Address by President Nelson Mandela at the 5th National Congress of COSATU

South African History Online

Address by President Nelson Mandela at the 5th National Congress of

7 September 1994

Comrade Chairperson,
Comrade President John Gomomo,
General-Secretary Sam Shilowa,
Members of Central Executive
Distinguished delegates,
Dear Guests:

First, let me express my profound gratitude for the invitation to take part
at this, the 5th National Congress of COSATU.

Much has already been said about the significance of this Congress for COSATU
in particular, and indeed for the entire trade union movement of our country. I
however wish to say that, for me personally, this is one of the high watermarks
of my engagements since the elections and the inauguration of the Government of
National Unity. To take part in a gathering of this nature, bringing together
part of the core of cadres of the democratic movement, is for us a home-coming.

So, we speak to you not simply as representatives of a different
organisation; nor merely as allies; less still as Government to the governed. We
stand before you fully conscious of the fact that, together, we spared neither
life nor limb to ensure that South Africa is where it is today. We shared the
trials and tribulations of struggle so that South Africa should be free.

Comrades Chairperson and Delegates,
The temptation is to say, thank you,
for ensuring that the ANC secures a decisive electoral victory. But this would
be wide off the mark. For you did what you had to do for none other than
yourselves and your families; for your country and for your nation, so that we
could break the chains of oppression.

The ideal of a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa in which
there is social equity is the mission and ANC set itself over the decades. This
is the mission of our Alliance. It is a mission that should continue to guide
us, no matter how steep the road and how rugged the terrain in which we have to

That the broad perspectives of the Reconstruction and Development Programme
have become the proprty of the whole nation is thanks to the correctness of its
content and the creative leadership of the Alliance. We are proud that organised
workers have been and remain at the centre of efforts to define and realise
national tasks. It is crucial that this should continue to be the case.
Otherwise, what is essentially a programme to uplift the conditions of the poor,
could easily be misappropriated to serve the interests of those who hae all
alongeefited from the system of apartheid.

This, however, cannot subtract from the strategic task of wining over various
sectors of society to become part of this effort. This means, among other
things, that we should broaden our horizons.

It will always be crucial for the trade union movement to play the role of a
critical extra-parliamentary force. But today you also have to take active part
in determining and implementing Government policy. It is fundamental that the
trade union movement should jealously guard its independence. But today you also
have to use, to maximum effect, the elements of political power that we have
together achieved in struggle.

What does this mean in actual practice?

I understand that many Government Ministers will take part in your
discussions on matters affecting their line functions. I encourage you not to
pull your punches. Fortunately my task is much easier; and I will confine myself
to a few general remarks.

What sets this Congress apart from all others before it is the fact of the
elements of political power that the democratic movement as a whole is wielding.
The challenge therefore is to use this power to consolidate democracy at the
same time as the union movement promotes its own interests!

The presence at this Congress of Government Ministers demonstrates the
influence that you have. But it would be unproductive if this interface were to
end in special gatherings. Lines of communication should always be open between
various government departments and the labour movement. Like other sectors of
society, you shoulo entauh as possible to influence what they do. The same
applies to the parliamentarians. On my part, I should reiterate that my door
will always be open for such consultations.

The platform of the liberation movement, which entails more than just the
frills of political office, is yet to be fully realised. If only for this
reason, it is even more important today, that we should strengthen the
Tri-partite Alliance, while redefining its form under the new conditions. In as
much as the ANC needs a strong COSATU, COSATU needs a strong and vibrant ANC.

Comrade Chairperson
The kind of democracy that we all seek to build
demands that we deepen and broaden the rights of all citizens. This includes a
culture of workers' rights. Already, progress has been made, through joint
consultation between Government and the trade union movement, to start
implementing a plan of action to achieve this.

Among the central questions that require urgent attention, are the basic
conditions of employment, regulations on collective bargaining and the right to
strike. Combined with issues such as the democratisation of the work-place, an
end to discrimination and central industrial bargaining, all these initiatives
will help to improve labour relations and therefore economic growth and

To achieve this requires a partnership that will now find expression in
statutory arrangements involving all the major role-players in the economy. The
decision to set up of the National Economic, Labour and Development Council is
an important part of this process. (We are determined as Government that this
body should be formally constituted before the end of this month.)

Among the many urgent tasks that face this Council is the question of
industrial restructuring so necessary for us to become a full and competitive
partner in international economic relations.

