THE SOUTH African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has responded to the State of the Nation Address delivered by newly elected South African President, billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa. Firstly, SAFTU congratulates the newly elected President of the Republic, His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa. We wish him well as he ascends to the highest office in the land.
From the outset we must make it clear that we are class opponents to the new President and the ANC he leads, not because of any bitterness but because in policy terms we are serving the different class interests. We will engage with him as we do with any other government leader.
What is encouraging is that class and policy differences will now be debated on their merits instead of their obfuscation by personal and corruption scandals that were such a feature of the Presidency of Jacob Zuma. Before we engage on some issues let’s remind the workers of the scale of the challenge as a result of total mismanagement of our economy by apartheid and the abysmal record of the ANC to address these challenges.
What is the real state of the nation today. Jobs, the right to work and the economy. The most shocking statistic of all is that unemployment, poverty and inequality have all got worse since 1994. The official unemployment rate, which excludes those not looking for work, was at 20% in 1994, the 18th highest in the world, but 27.7% in 2017, a few days ago it dropped to 26.7%, the 6th highest in the world.
The job-loss bloodbath continues daily. The latest news is that 2,863 construction workers are to be retrenched by Aveng. They will join the 9.4 million unemployed, of whom 3.3 million are under 35. These millions have no source of income except hand-outs from employed family members, money from piece jobs or begging in the street… This is the real state of the nation.
30.4 million South Africans are living in poverty, with almost 14 million living in extreme poverty, says StatsSA. Black Africans remain the majority of the poor, with 46.6% affected, followed by coloureds at 32.2%, with less than 5% of Indians and 1% of whites living in poverty.
In 2015 one in three South Africans lived on less than R797 per month, or half of the country’s 2015 mean annual household income of R19,120, with more women affected than men, and children and the elderly hardest hit. The number living in poverty increased from 27 million in 2011, to 30 million in 2015. Inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient has risen since 1994. This is the real state of the nation.
South Africa holds the unwanted distinction of being the most unequal society in the world. It takes 4.5 days for the best-paid executive at Shoprite to earn what temporary farm workers earn in their lifetime, if they live up to 50 years, says an Oxfam report on inequality.
Oxfam also revealed that ‘about two-thirds of South Africa’s wealth is held by the top 1% and about 90% is held by the top 10%’. In 2017, 82% of all growth in wealth went to the top 1% and the bottom half saw no increase at all at work. As well as soaring unemployment, the workers’ share of national income, – the gross value added by workers’ labour – was 57% in 1993, but declined to 49% in 2008 and remained just below 50% up to 2013.
This has been been made worse by the casualisation of labour, outsourcing of work, use of labour brokers and replacing full-time jobs with part-time. More employers are using so-called ‘self-employed contractors’ like the Uber drivers to avoid any of their responsibilities under the labour laws and many are trying to limit or even scrap sectoral collective bargaining . . .
Worst of all workers still have to endure the exploitation, abuse and violent assault of employers like the Springs farmer and his son who forced a worker to swallow faeces, beat him, racially insulted him and attempted to drown him in a septic tank. Far too many other employers still imagine they live in the years of apartheid and can treat their workers as slaves, transport them herded onto the back of trucks and evict their families from their homes when they retire. This is the workers’ reality, this is the real state of the nation.
At school and university
About the 41% in just one year’s intake, either leave school with no academic qualifications at all or had to repeat one or more times. The young people who leave school, and those who failed Matric, have virtually no chance of getting anything but the most insecure, casual and underpaid employment. Most will swell the ranks of the 3.3 million young people who are not in employment, education or training.
The crisis has its roots in the heritage of colonialism and apartheid, when the white ruling class saw no need to provide education and training for the African majority. The scandal is that after 24 years of ANC rule, so little has been done to change this two-tier education system. They have abolished the formal racial segregation of schools and there has been a big growth of no-fee schools. Yet the gulf between conditions in the under-staffed, ill-equipped and under-funded public schools for the overwhelmingly black poor, and the private schools with their beautiful buildings, spacious playing fields, laboratories and libraries is even wider, and the racial divisions remain . . .
