with a prophetic statement from Steve Biko:

“This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist black society, black middle class, would be very effective … South Africa could succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.” – Steve Biko (1972)

The South African story is the same as the story in the book called Animal Farm by George Orwell. We must tell no lies comrades. We must claim no easy victories. There is a long and hard struggle ahead.

We ask for honesty. We offer our full commitment in the struggle for a genuinely equal and democratic society.

Ayanda Kota – 078 625 6462

Nombulelo Yame – 078 328 9740

Unemployed People’s Movement


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