Oppression-free zone, oasis of justice and democracy

Patrick Craven, 18 July 2008

A COSATU delegation has joined regional trade unions in Botswana for crucial SATUCC Executive Council meeting

A powerful COSATU delegation - Deputy President Violent Seboni, Deputy General Secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali, and International Secretary, Bongani Masuku - is leaving for Botswana this evening, 18 July 2008, to attend the Executive Council of the Southern African Trade Union Co-ordination Council (SATUCC) taking place in Gaborone over the weekend.

Trade unions in Southern Africa have a long history of struggle and solidarity, dating back to the years of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle. Today they have the moral responsibility to continue to mobilise working class power to confront the challenges of today, particularly the crises in Zimbabwe and Swaziland, and the regimes in those countries that seek to crush all forms of democratic and popular power.

The meeting will discuss the usual trade union business, to prepare for the coming historic Congress of SATUCC, and assess the state of workers in the region and get reports from the current leadership of this important body.

COSATU and some sister unions from the region are also eager to put on the table proposals arising from the meeting with South African, Zimbabwean and Swaziland trade unions on Tuesday in Johannesburg, which adopted a far-reaching and comprehensive framework to build and sustain pressure on the region’s premier despots, Mugabe and Mswati, who can hide no more from the power of the organised working class and the suffering poor masses of our region.

On Zimbabwe the meeting agreed to oppose Western powers-initiated sanctions, other than sanctions targeted at the leadership of the illegal government, but supported actions initiated by workers of the region, the continent and the world over, under the leadership of SATUCC, ITUC-AFRO and ITUC as a whole.

The meeting called on COSATU, SATUCC and the rest of the workers everywhere to refuse to handle goods destined for Zimbabwe and Swaziland for an initial period of one week, which will be extended if no progress is made in the realisation of our demands. The campaign will include a refusal to handle anything associated with these dictators, e.g. not serving them at airports or hotels, in order to send a clear message to any other member of the club of despots, wherever they might be, that their time is up.

We seek to declare Southern Africa an oppression-free zone and an oasis of justice and democracy for its people, who for years have suffered different forms of degradation, from colonialism through neo-colonial despotism to neo-liberal savagery with its resultant dehumanising poverty.

We must build our region on a totally different basis and reshape the course of our history. No more shall we allow our people to be pitiful objects of plunder and oppression.

An opportunity has presented itself for us to forge closer ties and build an effective regional network of progressive social forces, who want an immediate end to oppression, undemocratic elections, poverty and underdevelopment.

The week from 10-17 August 2008 will be the busiest week in our international calendar this year, with the Zimbabwe and Swaziland Solidarity Conference hosted by COSATU on 10-11 August, the SADC Civil Society Conference on Zimbabwe on 12-14 August, the SACP African Conference on Participatory Democracy on 14-16 August, the SADC Heads of State Summit on 15-17 August, and COSATU’s mass rally on 16 August.

We must open new frontiers of struggle to isolate all forms of despotism and brutality. Trade Unions have taken up that challenge and are eager to move forward with greater speed, because if we do not occupy the space, then right-wing forces, hell-bent on institutionalising neo-liberalism in the name of democracy will close the space and advance elitist, unsustainable and anti-people forms of neo-liberal democracy.

We want a particular form of democracy that affirms the dignity of our people based on their aspirations, needs and potentialities. It must democratise political power as it must democratise the economy for working class and popular power for real and meaningful empowerment.

This is the mandate of the COSATU delegation and we are confident that it accurately reflects the general working class mood throughout the region. We are sure, having worked with all trade unions in the region, that whatever other challenges abound, the primary tasks have almost been clarified as the core focus of our immediate period.

The building of a sustainable solidarity movement for a new and just Southern Africa is high up on our agenda. It should focus beyond these two countries, but use them as the key starting point for now. Indeed, in the true spirit of our traditions of militant struggle, siyayinyova (we are defiantly fighting), this must be Operation Siyayinyova in action.

Patrick Craven, COSATU Spokesperson, 011 339 4911/24; 082 821 7456;