About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

30 Sep 1998: September, Connie

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POM. Let me begin with a question, in fact I had not intended it to be my first question but when I walked in here I immediately changed what the first question was, and that is that SACTU is in one those sectors of the economy, or an industry that is most affected by globalisation. As I understand it there have been quite a number of employers who have moved their plants either to Zimbabwe or out of the country because labour is cheaper or that imports are coming in from places like Malaysia that are cheaper and there has been a cut back in the industry. Number one, is that a problem? Number two, when you go into wage negotiations with employers and they make the case, you're looking for 8% or whatever, is that we're already uncompetitive and all this is going to result in is our becoming more uncompetitive and the loss of jobs so we can give you a wage increase or bargain it or whatever but you must know, accept it in the knowledge that X number of jobs are going to be lost as a result or X number of employers are going to move their plants outside the region, outside the country to where it's cheaper.

CS. Yes, the clothing and textile and leather workers together with other manufacturing industries like motor cars, auto, all of them, are more or less in the same boat with what I would call how the winds of change have affected them, both negatively and positively. But I think in both the industries, both in NUMSA's case and in SACTU's case, what we have done to avoid, just your last question that you've asked that employers come to the able and say we can only give you 5% increase because we're sitting in the industry and forever losing jobs, that we have dispelled completely that that's their first line of argument. What we've argued for instead was to say that we must have an industry plan that looks at all the problems that there are in the industry because the union has never accepted an argument that you drive out jobs by high wages and so on. So I think we've been successful a bit that we don't have this thing every year when there are wage negotiations, that that's the employers' first line of argument.

POM. That is always the first line?

CS. We have managed to stop employers coming with that as the first line of argument by arguing what are the elements of changing the industry around and how can we make sure that the industry plan takes over being centre stage more than wanting to - in bargaining you want to tamper with a problem here and there, look at the very big picture and tackle the big picture. The truth is there is a big picture which is problematic in this industry and it has to do with the fact that when tariffs were brought down, and in our view when tariffs are brought down as agreed by GATT but then subsequently further agreed in SA, we argued that the pace was too fast for the following reasons: (i) you sat with the industry which was completely protected because of apartheid or everything else, completely protected, it didn't do anything in its period of protection, didn't train workers, didn't set money aside to get rid of the old machinery, all of those kind of things. So it sat there sleeping, didn't do anything, comes tariff and it's like this typical thing that they call in Cape Town, when winter starts everyone is knocked with colds and 'flu because Cape Town has got this wind blowing and the rain thereafter, so that happened immediately. Then we started to argue for an industry plan which has started to take shape around a range of different problems in the industry.

. But I think besides the fact that we have argued for an industry plan and although some of the elements have been implemented, the truth is that didn't stem job losses because of the historical deep root nature of the industry and it means that it's going to take quite a couple of years to change quite a number of things around. For example, I still work at a clothing plant, I am a shop steward there, and we've started to tackle Adult Basic Education Training a year ago. December, ten workers are going to graduate after Adult Basic for the first time in their lives. Now surely if you're only starting to address those kinds of things which are the ills in the industry, surely you can imagine we would like it to move faster. It's not moving as fast as we want and therefore you have jobs tumbling all the time and a number of other things on top of it, all the global pressures to the industry all at the same time and I think we see the effects that we have at the moment.

POM. On the training programme, is that joint employer/employee or is it done by the union itself?

CS. The Adult Basic Education?

POM. Yes.

CS. Well what we have done, in fact what is supposed to be done is that in the clothing and textile industry there is what they call the duty credit certificate scheme which is an agreement that was brought together by government, ourselves as labour and business. The scheme is supposed to encourage employers to go into an export initiative. They get back from going into this export scheme, they get back X amount of money from government. Part of this scheme, the component of the scheme is that they must also set aside money for training. So whilst they go into the scheme, they get funding from government, out of this export scheme they must also have this training and the training is supposed to be based on employers and employees being involved in it. I really won't bore you with all the problems that are hidden there which hasn't allowed, particularly for the union, you know their training component is being sorted out effectively where we can say what have we gained out of the fact that they get the money and our members are able to get substantial dividends out of this thing. So, yes, it is supposed to be, but with all the other problems still that go with it, none of it in my view has accelerated at the pace that we actually want it and that's why I make you this example of ten workers at my plant that now for the first time have been taken through an Adult Basic Education.

. Then the last thing is they have given the Clothing Industry Training Board a component of starting Adult Basic Education training for this year, again same problem. The person that is doing it is having an immense problem with employers not co-operating with it, all sorts of silly arguments as to the production is going to be affected, the workers can't be stopped now, and all of it. And it's now the month of almost October and having employed somebody full time in the Clothing Industry Training Board still you can't talk about the fact that at least he's been able to let 100 workers in the clothing industry as one unit go through. One can only see that some of it is going to be done next year. So I think you appreciate the problems that I'm raising about it all the time.

POM. So employers still don't have any - despite the competition they are facing from abroad, the pressures of globalisation, they still have no real appreciation that probably the only way out of this is to upgrade the skill of the labour force thereby enabling the labour force to increase its level of productivity and improve the competitive situation of the industry here vis-à-vis the industry in other countries. They just don't get that?

CS. My response would be that the employers are still at the situation where they believe that they must carry on in the same old manner. They must make sure that they continuously impress upon the union, "Don't ask for higher wages, let your workers come to work every day. We can't we're facing all of these pressures'. They're not at the point, in my view, sufficiently, they articulate training, absolutely. You talk to any employer they will say, "No, no we must have training, we must do skills training." When you unpack that and you ask them what it is that you put in there to address this thing that you're saying, then it's nowhere near. Look, if you want to change the attitude of the work force one of the things that you must accept is that the majority of your workers left school Standard 3, Standard 2, Standard 5, and so on. You've got to accept that. You must take into consideration that they have been moved away, far away from their place of work. They stay out there on the Cape Flats. There are transport problems and transport is a key thing to everything else. You must take that into consideration. So there are a number of those what I would call 'apartheid mentality' that is really not disappearing at the pace that would help to change this industry around. And I cite only two problems. The one is training and the one is this transport thing.

