By Samukele Hadebe
The atmosphere at the opening of the 13th COSATU National Congress on 17 September 2018 was one of anticipation, and was filled with euphoria. Delegates thronged the congress venue, Gallagher Estates, Midrand in Johannesburg. For four days, starting from 20 September, the venue was a hive of activity, with periodic bouts of loud singing from the workers, who have over the years, mastered skillfully the art of exploiting song and dance to buttress their messages. Partly, the excitement was owing to comrades meeting from different provinces who, in some cases, had last seen each other during the last Congress in 2015. It was after the tumultuous events following the Congress that doomsayers started to write the inscription for the supposed COSATU gravestone – hence the enthusiasm and high anticipation that gripped the atmosphere on the first day of Congress, as delegates saw their mighty Federation roaring into action, silencing all speculations of a dying organisation.
The Relevance of the Congress theme
The Congress organisers crafted an apt theme: Deepen the Back to Basics Campaign, Consolidate the Struggle for the NDR and Advance the Struggle for Socialism. This theme is relevant in that it is pregnant with meaning. Firstly, by calling for the deepening of the “back to basics” campaign, the Federation confirms and recommits to the foundational principles of COSATU. It is these basics that remain immutable and unadulterated by whatever vicissitudes blowing the organisation, be they political, social or economic. It is these basics that again, remain the reference beacon for the current and future members as they captain the Federation forward.
But above all, the theme celebrates our achievements so far, notably the national democratic revolution. The obliteration of apartheid and the attainment of democracy in 1994 and subsequent government programmes and policies implemented to improve the lives of the majority and restore their dignity are milestones that workers are conscious to. Similarly, it is a known fact that more needs to be done. These gains, obtained through the blood and sweat of the working class and other progressive forces, remain vulnerable to attack, sabotage and reversal by counter revolutionary forces – unless serious effort is invested in defending and consolidating the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Logically, advancing socialism cannot escape the route of the NDR – hence the importance of consolidating the struggle for the NDR as a means of advancing the struggle for socialism. Since socialism will not just replace capitalism without being opposed, it is imperative for revolutionary forces to prepare the people through political consciousness since ‘‘the downfall of capitalism and the consolidation of the just social system stem not only from the operation of objective laws but also from the subjective activity of people, as a result of the conscious and purposeful transformation of society.’’
As would be expected, the Congress had to deal with organisational issues, such as the onslaught of neo-liberalism and the changing character of capitalist accumulation that have exacerbated the casualisation of labour, massive job losses, and erosion of real incomes, resulting in untold misery and poverty by the working classes. Consequently, trade unions have suffered declining membership, inadequate resources, and internal problems, characterised by increased corruption and factionalism. These organisational issues were measured against the 2015 Plan benchmarks that were yet to be satisfactorily attained.
Worker education and deepening ideological consciousness were some of the ways to address organisational and institutional weaknesses. However, not all affiliates complied to the mandatory 10% allocation to worker education. In this regard, emphasis was put on the Chris Hani Institute’s research work and ideological work.
President Ramaphosa on public sector restructuring
One of the key highlights of the Congress was government’s commitment to ensure that about 30 000 public sector workers do not loose their jobs in the imminent public sector restructuring. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced this during his address to Congress, to a very round of applause, chanting, singing and dancing. In the same address the president also alluded to a job summit, whose sole aim was to share ideas on job creation strategies and retention.
Political and socio-economic matters
The deliberations on the political and socio-economic reports were quite revealing and sober. There was a loud and clear outcry to reconfigure the ANC-led alliance. The SACP congress resolution on contesting for state power needed further research, in order to establish what the rank and file membership thought. The cancer of corruption was identified as a big obstacle to economic development, service delivery and political stability – hence efforts to fight corruption have to be supported fully.
Positive developments were noted in respect of free higher education for the majority of learners from poor households, and the National Health Insurance, among other milestones to improve the lives of the working class. However, challenges of outsourcing, privatisation and contract labour still compromise the gains by the workers.
Apart from solidarity messages from fraternal organisations and countries, the highlights on regional, continental and international issues included the denunciation of Israeli apartheid and occupation of Palestine, the illegal Moroccan occupation of Saharawi, the imperialist economic blockade of Cuba, and the problems in Venezuela; among others.
The rising tide of right-wing fascist parties in Europe and Latin America was noted as a cause for concern. Also, USA trade wars against China were condemned, as the consequences were felt by developing economies as well.
Election of Zingiswa Losi as COSATU president
As is the tradition with the COSATU Congress, the election results of National Office Bearers (NOBs) come last towards the close of Congress. Although there were rumours already; and the media had let the cat out of the bag already, the announcement of the election results was received with ululations, chanting of slogans, singing and dancing. The former second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi, emerged as the first woman president of COSATU. This is a glorious achievement for Cde Losi. The newly-elected NOBs have no mean task in ‘‘deepening the back to basics campaign and in consolidating the struggle for the NDR and advancing the struggle for socialism.’’ The 13th COSATU Congress was, by all standards, a resounding success.