We say this task is urgent because we shall never fully enjoy the benefits of
our international standing as a democracy, if we do not bring our industries to
international standards. Rather, we will become a victim of our own
achievements. Yet it is crucial, as the various tri-partite forums have
indicated, that this should be implemented with due regard to human resource
development and all-round strategies to improve productivity. It should be
carried out with maximum consultation, and at a pace that will not adversely
harm our economy in general and workers in particular.

The Council will also have to examine, s a matter of urgency, the issue of a
social consensus among the various economic role players.

Comrades Delegates,
The Government is fully committed to the protection of
the integrity of the collective bargaining system. Yet, among the lessons that
we have all learnt from recent industrial actions is that this system should be
improved, particularly with respect to mechanisms of mediation that should help
resolve disputes before they come to a head.

It is quite instructive that major sectors such as mining, clothing and
textile, and the iron, steel and metallurgical industries concluded their
negotiations without recourse to strike action. Besides the fact that the number
of strikes in this period this year was much lower than in previous years, this
goes to demonstrate that we have healthy industrial relations in South Africa.
The psychology of crisis, fanned by some enthusiasts in the media, has little to
do with reality.

At the same time, we need to challenge the notion that strikes are, as a
rule, inimical to the task of reconstruction and development.

Reconstruction and development entails more than just creating jobs or
building houses. It means the fundamental restructuring of society as a whole,
including relations at the work-place. The more labour, business and Government
interact in working out individual and collective contributions to
reconstruction and development, the more will some of the industrial actions
become unnecessary.

Much progress has already been made in kick-starting the implementation of
the RDP. While the Presidential Projects are an important measure of this, our
basic standard to gauge progress is the rate at which various departments are
charging their priorities in line with the programme as a whole. Along with
this, is the challenge of ensuring fiscal discipline and efficiency, so that the
RDP can be implemented in a sustainable manner. The RDP White Paper, to which
the trade union and other formations have made an important contribution, seeks
to address these issues.

To achieve these objectives requires, among other things, rapid and
systematic restructuring of the apartheid state structures, to ensure that the
public service is representative of society as a whole and to eliminate wastage,
mismanagement, duplication and corruption. We are pleased that COSATU-affiliated
unions are taking active part in the forums set up to address these matters.

Comrade Chairperson,
The success of the RDP will depend, above everything
else, on the extent to which we involve all sectors of society in carrying it
out. We need to involve more than just business and labour in the work of
planning and co-ordinating socio-economic strategies. All sectors of civil
society should take part through sectoral and multi-sectoral forums.

Above all, we should at eetnvcommuniestsviln and implementinrets that affect
them. The wisdom, initiative and creativity of the people is required to ensure
that the RDP becomes a people-centred and people-driven programme in fact.

Circumstances might have changed. But the task of mobilising the people to
become masters of their own destiny remains. This is a task that falls squarely
on the shoulders of the political as well as mass democratic organisations. We
therefore welcome the many proposals from workers on how they can drive the RDP
in the work-place and within communities. Without such work, the RDP will remain
a good programme on paper, but a damp squib in actual practice.

What this requires is that we should strengthen organisational structures of
the democratic movement as a whole, ensure that members are properly serviced
and extend our organisational reach. At the same time, leadership structures
have to conduct themselves in such a way that they maintain and deepen the
confidence of the masses they represent. We should also urgently tighten
co-ordination in the Tri-partite Alliance and among all sectors of the
democratic movement. This is made the more urgent by the coming elections for
Local Government, an institution which is critical for the implementation of the

In so far as the labour movement is concerned, the question of unity among
various federations has come to the fore. In the final analysis, the strength of
organised labour depends on its ability to articulate and promote the interests
of workers as a whole. This will also contribute immensely to the strategic task
of de-racialising South African society.

Comrade Chairperson,
The challenges that we face are many and they are
daunting. But this is the price we have to pay for our victories. As in the
past, we do have the will and the creativity to carry out our mission.

I am confident that this Congress will meet the expectations of your members
and broader society. You were among the front troops in the battle against
apartheid. You were in the front ranks in charting the path out of the mess this
system created. We are confident that COSATU will be at the forefront of the
successful implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme. Only
then shall we be able to say that power is truly in the hands of the people.

I wish you all the best in your deliberations.

Long live Cosatu!

Long live the Alliance!

Last updated : 31-Mar-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 31-Mar-2011