. So, yes, we're still sitting with employers that are completely intransigent when it comes to - take ten workers, send them to an Adult Basic Education training. At least what you will offer to them is some hope that they will be able to progress further and also that their understanding, their meaning, their outlook on life will immediately change their attitude towards work, all of those kinds of things. To get over that you give them a skill that they will treasure for the rest of their lives. They don't make the connection in my view, they don't make that connection.

. The final argument around this, obviously it is the building blocks towards productivity enhancement. They don't see that as productivity enhancement. They see the fact that all the negative things, in my view, are the route towards productivity so we must be internationally competitive, we must improve productivity. How do you do it? It's the other way around in my view. And I think it's a very sad tale that I'm telling you because unless you get into the industry you would understand why it is that the labour movement argues the way it argues because it's still sitting with these kind of inherent problems in its industry.

POM. Would you say, this would be elevating you from your position as shop steward on the floor in a plant in the industry here to your position in COSATU, would you say that COSATU as a federation finds itself confronted with similar types of problems? That what you experience here with employers is what the federation as a whole experiences with employers as a whole? I know I'm generalising but just as a whole is there an analogy between the two situations?

CS. Although I'm relating clothing industry experience it's no different from what workers are experiencing in the metal industry, it's no different from what they experience in the chemical industry. It's a national employer problem as to the pace that we move and the real changes that we are talking about that need to happen. It's not a clothing industry problem.

POM. So would one big element of that be, it's said over and over and over again, that in the longer run the only way to create the prospects for sustained economic growth and job creation is through the creation of a more skilled labour force, i.e. through education? Do employers accept that in their heads but don't invest in it in their hearts?

CS. I think whether they accept it in their hearts or brain or whatever is really immaterial now because at least what has happened is - I think this country was forced to pass certain things through legislation so they're going to be compelled in any event when the Skills Bill comes into operation to do certain things. If they started to do little things in the industries they're going to be compelled to do bigger things with the Skills Bill coming through. But I would argue that that's one thing that is happening, the fact that legislation is now going to compel them to do those things. But I still argue that change in their real hearts doesn't go together with the same change that they are talking about when they're talking overall of the country. The change that they're talking about with Nelson Mandela is not the same change in the workplace I would say. The change that they would want to see in the country as a whole doesn't reflect the same change that they're actually making sure happens in their own industries or plants. And I think we must accept where it comes from. It comes from a situation where you had a polarised society. You had two blocks of people in industries, the one called workers and the other one called employers who have been divided along a number of lines, which was what apartheid has created. In other countries at least you can talk about employers and employees eating the same food or drinking the same beer or wine. In SA you even have those differences. They don't connect even there with each other. They don't stay together in the same areas, they don't go to work in the same way. The one takes a taxi and a train and the bus and the other one takes their BMW and so on. So there are number of those kinds of things and unless you start to narrow more and more the gap around particularly problems that the country has had and is still sitting with, I think those changes go together with that and therefore this thing of employers doesn't make the connection, the same connection that we are making when we argued what changes there should actually be. That's really my view. It's a very deep rooted kind of thing.

POM. If one looks at the history of trade unionism, going back to Britain, and looking at its development in Europe and to a lesser extent in the USA, not to a lesser extent, probably to the same extent initially in the USA, one sees it beginning as workers versus bosses, an adversarial relationship between workers and employers, very much a class thing, very evident in Britain until maybe even into the seventies until New Labour came along and until there was a new relationship as in Germany forged between the unions and employers where they work more in co-operation with each other, saying we're both in it together so if we work together as partners in a venture, in the venture of manufacturing or whatever, we all gain. And that's been accepted by unions in Europe and in Britain. Whereas here do you think that the relationship even in this initial phase of the post-apartheid era is still adversarial, it's still there's the boss, there's the worker, they're almost natural enemies, that there's an in-built adversarial relationship for many of the reasons that you spelt out?

CS. SA has obviously got an added problem and that is it's not just a class problem, it's the race problem also. So you have the employer being seen in that context also. But apart from what I'm saying, there are very interesting things that have happened over the last four to five years. One institution certainly that addresses the question that you are raising and have started to address, this relationship thing between employers and employees is NEDLAC because at least at NEDLAC what happens is that you bring together these three groups called government, business and labour. It was quite funny at the beginning, when NEDLAC was just formed in 1995, they referred continuously to this thing as the 'golden triangle'. After we had our first major negotiations around the LRA the word 'golden triangle' just started to disappear and when everyone said NEDLAC is starting to collapse and this institution is not working, 'golden triangle' disappeared to the extent where it's called 'social partners' now. That's the acceptable one, no more 'golden triangle'. But nevertheless I think NEDLAC has been very instrumental at that level that started to breakdown at least the trust that doesn't exist between the two in fostering them getting closer to each other. It has helped quite a bit and it's cost NEDLAC quite dearly I would say, and let me tell you why. If you look at when the Labour Relations Act, when we started to negotiate that, it was terrible I would say because here you brought together then employers of the country and employees of the country and the government would just have taken over the running of the country, but there were lessons that helped to bring the parties together to understand where each other comes from. We then had the Basic Conditions of Employment Act that was negotiated, fierce battles, but it helped again and I think there's a number can go through all the four chambers in NEDLAC to demonstrate how each one after another, even if it's the Competition Bill, whether it's the Labour Relations Act, whether it's the Skills Bill, whether it's the fact that we're working on a Job Summit now, how NEDLAC as the kind of institution that creates consensus building has helped and forced the parties that there is an objective that we're all sitting here with, which is we must find a consensus around something. It doesn't matter which road you take but that road has got to lead to one particular goal. So I think that has helped.

