How soon we forget!
Tomorrow, business will appear before the TRC (hopefully) to disclose fully their relationship with the apartheid regime, how they willfully supported apartheid laws such as the job reservation, pass laws, paid starvation wages, employed children in farms, used prison labour, refused to recognise black trade unions as well as deny them any other basic rights. In short, we expect them to confess to their terrible role in the violation of human and trade union rights. Can we trust business to fully and with humility disclose their role in defending apartheid? We doubt. Business is known to want the whole world to believe that it was not the heroic struggles of the struggling masses that brought about an end to apartheid, but the struggle for reform by capital. Our submission on Thursday 13 November 1997, will debunk this myth.
>From its inception, COSATU vowed to engage in struggles with other progressive organisations to bring about democracy in our country. A core feature of that heroic resistance was the tireless struggle by the working people for better working conditions as well as to challenge both employers and the state policies of apartheid. We were determined to wage a relentless struggle for the basic rights of workers to be regarded as human beings, both on the factory floor as well as in the land of their birth. Any attempt to divorce the link between the struggle for basic trade union rights on the factory floor from the broader struggle for human rights in society was not only undesirable but impossible in the South African context.
We remain of the view that apartheid with its form of institutionalised racism masked its real content and substance - the perpetuation of a super-exploitative cheap labour system. We all know that the primary victims of this system were the black working class and the primary beneficiaries the white ruling elite. To deny this reality today is a perversion of truth, reconciliation and justice.
The development of an industrial and mining economy required the forced conquest of the indigenous African people. The colonial period sowed many of the seeds of political oppression we saw entrenched in apartheid legislation later. The systematic denial of trade union rights to black workers in the earlier industrial years was designed to subjugate and entrench an inferior status on black workers. The enforcement of the migrant labour system destroyed the family fabric of millions of black families in Southern Africa. It was a gross human rights violation that will take us many generations to recover from.
The Industrial and Conciliation Act of 1924 entrenched the racial exclusivity of white workers acting in concert with the white bosses and a white ruling clique. Security legislation throughout the pre-democracy period was used to ensure the brutal suppression of the rights of black workers.
In the sixties South Africa recorded one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. Much of this came on the back of the brutal suppression of the rights of the majority, the Sharpeville shootings and the banning of the ANC and PAC in 1960. This period saw the National Party government implementing a host of totalitarian measures, including repressive security legislation giving almost unlimited power to the security forces and resulting in the arrest, imprisonment and execution of many trade union activists.
The Bantustan system was implemented in earnest by both the state and employers. In cities, Africans were simply temporary workers. Labour laws were tightened further with the twin aims of controlling workers and channeling their labour to meet the needs of the bosses. Real wages declined for black workers.
The golden age of apartheid brought no fruits to the enslaved black workers and lead to the outbreak of the mass strikes of 1973. This was a spontaneous reaction to the super exploitation and poverty that black workers faced. The response was predictable. Co-operation between the police and the bosses in crushing strikes, often violently, was commonplace. Mass arrests and dismissals were the order of the day. There was no discernible action by the bosses to distance themselves from the naked brutality of the apartheid system.
The rejection of toothless liaison committees and the struggle for the right to genuine trade unions forced the apartheid state and employers to rethink their strategies. The apartheid state responded by appointing the Wiehahn Commission which sought to combine reforms with repression. It sought the co-option of the minority black urban workers through the granting of Section 10 rights. At the same time, it entrenched racial divisions amongst workers. Trade unions which had essentially white executives were allowed to register, while those that were dominated by a black militant, mainly migrant and hostel-based leadership could not register. Those independent trade unions that did register insisted on the principle of non-racialism and refused to exclude migrant workers. The fact that we today have non- racial and democratic trade unions is as a result of struggles by workers and not through the solidarity of the bosses.
At the same time, trade unions were targeted by the national security management system created by the generals and police chiefs which served to co-ordinate all the components of the "total strategy" to ensure the maintenance of apartheid rule. Input and representation on the secretive security structures extended beyond state security organs to include members of the business community such as Mayer Kahn of SAB, town councils and local industry.
In addition, the Stratcom wing of the security branch usually dealt with operations affecting trade unions. These operations included violent and non-violent methods. Operations ranged from disappearances and abductions to theft of trade union subscriptions to a major wave of arson and bombings of our offices. In was in this period that our headquarters, COSATU House, was destroyed in a bomb blast, a crime that the apartheid state now acknowledges it committed.
On 24 February 1988, the regime effectively banned 17 organisations as well as promulgated far-reaching restrictions against COSATU, in effect declaring our political