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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Challenges of the transition: a COSATU perspective

Input by SAM SHILOWA, COSATU general secretary, to the COSATU/SACP Bilateral on 28 January 1995


The decisive election victory of the ANC has placed the demands and concerns of the working people firmly on the national agenda.

The adoption of the Reconstruction and Development Programme by the Government of National Unity represented a quantum leap forward for the South African working people. The RDP is the first programme which, in a systematic and integrated way, attempts to deal with the problems which plague working people- poverty, unemployment, disease, illiteracy, inequality, homelessness, lancliessness.

The period since the elections has clearly shown however that, while all sectors of society pay lip service to it, the RDP has many enemies. Conservative forces in the inherited bureaucracy, in the security forces, in business, internationally, and in the government of national unity, are determined to ensure that the RDP doesn't disturb old patterns

While some of the resistance may be the relatively unconscious reflex of an elite unable to come to terms with democratic transformation, the RDP also faces a deliberate campaign of sabotage by elements in the old order. We all know of Desmond Krogh from the DBSA, whose double agenda included promoting fragmentation by bolstering regions in opposition to central government, at the same time as deliberately planning the failure of RDP programmes. There are, no doubt, many other such conspiracies which have not yet been uncovered.

The ANC-led government has correctly placed emphasis on the need to defend and consolidate our new democracy, build national unity, create peace, and develop conditions of stability. This process will have to continue into 1995. At the same time, these objectives will only be realised if the entire society is engaged in a massive national effort to implement the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

Our people will only energetically defend the new democracy if that democracy begins to bring about tangible changes in their everyday lives. They will only be able to effectively combat crime and violence if the social conditions which breed these evils begin to be systematically tackled. We will only be able to build lasting unity if the massive inequalities and social discrimination inherited from apartheid are targeted as enemy no. 1 of our society. Therefore, the processes of nation-building and socio-economic transformation, which are often mechanically separated or even counter-posed, are mutually dependent and reinforcing.


Democratic forces are faced with serious dangers in this transition period, which arise from perceptions both at a mass level, and within the leadership of our organisations, which have followed the ANC election victory. These are the twin dangers of 'triumphalism' and 'defeatism'.

Triumphalism' has taken root to some extent in the belief that, withthe emergence of the ANC-led GNU, the liberation struggle has now been won. This has led to passivity and complacency that we just have to wait for the ANC to deliver the fruits of victory. This is compounded by the way in which RDP projects have been implemented. Very few people, if any, have been involved in the planning or conceptualisation of such programmes. There is no clear criteria of how these are done. While there is still a strong tradition and culture within the liberation movement understanding the National Democratic Revolution as a process of ongoing struggle, and not a single event, the dangers of triumphalism should not be underestimated. This is further complicated by the weakening of mass formations, and the subsumption of large numbers of cadres of key national and regional leadership into the technical processes of parliament and regional government. Similarly, comrades in government, tend to equate state power with organisation, and conflate their roles as Cabinet Ministers with those of the ANC.

The flip side of this problem is the development of defeatism/ fatalism, particularly amongst the left constituency of the democratic forces, which has already written off the ANC as the 'captive of big capital and imperialism'. This perception is partially a result of objective contradictions inherent in the transition, and partly of mistakes the ANC has made on a number of fronts in government, both programatically, and in terms of its pronouncements.

Some have prematurely concluded that these demonstrate that the ANC has finally sold out and abandoned its agenda of transformation.

This crude perspective conflates the ANC as mass formation with government, parliament with cabinet, and the ANC with the GNU. It fails to see these areas as distinct, but related, sites of contestation and struggle. The logic of this position is to abandon the ANC, and retreat into a 'left' cocoon. This, leaves the terrain clear for reactionary forces locally and internationally to engage the ANC in the GNU, in parliament, and the regions, on their own terms, and isolate the ANC from its mass base. It effectively pushes the ANC into the arms of the emerging black elite, big capital in South Africa, as well as international imperialism.