. The other thing that has helped, flowing out of the LRA, at the workplace is the fact that when I of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration which has now given workers access immediately to where there is conflict on the shop floor, that if you are dismissed you don't need to have this thing of waiting for three years for your case to be heard and so on, that you have recourse immediately to the CCMA and you could be assisted either way whether you're successful or whether you're not successful, and that has helped bring down the fact that -

. And the last area, I think, that has helped is if you look at how SA's strikes have been. Our strikes were very intense strikes because our strikes went together with the fact that we had to get rid of this government that we don't support and the fact that we don't support these employers in any event, they're siding with this government also, and the fact that we're poor and we need a living wage and so on. Our strikes around that were very intense and so on. At this level now what the CCMA has helped is that there is from time to time where the parties so request that they can actually offer their services to help conclude if bargaining went towards the fact that people need to go on strike action and so on and the fact that there are picket rules now, that you must make an application and the fact that you can't just walk out of the factory any more and say you're on strike. You must follow certain procedures and all of that. I think it has helped quite a lot around those kind of areas and in a short space I think that we have been able to achieve those things.

POM. If you have a work force that been motivated by the fact that they're in a struggle and they're not only struggling to improve their living standards or their wages but they're also struggling against a system of injustice and oppression, when the overt part of that injustice and oppression disappears and attitudes that are embedded still remain, you can't change people's attitudes overnight, is there still a tendency on the part of workers to see strikes as some form of a continuation of the struggle rather than as industrial disputes in their own right?

CS. I don't think so. I think if you look at the majority of the strikes that we've had up to now it was clear demands, it was clear demands that we actually made. Some of it was around negotiations at the NEDLAC level, whether it was the LRA, the BCA and so on, others where it's Bargaining Council or industry related around wages and so on, it's very clear. But you know this thing that you're referring to about attitude and race and so on, you go to the rural part of Cape Town, they will ask you, what has changed as far as those kind of apartheid attitudes are concerned of whites? They will tell you straight, nothing has changed. I have experienced some of it myself in March when I went down to the rural part, both on the west coast and in this part of Cape Town and in Northern Cape where you still have employers saying to workers, "You must sit outside when you eat", when you still have employers saying, "No, no, we will lock the gate if you come late and you must just walk away, go away, and so on", and where they still refer to them that, "You must accept you're the black people in this country, we are in control here." They can articulate to you that those things still exist. They are not being highlighted in the media any longer because the country has a new constitution now and so on, but I think we mustn't take it automatically that those things have disappeared. They have not disappeared.

POM. You think that's a lot more wide-scale, a lot more prevalent than people would believe in part because it's simply not disseminated, people don't know about it?

CS. I think there are particular sections of the country where it really hasn't disappeared. People argue about this thing of the farm killing at the moment and they argue that the government is doing nothing about the fact that so many farmers are being killed and so on and whilst I have sympathy and I don't like the idea that people should be killed and murdered in the way they are at the moment, at the same time farm workers in this country are the most exploited, one of the most exploited lot where the attitude of the farmer towards the farm worker has absolutely not changed, where the farm worker still gets that low wage and some of them, you go down here to the winelands of Cape Town, they still pay them with a bottle of wine on a Friday and so on. Now surely if you think that those people, you ask them to change, they will ask you - why must we change when we don't see any conditions changing for us there? So I think we have a lot of those kind of things that are very much still in the country.

. Unfortunately the country has been seen to be overshadowed by the fact that the last four years it's been able to put certain things in place, a great constitution hailed as one of the progressive ones in the world, and the constitution is in many parts of the country at a test of those things: do the ordinary people really feel the effects of that progressive piece of legislation that has actually gone through the country? And it's the same thing for women in the country. Do women really feel that section in the constitution that talks about equality, do they have a sense that they can freely talk about the fact that indeed the constitution has emancipated them in the way that it does? It's not that there's anything wrong with the constitution.

POM. The constitution is almost perfect but it doesn't trickle down into behaviour of people on the ground.

CS. Yes it's that challenge that I'm talking about.

POM. The number of contexts that have particularly arisen in the last couple of years regarding the relationship between the partners in the alliance and statements made by the President and the Deputy President, and I go back initially to a statement in Mandela's autobiography where he says that when he was meeting with this committee that had been established by PW Botha to meet with him, one of the things they were obsessed about was communism, and he said, and this is the quote from him: "I explained to them (that is PW's committee) that at that point the SACP and ANC were separate and distinct organisations and shared the same short term objectives, the overthrow of racial oppression and the birth of a non-racial South Africa but that our long run interests were not the same." Now the SACP and COSATU's long term objective is a socialist state, a democratic socialist state. That is not the long term objective of the ANC?

CS. Of certain people in the ANC.

POM. Or certain people in the ANC. Well those people in the ANC who don't belong to COSATU or the SACP, OK. Subtract what's left.

CS. Yes, take the five that's left. There are literally five that are left.

POM. OK. So I want to leave that just there. Then you had the statement of Thabo Mbeki at your Central Committee meeting last year where he said -

CS. This year.

POM. This year, June of 1998: "Given the practical policies of our day the question was to arise when we speak of this strategic alliance, the ANC, COSATU, SACP, are we speaking of something that continues to exist or are we dreaming dreams that reflect the past? The question that faces all of us, that faces you sitting at the Central Committee of COSATU, is whether we should now say farewell to the Congress Movement." Was Mbeki somehow trying to call your bluff on GEAR? What would lead him to make that statement?