In the hospitals and clinics
The murders of at least 143 mentally ill patients, whose care was outsourced from Life Esidimeni to private establishments, gave us a horrific glimpse into the inhumanity of the two-tier heath service delivery. Those with money can buy top-class medical care, while the poor majority risk their lives in under-funded, under-staffed and squalid hospitals and clinics. Three years after the long-promised national health insurance scheme was announced, we have only pilot projects and they are threatened by budget cuts which may lead to insufficient funds to pay their staff.
On the land
It is scandalous that 24 years after the ANC came to power in 1994, its leaders have done virtually nothing to implement the transfer of stolen land. In 1994, 87% of the land was owned by whites and only 13% by blacks. By 2012 however, land reform had transferred only 7.95 million hectares into black ownership, equivalent to just 7.5% of formerly white-owned land. In 2012 Minister for Agriculture, Gugile Nkwinti, told Parliament that only around 10% of commercial farmland has been redistributed or restored to black South Africans since formal apartheid ended. So whites still own most of the country’s land . . .
Corruption and crime in the boardrooms
The biggest crime in the nation is the corruption, fraud and racketeering which has spread to state-owned enterprises, public officials, government ministers, private businesses, government ministers and the president himself . . .
But the fight against corruption and crime must not be confined to just one president, one family and a coterie of cronies or just in the public sector, but against those involved in all the private companies who are now being exposed as fellow-culprits and accomplices.
This is the real state of the nation . . .
The main reason for this disaster is the ANC government’s neoliberal economic policies which, as Professor Sampie Terreblanche has written, were agreed upon at ‘secret meetings between the ANC and big business — behind the high walls of Harry Oppenheimer’s estate and at the Development Bank of Southern Africa” These meetings, he wrote, ‘laid the foundations for the continued beggary of the majority’ . . . These free-market, pro-business policies led to the exact opposite of what they promised – slower growth, less employment and redistribution from the poor to the rich. It has disastrous consequences in every of area of the life of the majority.
This is the real state of the nation . . .
Without addressing the structural fault lines of the apartheid and colonial economy, we are afraid the beautiful and excellent presentation skills the President displayed will come to naught.
People don’t eat beautiful words, our people are in need of decent jobs that will take them out of the poverty trap.’
The national minimum wage of R20 an hour for bread winners, R18 per hour for farm workers, R15 an hour for domestic workers and R11 per hour for the EPWP workers is an insult that SAFTU has committed to resist to the last drop of our blood.
We call on the ANC to withdraw this insult before May Day 2018 or face a national general strike.
Whilst we want all the individuals placed in the State Owned Enterprises removed and replaced with competent people, we wish to warn that President Ramaphosa must not exploit the period of honeymoon to sneak tendencies of the past days of unilateralism and big brother.
There was no consultation with labour unions when the Eskom Board was removed and replaced. We have made a call that labour must represent their interest in the SOEs board including the PIC. Instead if the example of Eskom was to be replicated, business people only will be appointed.
The promise to speed up and reverse deindustrialisation. We have heard that from Zuma before.
Without changing the macro – the fiscal and monetary policies particularly shifting resources to support the promised renewed industrialisation, this commitment shall ring hollow.
SAFTU will continue to educate workers and the public at large that the Ramaphosa presidency will not be substantially different from other presidencies that simply failed workers and worsened their unemployment, poverty and inequalities. One of the lessons we learnt from Harry Gwala is that in a class divided society, always check who is clapping hands when you speak! Check who is praising you and giving you a standing ovation.
We acknowledge that ruling class is ecstatic about the speech and the fact that their class colleague is on the helm of the country. The media which is still owned exclusively by the ruling class is heaping praises and is helping to get our people to forget about the real crisis of society.
We in SAFTU will not be fooled.