The dangers of triumphalism and defeatism both have the same result-they lead to demobilisation of the masses and our organisations, the collapse of civil society, and the separation in practice of the ANC from the people.

A number of other forces are attempting to appropriate the national agenda for change. Unless the alliance reasserts itself as the hegemonic force in society, we will lose the right to lead the transition process.

The recent debacle around indemnity demonstrates the fragile and superficial character of the GNU honeymoon, when it comes to issues of fundamental contradiction within society. It is significant that similar contradictions have not yet surfacedinto open division over issues such as transformation of the state, and economic questions. The ending of the honeymoon in the GNU may make it increasingly necessary for the ANC in government to rely on the mobilisation of its traditional base, in order to implement the RDP.

For COSATU the key strategic challenges directly confronting us, which will shape the character of the transition, are the questions of democratising the state, transforming the economy, deepening the democratic rights and participation of civil society, and building organisation.


COSATU will be mobilising for the setting up of RDP structures such as RDP Councils, both in the workplace and communities. South Africa's tradition of a strong and vibrant civil society needs to be reasserted. We must not replace apartheid statism, and top-down rule, with a new form of statism.

At the same time, the democratic state must be a truly new state, not the old state with new figureheads. One of the major pillars of the RDP involves transforming the old bureaucracy from one designed to implement apartheid, to a public service oriented towards delivering peoples' basic needs. The trade union movement sees itself as playing a critical role in this transformation process.

The democratic movement needs to engage in the process of budgeting, to vigorously pursue the objective of realigning resources away from unnecessary bureaucracy, into service delivery. The realigning of the entire budget to RDP spending needs to move away from the 'RDP Fund approach', where RDP spending is relegated to a side budget. We need to ensure that the approach of zero-based budgeting advanced in the RDP White Paper is implemented (this requires all line Departments to justify their budgets from scratch in line with RDP objectives).

We need to ensure a more coherent and scientific approach to the reorganisation of public sector personnel. We reject the current approach which seems to suggest that large cuffing hack of personnel in and of itself is a desirable objective, and that a mathematical percentage-based formula can be used to achieve this. While COSATU will support a radical cut-back in wasteful expenditure, including on personnel, we are convinced that successful implementation of the RDP requires an expansion in personnel in certain areas, particularly in the areas of service delivery. This conclusion is unavoidable if we move from the premise that apartheid excluded over 75% of the population from the provision of basic services and infrastructure.

The democratic movement needs to pursue the objective of restructuring the tax system to a greater extent than the Katz Commission has been able to do, to move to a progressive and fair taxation system, which lifts the unfair burden off the shouldersof working people, and induces business to invest in productive activity. COSATU will be pursuing this approach in the monetary and fiscal Chamber of NEDLAC. We also need to address inconsistencies in our approach, such as those emerging around VAT, with COSATU and the ANC advancing different positions surely we can do better than this.

For the public service to become an effective agent of the RDP, industrial relations and work organisation will have to be radically transformed, in line with the following priorities:

. An integrated approach to training, grading, career pathing, skills and wages;

. Drastically reducing the over 300 job categories and grades and flattening hierarchies;

. Implementation of a coherent affirmative action programme;

. Closing the wage gap;

. Creating a culture of accountability and transparency.

This approach of realigning public institutions to RDP priorities needs to be extended to the broader public sector, including parastatals, and semi-autonomous state institutions. While there may be an argument for these institutions operating at arms length from government, this doesn't exempt them from public accountability. The DBSA's, Armscor's and others have already shown their preparedness to subvert public funds to prop up sectional interests. We need to campaign, as we did with the SABC, for the transformation and democratisation of all bodies which have been created through public funding.

In particular, we want to destroy the myth that the Reserve Bank is somehow above society, and operates as an 'independent' institution. As things stand, the composition of the Reserve Bank reflects the domination of elements of the old Thatcherite bureaucracy, and the large conglomerates, and is unaccountable to society. Monetary policy is not an objective science, but involves political choices, which have an effect on investment, unemployment, inflation, etc. We cannot continue to passively allow the Reserve Bank to pursue policies which directly undermine and contradict the objectives of the RDP. Rather the bank should operate as an autonomous institute, following on policies set up by a representative board. We intend as COSATU to take up the position on the bank's board as outlined in the RDP.