CS. I obviously can't speak for him.

POM. Well it's a confrontational statement.

CS. I think that the COSATU Central Committee the next day when people had the reaction about it, the one thing we certainly saw was that the media was trying to find an angle to say that look, Mbeki really had a big clash at this Central Committee. Our view was that we didn't see that he was, whatever he said, heading towards a big clash. I think whatever, as happened at the party's congress and as happened at our Central Committee, was probably more the reality than anything else because I think we must accept what has happened over the last four years is really the following: whilst COSATU and the party says that its view and its policies and its principles and its vision is that socialism should be the future, and whilst the ANC takes a middle road, I always call it - today it sounds like socialism and tomorrow it sounds like it's the biggest neo-liberalism that you've never ever heard ever coming out of a couple of mouths and so on. But literally what has happened to the alliance in my opinion is the following, you had them absolutely glued together, no political questioning up to 1993 and 1994. You then saw that these three organisations who have sent in a lot of their leadership into government at all sorts of levels, not just national parliament, national parliament, provincial parliament, local government, everywhere else you see them, then leaves behind a cadre of people in the trenches, directionless. COSATU has managed to pull its organisation together in a short space after 1994, after it had a group of people going to parliament, then having to when we came in as new leaders and so on. That must be taken into consideration and I think the ANC has become, in my view, a contested reign is what I will say, because you must remember at that point you had an organisation called the ANC whose access was the Communist Party and COSATU as its clear allies. It assumes government and it now gets access from all sorts of people, all sorts of people. It now can't even say that look we can't speak to these people. It must. It's the government of the country, it's the majority party in this country and my view is certainly it has become a complete contested terrain with what I would call this zigzagging starting to happen in the ANC that's been influenced by all sorts and so on.

. You then see, GEAR is probably the best example of what I'm describing as to what actually takes place. I think it was inevitable that you were going to have one time or another public utterances from the ANC that you must stop telling us that GEAR is bad and so on. It was going to happen. And in any event I think the alliance was very disciplined that those utterances are not new utterances. Those utterances were made in any event although those utterances were made within the confines of these three organisations wrestling with each other and the question is, for me it's not is Thabo wanting to take us on or does Mandela want to take us on better than Thabo? For me that's not a question. For me the question is, are we getting to that goal that we actually want, because clearly if you take GEAR, do we have the capacity as the federation to persuade an ANC government, or any other government, that we think that the country's economic policies must reflect the fact that it is coming out of an apartheid situation and it's got to take this country out of that which apartheid has left us and its final goal must be not only to reconstruct and develop but a better life for all which is our goal, that this transition period that we're in now must lead to a better life for all. Unless we don't wrestle with each other in a hard way in a transition period, because when you're out of a transition period you're in the permanency more or less of the country, and I think it is incumbent upon us as to how we shape this one. If it looks robust then we can't apologise for it because rather let it look robust than when you go through a transition with eyes completely closed and sleeping, wake up in five years and say oh my God, we also have structural adjustment in SA just like Zimbabwe. We owe it to our people not to do that here. You can't do that. So, yes, shifts have happened.

POM. Let me again just give you a couple of other statements because I want to put it in the context of a larger framework and that is Mandela at the SACP conference and in a way his remarks there would apply as much to you as to them because he was talking about criticism of GEAR. He says, "For as long as I lead this government, as long as I'm a member of the ANC, I will ensure that the government continues to implement what we believe is good for the country." (That's GEAR). "If COSATU and the SACP leave the internal structures of the alliance and go public and not only attack but reconsider a fundamental policy of the organisation but ridicule it, you must be prepared to take the full responsibility for your actions. That type of behaviour makes me even more determined not to listen to you." Well again there's almost finger-wagging threat. You must be prepared to take the full responsibility, whatever that means.

CS. You know you have a choice as an organisation to respond with anger also to that or you have a choice as an organisation to say that you must respond to the principles and policies of your members and our response is a simple one, that we have policies, we have principles. We have just had a congress in September last year which said that this is what COSATU stands for and that, again, GEAR was just rejected. In fact a little song against GEAR was started at that congress and that little song really became a hit in the country and I'm sure it's this little song that probably has caused lots of problems everywhere, that has caused our friends really to make sure that they have a big outburst before we sing this song. I think that whatever has happened at the party's congress has happened and I think for me what is more important is what do our members want.

POM. But the context I want to put the question in is (i) there's an implication there that to criticise GEAR is somehow unpatriotic, (ii) there's implied that criticism of government policy is somehow aiding 'the enemy' or is dismissed as not being legitimate in some way. If criticism comes from the NP or the DP or whatever you can say, well, they're just being Pavlovian in their response, you know how they're going to respond. But in a democracy you've got to create the space for legitimate criticism and it seems to me that your criticism of GEAR and that the SACP's criticisms of GEAR are not only well founded but are shared by many employers, by large sections of professional people whether they be accountants or economists or whatever, so it's not something just confined to you and the SACP, it's that there is a need out there to debate an economic policy that manifestly failed to achieve any of its objectives since it was brought into being, that any government would say, gee, maybe we should examine some of the assumptions we made when we brought GEAR into existence and see do they need to be changed in the light of changing circumstances. And here you're being told, no, shut up or get out. We're going ahead the way we want to go ahead and we're not listening to you. Now that's not very democratic .