Since the second half of 1994 South Africa has been swamped by economic prescriptions which, if implemented would effectively destroy any prospect of the RDP succeeding. We have received unsolicited advice to embark on wholesale privatisation, drop all tariff barriers, adopt a wage freeze, and cut back social spending.

These are ideologically-driven proposals which are not dictated, in the first instance, by the needs of the people of South Africa. Most often, they are tied to conditions set by international finance and trade institutions dominated by the advanced industrial countries. We need to oppose the growing phenomenon of unelected and unaccountable institutions undermining the sovereignty of democratic states, by imposing policies which directly contradict the programmes of those societies.

We should call on progressive governments interna tionally, and like-minded movements of civil society to jointly campaign for the development of a new democratic platform for world trade and financial relations, in which the sovereignty of nations is respected, and the social priorities of peoples, rather than the financial and trade interests of the G7 nations, take precedence. We should discuss this approach with the international trade union movement, and lobby governments, including ours, to advance this perspective at the UN Social Summit in Denmark in March 1995.

We need to totally oppose the sale of any state assets which wouldimpact negatively on the RDP. Privatising parastatals, and subjecting them to the laws of profit, would have the effect of denying the poorest South Africans, the majority of our people access to health, electricity, transport, communication and other services. Arguments to the contrary fly in the face of all international experience. Our opposition will not be softened by the so-called 'Malaysian route', whereby individuals from the black population are enriched by the sale of state assets, while their communities end up suffering.

While ANC Ministers have in the main spoken about reorganisation of state assets, some use this as a code word for privatisation. Some have gone on record as saying "when we privatise". Indeed we are aware of presentations being done in order to soften the people's opposition to wholesale privatisation.

Similarly, we should oppose the current trend of dogmatic adherence to rapid unplanned trade liberalisation, and the lifting of protective tariffs. If unchecked, this could pose a serious threat to the revival of our economy, wipe out whole industries, and lead to massive destruction of jobs. The push by some elements in government to implement tariffs which are even lower than the rates set out in GATT, without consultation, will be resisted by COSATU. If this ideologically driven approach continues to be pursued, it will fundamentally undermine the policies set out in the RDP for developing our industries. The Department of Trade and Industry should rather focus its energy on developing together with all stakeholders, an approach on how to avoid the devastating impact of the implementation of GATT on jobs, unemployment, Southern African regional economy, etc. We need to develop a coherent approach to trade and economic policies which will protect our existing industrial base, and expand it.

We should focus in 1995 on challenging the vestiges of apartheid inequality which are still entrenched at the economic level. This will necessitate inter alia a focus on rural development, affirmative action, anti-trust policies, human resource development, and democratisation of economic decision-making.

A particular challenge facing the trade union movement is to address the apartheid wage gap. In 1994 we began to make progress, although painfully slow, in raising this issue in the public sector. 1995 will see the question of the wage gap being placed squarely on the agenda of the private sector as well. Our wages and salaries structure, from the highest paid director, to the lowest paid worker, will be placed under close scrutiny.

1995 holds the possibility for a qualitative economic breakthrough, beyond the normal cyclical fluctuation of capitalist economies. If the RDP begins to be effectively implemented, it will have economic spinoffs at a number of levels: infrastruc tural projects and public works programmes will result in job creation; new demand will boost industry; land reform and other programmeswill stimulate agriculture and SME development, etc. But perhaps the most important factor could be the effect of beginning to unleash our human resource potential, if a major effort is put into developing our people, and involving them in the running of the economy. This is the 'high road' scenario envisaged by the RDP.

We must ensure that the upswing in economic activity benefits the people of this country, and is not confined to an orgy of speculation and profiteering without meaningful productive investment, as we have seen in recent months. South African business appears to be investing in every country in the world except South Africa. We must call on government to address this 'investment strike' as a matter of urgency.