CS. May I respond to you in two ways? The one is obviously COSATU is not the kind of organisation that says to its members you have the right to do the following but when COSATU needs to exercise that same right to everyone else it says now hold on comrades, let's not do this, that and the other, let's not criticise and so on. I think we're never going to stop criticising anyone in the interests of our members because why we won't stop doing that is because one of the things that we've got to get right in SA, that SA must make sure it is going to win, is democracy and it's a democracy that allows its citizens absolute participation and when that becomes a threat then it's incumbent upon organisations like COSATU to make sure that they can defend that which it stood for and is still standing for. It will be a pity if it looks like the two parties are going for a head-on collision on that again. Certainly I can't say what was in the mind of either Mandela or Thabo when they made those utterances but certainly what I can say is that cannot be seen as COSATU giving and will give an acceptance that it will not publicly say and articulate its views of its members. After those utterances there was no COSATU that went into a little hole and a laager, it had many statements after that to say look we don't support this, we don't support that and so on. I think for us what is going to be important is we must make sure that we don't allow the ANC to get into a situation that it let democracy fly out of the window.

POM. That's what I'm getting at. Does it disturb you, does it disturb COSATU that either there are elements in the ANC that are saying in the face of, (i) not understanding that democracy means that everyone is free to say what they want, and (ii) that in a democracy a government is responsive to criticism from legitimate quarters or legitimate criticism, (iii) that it should listen and respond to such criticism, it is reflecting the voice of very important segments of the population, and (iv) that an attitude or a stance that to criticise us, to criticise our policy is somehow to try to undermine us, undermine the government, is frankly undemocratic and it's trying to stifle opposition coming from the most legitimate of circles, from members of its own alliance?

CS. I will still continue to say how I feel about it, that I send you a fax every second day to say how my members feel about the particular thing, that you do it in a number of different ways. In the same breath I want to say that as COSATU we accept, as much as we can criticise government or the ANC, we must accept that they have got the right to criticise us also and if the ANC has decided it's going to go on this thing of criticism, COSATU can't say what the hell is going on now. It must in the same way accept that as much as it can criticise, the ANC has got their right, the party has got their right. Any organisation in this country must have the right to criticise. But it depends on what the criticism is about. If it is meant towards stifling democracy in this country then surely we can't stand for that, surely that's something that is not accepted.

. It's very funny, when I headed the September Commission for COSATU, it was a commission that looked after the future of the unions, we had an interview with Mandela and one very interesting thing that he said in that interview was the fact that if the - no, he said at the COSATU congress in 1993 that COSATU must do what it did to the NP if the ANC don't deliver on the kind of things that the ANC is standing for and it is trampling on the rights of the workers and so on, that you as an organisation have that right that you don't allow anything like that. So, of course, we never forgot that and it's not that he's wrong, he's absolutely right that we will continue to have a right that says to any government whether it's a government that we support as the ANC or whether it's a government that we don't support, there is no one government that you can just climb into bed with because you support them and forget about your own members. You do what your constituency actually wants and at the same time it can't be construed that we are now in the same league as this stupid DP and stupid NP or New National Party as they call themselves, and all these other things. He said in the September Commission that power corrupts and that when people assume power it is your role as a federation with many others in society to make sure that that power then doesn't do to the people in the country the kind of things that we don't want to happen, they won't be able to speak out, they won't be able to criticise, they won't be able to have freedom in this country around whatever else and so on.

. So I am saying those things are on record that Mandela has said and I know Mandela stands for it. It's not good words that he says, he stands for that and while I'm saying that the alliance has gone through a difficult time because the one thing that kept us together was the fact that we had to get rid of an apartheid government and we did it effectively. What we did fail to do was to say as an alliance, how do we move in the transformation period? It was great to overthrow apartheid. We did fail in a way as an alliance to say that other than saying that the country must be reconstructed and developed, what are those things that we put into place to ensure that we have reconstruction and development? We should then have the ANC which can legislate. You then have COSATU which has its membership, will go to the bargaining tables and so on and you have the party that doesn't have either one of the two as an organisation other than individuals being involved in both organisations.

. So I am saying all of that you must see in that context also, that the alliance is grappling still at this point with very important things such as macro-economic policy and, yes, we find each other on opposite ends of the rope now, coming now from different arguments and you must accept the last thing is that the ANC is what we call an omnibus. That's why when I started off I said that the ANC has now become a contested terrain. The ANC is an omnibus, the ANC does not have one layer of grouping of people. It says that its bias is towards the working class and the working people in this country but the ANC's ranks are made up of advocates of working people, of very middle class people, people who really don't support the working class struggle at all and people who support the working class struggle and will do their damnedest about it and so on. In that way I am talking about this contested terrain.

POM. Did Mandela obliquely refer to that at Mafikeng when he said, and this again is a quote from his speech, "While the political leadership of the unions can justifiably claim to represent the 'progressive' organised and employed sectors of the working class, the ANC represents the people as a whole. Employed and organised workers are in a relatively privileged position with regard to the unemployed. The organised working class bargains and fights to advance its own interests in opposition to all other sectors of society including the unemployed and the non-unionised." He concluded, "That the organised working class will battle for the hegemony of its interests regardless of what progressive political movements see to be in the interests of the whole national democratic movement." Is that unfair criticism?

CS. It's not a criticism, it's a fact. It's a fact that if you look at how society is made up we mustn't make as if there is an automatic voice for the unemployed. It would be wrong. COSATU has never ever assumed that it does speak on behalf of all and sundry. We have never supported that view because we don't, we can't. Our policies, however, when we make them we don't make policies for employed people only. When we say that we must have job creation in this country it is precisely to cover employed and unemployed, in defence of jobs and joblessness and job creation means precisely those two things, bringing the two together. I have heard people saying but this is terrible what Mandela has said, and the truth is we don't see that as a criticism because it's not a criticism and it's not an attack on any one of us. I think we've all become like a syndrome in this country, and particularly the media in this country, that if he says certain things it will be taken out of context and there's an attack on the alliance now and they're splitting any minute.

POM. Do you think that in the context of that, that elements in the white community continually almost scanning every statement that comes from government, COSATU, SACP, are saying, ah! a crack, another crack, they're going to split, and they have this hope that you will split so they are looking for any sign of evidence that would support their view.

CS. The media in SA has in their own view, they have split, they have caused the split in the alliance already in their own way because there would be an article saying it's a matter of time now. So I think there is a fixation in there and I think you must understand why. Whilst to have such a thing called an alliance between the ANC, SACP and COSATU in this country, one of the most powerful blocs in the country, a country that is still coming out of the ruins of what it has, you mustn't think that there are sections of people in a country that's excited about the fact that the ANC is in power and therefore if you can find a crack somewhere, if you can find it in COSATU they will go for it in my view. If you can nail the SACP to death they will go for it. If they can find Mandela saying certain things they will go for it to say that he is now finally saying that he's now giving these other two the walking ticket and so on. I am saying that for the following reasons, if that was the intention of the ANC, I can't speak for what's going to happen in ten years, if that was the ANC's intention why did it support and was able to fight furiously for such progressive labour legislation to come through? Why did it? It stood against all the storms and everyone telling them your labour market is inflexible, which is of course rubbish in my view, that your policies in the labour market and this Tito Mboweni of yours is just crazy to have ushered through (the truth is it's the ANC although Tito had to) why have they taken that route? So you must see the other side also.

POM. It's like you talking about, your commission talking about the zigzagging. They zigged that way to appease you because they need you for next year for the elections.

CS. The ANC don't need us at all. The ANC is able to -

POM. They don't need you at all?

CS. The ANC doesn't need us and we don't need them.

POM. Oh don't give them that impression! You must give them the impression they desperately need you.

CS. That's in your words.

POM. What I was going to come back to was something you said, but I'll get back to it. How much time do you have left?

CS. About 20 minutes.

POM. OK. Let's talk about this question of inflexible labour markets for a minute. A whole slew of surveys done internationally have indicated, the latest being by the Investors Social - a Washington based social investment, it was very anti-apartheid, it fought for disinvestment and that was its big thing.

PAT. Investors for Social Responsibility.

POM. A whole slew of surveys done internationally have indicated that SA is one of the least preferred locations for long term fixed capital investment. Why do you think that is so?

CS. I think that there are those that are prepared to say that this country must dance to the tune of everyone else except the people in this country and that it must continue to be fed by everyone else except the people in this country. If you look at many countries that went through the same situation as SA, the majority of their transformation period agendas, ingredients, was dominated if it's not IMF, World Bank, all of those kinds of things, was dominated by everyone else telling them what to do except following what the people in the country should be. I think a number of issues that they bring into that argument is that SA cannot sustain attracting investors by one argument that they took, that the labour market and labour problems and all of that. You know COSATU dismissed that for what it's worth, those surveys that have been made and those that are actually advocating those things are really just causing us to say that we must continue with what we had in apartheid and let these people in this country continue to stay in poverty, just make everything open like they did in Ghana, just open up the gates of heaven for only those people called investors and everyone else, don't open the gates to the people of the country.

. I think in SA we have a view that it's a big mistake to do that because you can do that, make a beautiful city, rural areas look like nothing - there's really nothing going on there, and what will happen? You will have the kind of situation at some point in time in the life of that country as has happened in Indonesia where people just rise up, as has happened in Malaysia where people just rise up, as Russia would probably have and is still having and it's ridiculous that people are not getting salaries in government or wherever. There will come a time where you see that all that you will cause if you will fester a society that one day in a silent way mobilises itself because all that you gave to them was poverty, poverty, poverty. And SA is a country where on one side of the fence it looks like it's a developed country and on the other side it's a developing country. It's more a developing country than a developed country because the vast majority of its people are still in absolute poverty, absolute poverty. I think those that are saying those things, if they are interested to alleviate poverty in SA they will invest because there are absolute opportunities for investors to do a range of things. You can take housing, absolute opportunities of the spin-offs of housing around investment.

POM. But it's not doing it. If they say - a foreign investor or a business will look at say ten locations where they want to build a plant and they will look at the location that they consider will give them the best return for their investment, that's what they're interested in, and when it comes to SA they write it off. They either say -

CS. But I'm not so sure how true that is because -

POM. Well the amount of foreign investment that has come in in the last four years has been -

CS. That's a lie. Just look at Cape Town, just look at Cape Town and say that Cape Town hasn't had any foreign people coming in to do certain things. Look at our rural parts of the northern part of our country, Northern Cape or North West Cape.

POM. There is no investment come in that has been job creating in the sense that you're losing 130,000 jobs in the formal sector alone a year.

CS. My view is if they came here and are sympathetic to those problems in the country then they would do that. I'm telling you, if an investor is interested in that they would do that but if they're not interested in the fact that there must be spin-offs for the country then they won't come here. Those are their choices. They will find excuses around violence, they will find excuses around crime, they will find all sorts of excuses but I think foreign investors do have a history like it's had all over the world and a lot in Africa, that they're not interested in uplifting the people in the country, they're interested in making a quick buck for their own profit and make sure that none of that is threatened and leave. And that's the nature of foreign investment. You don't subscribe to that kind of foreign investment. In fact COSATU has gone so far as saying they are probably most unwelcome in this country. We will not cry if they say that they don't want to come because it will be wrong for people to come into the country and not be interested to uplift this country.