When international and local investment picks up, tangible results must be seen in terms of jobs created, people trained, and technological development. The possibilities of economic boom must not be squandered.

Workers should use their financial muscle, particularly in the pension and provident funds, to try to ensure that investment is made in productive, job-creating activity, as well as areas of social need, as opposed to paper-chasing activity which is of no benefit to the country - a route favoured by business.


The strikes in 1994, while hugely exaggerated by the media, did show

Missing page...

that workers expect to see political democracy accompanied by transformation in the economy and the workplace. Employers for their part have, by and large, continued to take the view that it is 'business as usual'. If this gulf of expectations continues to persist, the stage is being set for a massive confrontation on the shop floor.

COSATU will intensify its campaign for a three-tier programme of economic and industrial democratisation: national economic decision making; centralisecl bargaining at industry level; and workplace clemocracy at company level. These three levels of decision making are mutually reinforcing, and need to be implemented in an integrated way. For example, a national strategy on beneficiation needs to be informed by an industry strategy at the level of, say, the mining industry, which in turn requires new approaches to restructuring and investment at company level.

To be effective, these forums need to have meaningful decision-making powers, and not be forums for 'consultation'. This requires us to force a radical rethink by employers on traditional approaches to the 'managerial prerogative'. Further, they will have to be comprehensively implemented, not in a piecemeal ad hoc way, since the competitive character of business undermines a voluntarist approach.

The LRA Bill which is being re-leased next week will propose a system of workplace democracy which could in our context pose a radical challenge to existing relations of control in companies. The critical question is whether the union movement is prepared to exploit the openings which will be created by this intervention. This is a new ter-marginalisation and co-option. In actual fact, if not properly managed, it can do irreparable harm to the structure and role of shop stewards and the union.

Labour market institutions and labour legislation will undergo fundamental reform in 1995. COSATU will campaign to ensure that this legislation is harmonised to extend to all workers and inter alia provides for: a system of centralised bargaining, basic employment conditions and wage determination, which protects all workers; a maximum working week of 40 hours; the full right to strike and picket, with protection against dismissal, and prevention of scabbing; provisions compelling employers to negotiate all aspects of retrenchment, and a Social Plan Act to assist victims of retrenchments or closures; disclosure of company information and clemocratisation of decision-making.

In addition to the setting up of the Labour Market chamber of the NEDLAC, COSATU will be campaigning for the restructuring of a range of labour market institutions. The objective in all cases will be to ensure that they are representative, transparent and accountable; that they have streamlined and quick procedures; are accessible to workers; and form part of an active labour market policy. We expect to see among others the Wage Board, the UIF Board, and National Training Board transformed in line with these principles. The transformation and possible abolitionof the Industrial Court should observe these criteria, as well as offering a Public Aid service.

At the level of the new constitution, COSATU will be campaigning for fundamental worker rights, as contained in our Platform on Workers Rights, to be entrenched in the constitution. We will be campaigning for the removal of the lock-out clause, giving employers the right to lock-out, from the current constitution. This clause is out of line with international norms. We will also be campaigning for a unitary state in which the national government exercises authority over all strategic areas, and will be opposing any move in the direction of federalism and fragmentation. COSATU will embark on a programme to ensure maximum involvement of workers in the debates around the constitution, and its final adoption, through workers forums, education programmes, a conference of mass organisations, and a campaign for a referendum or other democratic mechanism to adopt the final constitution. The SACP as vanguard party needs to define its role in this respect. South African workers looks to it and the ANC to defend and consolidate their rights.

The democratic movement needs to ensure that mass organs of civil society begin to drive the democratisation process at all levels. We need to avoid the spectre of constituencies being spectators around issues which affect their lives. Rural organisations, for example, should be empowered to drive the process of land reform. Rights of constituencies need to be entrenched both at a constitutional, legal and institutional level. The setting up of the Development Chamber of Nedlac is an important step in this process. Such institutional representation, however, needs to be accompanied by a meaningful programme of capacity building, to ensure that representation of constituencies is both effective and mass-driven.