POM. OK. If you, and this is a point I will pursue later on, I don't want to spend all our time on it, but if you take it that there are three sources of funding for the kind of investment that is needed to generate economic growth, that is either domestic savings, savings on the part of government, government surplus, or foreign investment, SA is faced with a situation of having one of the lowest saving ratios in the world. There is no domestic savings. There is a budget deficit of 3% - 4% but it's a deficit anyway, so that's the second source of funding. So that only leaves the third source which is to attract foreign capital.

CS. I still don't think that that should be SA's first choice. It can't, it can't say that  because what are the causes that you don't have domestic savings? What are the causes and are you prepared to do something about the fact that your domestic savings, that SA can start having domestic savings? If you're interested to do that you will find mechanisms to do something about it. If you're not you will suppress that and make sure that SA must continue to be on a list that says it doesn't have domestic savings. What was your second one? On government deficit. Clearly, that's where we disagree with government that it must be obsessed with deficit stuff and so on.

POM. Well it's not saving, it's doing the opposite . There is no reason why it should be set at 3%.

CS. Yet we will still argue, you can't then say throw your hands in the air, your only solution in this country is foreign investment. You can't do that to the country and its people. It is misleading people to say that that which the country has promised its people, to take it for - in fact what the constitution even asks them to do is just being ignored.

POM. I'll just cover two things then I'll keep all the rest till the next time. One is, would you say that this country is at the moment in a deep economic crisis and that it is tottering on the brink of a precipitous slide economically? This year there's going to be maybe negative economic growth or at most maybe about 0.5%. Last year it was between 1.3% and 1.7%. Per capita income is falling. Joblessness is going up, just taking those two as the things that concern the ordinary person. Yet there was a survey carried out, and this is by the Research Economic Bureau at Stellenbosch, it was on consumer confidence. I'll just read what it says:-

. "Consumer confidence fell sharply in the third quarter of 1998 reversing all gains made in the three months to June on the back of the recent hike in interest rates and continued financial market volatility, the latest Bureau for Economic Research Consumer Confidence survey shows. The decline was marked by significant differentiation in the confidence of white consumers and black consumers with black consumers' confidence largely unchanged in the third quarter, while white consumer confidence decreased 25 index points, the largest fall since the fourth quarter of 1985 when the prime overdraft rate also increased to 25% and the rand depreciated by more than 50% against the dollar."

. It was after, I think, PW's Rubicon speech.

. "Black consumer confidence remains largely unmarked by currency market volatility. Black consumers expect a continued improvement in the economic performance and their financial position over the next 12 months. The majority also rates the present as the right time to buy durable goods like household equipment and furniture. In contrast a sizeable majority of white consumers expect the economic performance and their own financial positions to deteriorate during the next 12 months. For example, the majority of consumers expecting a deterioration in the economic performance rose from 37% in the second quarter to 59% in the third quarter."

. How would you explain that?

CS. Let me tell you, let me say first of all I'm not an economist so I won't give you an economist answer. But currently economists are in the best position to tell if there is a recession looming and so on and the Minister of Finance will continue to tell you, which is his job, that there is no recession.

POM. Everything's fine. Hunky dory.

CS. Yes, it's his job also. But the one thing that certainly has happened over the last few months, which has really caused a lot of problems for poor people generally with unemployment affecting both employed people also, the fact that in my own household I've got to cater for another one in the house also. So you have the fact that it's not that if you are employed you're all safe, you are carrying two or three other people.  Secondly, this thing of the volatility in the market of the rand and interest rates and so on has certainly caused people to say, hold on, I wanted to buy that television but I think I'll hold on and that spending urge has stopped a number of people.

POM. This survey says the very opposite. It says among black people they are saying -

CS. That's a lie. It's not true. This thing of the interest rate rising in the way that it did has had a tremendous effect on the fact that those who have bought houses and are having to pay off a bond rate are finding it very difficult. I know, I can speak for myself also. You literally - there's nothing going, your entire salary and in fact your salary is not even enough for it. So you have many people who are going to start losing their houses because of the interest rate problem. You're going to have many people that are cautious about the fact that they need to spend cash. That survey, if it says that there's an urge in spending, is the fact that SA is encouraging more and more this thing of credit. So, yes, you have probably where people are buying on credit increasing to the level which you could never believe it. I am talking about cash when I argue, that people are not spending. There is a possibility that spending or going into credit more than anything else and the truth is you know what's going to happen to that? It's just a crash that's going to happen because people are not going to pay back. They don't have the money to pay back. Paying back is just not going to happen and slowly but surely you're going to start to see the spin-offs of that. The housing crisis, people losing their houses. Shops, the fact that they want to repossess. Clothing they don't repossess. The fact that people can buy foodstuffs on credit in this country.

POM. You can't give back the foodstuffs if you've eaten it.

CS. You can't give back the foodstuff. You can come and repossess the car, the house and furniture and so on.  So I am saying I don't believe really that the spending in blacks on a cash level is increasing if ever there is.

POM. Now if I put it a different way, if I said, well that kind of makes sense to me in that black consumer confidence hasn't changed very much because for a large segment of blacks there would have been no consumer confidence there to begin with and if there are 50% of people who are at the poverty line or under the poverty line and you talk to them about an increase in the interest rates and the volatility of the capital markets and the devaluation of the rand, they would look at you and say -

CS. 'What are you talking about?'

POM. It doesn't affect their lives. So it's two different worlds. It affects whites and the emerging black middle class who are in a position now to buy houses, buy goods on credit.

CS. I think what this has caused is an absolute solidarity among all the classes now, around poverty, absolute solidarity.

POM. The last thing, and I'm going to interview you more with it the next time, but in the commission you laid out three scenarios and at the time when you did you said you were in the 'skorro goro.' What does that mean?

CS. Zigzag in English.

POM. What language is it?

CS. It's actually an Afrikaans word, skorro goro. In the African language you would call it amaglugglug, but it basically refers to - you know a skorro goro in SA is referred to that car which doesn't start in the morning, that you've got to push every morning and you must pray that it's actually going to take you to work. That's been referred to as a skorro goro, in SA, you just don't know whether this thing you can rely on. It might decide to start and suddenly round a corner the one light falls out and so on.

POM. I think I understand that. At that time when you did the study you said that you thought you were in a skorro goro position.

CS. The respondents sort of said that they think -

POM. And between the desert and the gravy. Where do you think you are now?

CS. I think still there.

POM. Still there. Is the projectory moving towards the gravy or is the projectory moving towards the desert?

CS. No, no. I should probably explain to you the next time when I see you what the meaning of these three scenarios are because even in the desert and the promised land it's like two situations that we're talking about and when I said we're still there I actually meant skorro goro, the fact that there's ... still happen and so on. The only area, in my view, where we're on our way to the other scenario of papvleis and gravy is how things are being done now, the fact that there's an absolute realisation among big sections in society that one of the things that we were able to do in apartheid was to pull together our collective resources and wisdom as various organisations coming from various interest groups and so on and that which we have in the country, particularly around poverty, one of the ways that we will be able to alleviate poverty in this country is the fact that we've got to pull together as one coherent grouping coming from everywhere else. We called it in those days the Mass Democratic Movement. That certainly I would say is a bit of a promise in that direction, that scattering kind of situation that the country started off with in 1994, all the uncertainties about what is this thing of a new government. That's starting to disappear. There's a bit of certainty around what it is that we need to tackle. We must talk about absolute priorities now, that unless we address this, that and the other instead of just - you don't know tomorrow morning what statement is going to be made. Those signs of on its way to the promised land are starting to emerge and the last remnants of the skorro goro you can see it, some people argue when you look at the Lesotho situation that it's probably a -

POM. Well if you look at what you've described as the desert, this is the last question, this scenario: "There is no economic development, no RDP delivery."

CS. I said papvleis. Papvleis and gravy.

POM. Yes, you talked about that. Then you said some kind of social cohesion developing around what are the priorities that must be addressed that wasn't there following 1994 when people were scattered in many different directions. But when you talked about the desert scenario you talked about -

CS. No the desert is nothing.

POM. But you talk about it as - the government announces its macro-economic policy and the following few years the economy stagnates, which is happening right now, the economy is stagnating, there is very little RDP delivery as the government focuses on reducing state expenditure. That's true. That retrenchments across the country - that's true. Only the informal sector seems to be growing. That is true. There is growing conflict between employers and unions in collective bargaining and at NEDLAC, that's true.

CS. But that's not true. The strikes in SA that are -

POM. But the Mobil strike is -

CS. No, but it would be unfair to say. Look at the strike in Australia, those dock workers go out like you could never believe it. Look at the strike that I saw - in fact there the Koreans are going on strike. You don't have South African workers hurling bottles and stuff like that in such a big way any more, so it's wrong to describe. What is happening, has happened to the unions in this year, is that the unions have said that we're going to challenge this notion that the inflation is 5% and our workers who in any event don't have any benefit from them, the employers, they are the ones who can have 5% because their inflated salaries that they have they can argue, is profitable for them, but our members have been saying that the unemployment has done this, that and the other to them must accept a ten rand increase. We're absolutely not going to accept that situation in SA and all the arguments that employers have been giving to them. Now if that is being seen that there's increased conflict, that's wrong. It's bargaining period in SA. Every year we must say - we can't give the same arguments every year, but we won't change our argument in any event. The bargaining period in SA starts from May onwards. If there's a settlement, there's settlements, there are many settlements. My own union, look at all the settlements that there have been. There was a strike in my union in one sector. Clothing has settled, leather there was a strike in one sector. So I am saying it's wrong to say, it's unfair to say that to the unions.

POM. One thing that struck me and we can go into this at more length the next time, is when you came to your recommendations, 12 recommendations for social unionism for SA. Not once in the 12 recommendations was the issue of the joblessness or the unemployed mentioned.

CS. You probably overlooked chapter four.

POM. I was just going through the -

CS. No, no, that's a summary.

POM. It says "Recommendations. The traditions it should draw on. In propositioning for the future as a powerful medium we recommend COSATU should follow, adopt the following 12 point programme. This is the programme for social unionism", and it lists 12 points. The word 'joblessness' -

CS. You don't need to say the word 'joblessness'. (i) This is a run organisation, (ii) when it talks about the fact that it must defend workers rights, bargain for better wages, benefits, improved working conditions and so on, quality of working life. You must change things at the workplace from apartheid to democracy.

POM. But if you're not working, if you're unemployed you're not a worker?

CS. No, no, no. I am saying that if you build these blocks within your place of work you are able to make sure that that which you build in your place of work can now start making access to the fact that employers must start opening up these gates of employment with the kind of structures that you put in place in the second point. And you must also remember that this commission dealt with the fact that it had to look at what is the future for the trade union movement. Any of the things that you don't see explicit in here it's not that where we had policies we didn't look at those things. We certainly didn't even include them in here. But I am arguing that within these 12 points we didn't need to put the word 'joblessness' in here. It is built into the kind of sections that we have spoken about. If you read chapter four you will see the word 'joblessness' on every second page.

POM. OK. That's for reading on the plane back.

CS. Good luck! It's a thick document. This is not the document, it's far too thick.

POM. I have the rest of it here. Thank you ever so much and I'll be back again with the rest of the document.

CS. As I'm saying, just make sure that you let me know ahead of time.

POM. Will do. OK. Thanks for taking all the time.


This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.