COSATU is poised to make major organisational advances in 1995, as we adapt to the new conditions facing the trade union movement. This will require new and innovative approaches, combined with tried and tested methods of trade union organisation:

. 1995 will see COSATU move away from its image as an exclusively blue-collar, 'African' trade union Federation, as its membership begins to reflect the full spectrum of South Africa's workers. Large numbers of white collar, professional, and other strata of the workforce are beginning to come into COSATU, and the Federation is beginning to receive applications from a number of unions representing these workers. COSATU will embark on a recruitment campaign in strategic sectors which have hitherto fallen outside the mainstream of the trade union movement. COSATU will have to develop a strategy to accommodate the wide variety of interests which will be reflected in the Federation. This must be seen within the context of our approach to one union, one industry; one country, one federation principle.

. At the same time, COSATU will intensify its drive to organise the unorganised, low-paid workers, particularly in the agricultural, construction, public and service sectors. 1995 will see the launch of COSATU's farm workers union, and a giant public sector union, after these launches were delayed in 1994.

. While expanding into new areas, our priority for 1995 will be to consolidate and revive democratic shop floor structures and locals, the engine of the Federation. Campaigns, negotiations, and servicing of union members must be driven from the shop floor, not union offices and boardrooms.

. As a Federation, COSATU will endeavour to assist our affiliates, particularly those which in the past few months have suffered from the lack of dynamic contact and interaction between the leadership and the rank and file. This will help to combat opportunistic elements who have been attempting to usurp power from democratically elected constitutional structures for their own political ends.

. This 'back to basics' thrust will not involve a retreat from our broader role as a trade union movement. We will continue to strive to advance the interests of working and poor people as a whole, but from a stronger, more mobilised organisational base.

. COSATU is embarking on a major research and capacity building programme whose primary aim is to ensure empowerment of women on the shop floor, the development of women leadership, and to put gender issues at the centre of the Federation's programme. A way must be found to ensure proper and meaningful representation of women in decision making and policy formulation.

. COSATU's engagements in NEDLAC and other negotiations forums will not be conducted above the heads of our members. Strategies will be developed to ensure that these negotiations are at all times mass-driven, and have a campaign element.

Rather than constantly respond to economic and labour agendas imposed by forces outside our country, such as wage restraint, privatisation, etc., COSATU will forge a negotiations agenda based on the needs of working people. As the largest Federation we have an obligation to ensure that, in conjunction with other trade union Federations, we steer the labour agenda in NEDLAC and other forums. We will also work with, and seek to strengthen other organisations of civil society participating in the Development Chamber of NEDLAC.

. As a Federation, COSATU will be looking at new ways to co-ordinate and pool the collective bargaining, education, and other activities of our affiliates.

. COSATU will negotiate social benefits for workers provided by democratic states internationally. State programmes will be negotiated to assist trade unions in areas such as worker education, training, and health and safety.

. COSATU will be elaborating its organisational approach to migration of Southern African workers. The current wave of hysteria and xenophobia is not in the interest of workers, local or migrant. COSATU will propose methods to expand the organisation of migrants, to end the illegal exploitation of migrants by employers, and a broader social programme to deal with the effects of the influx of migrants and refugees from other countries. We will be spearheading discussions with trade unions and governments in the region on constructive approaches to deal with this matter.

. COSATU will launch a campaign for the introduction of democratic local government in 1995, and resist attempts by right wing forces to hold the process hostage. We will support a decisive ANC victory in these elections, based on the mandate contained in the RDP. COSATU will release local leadership on a part-time basis for the elections, in a way designed to promote worker leadership in local government, at the same time as minimising damage to the trade union movement.

. COSATU is devising programmes to strengthen the capacity of worker leadership in the Federation, at national regional and local levels. The infusion of 'new', but experienced worker leadership at all levels of the Federation, as a result of the political process, is giving COSATU a dynamic new thrust. Those in positions of responsibility will be equipped with the necessary tools to drive the process forward to ensure continuity.


The key challenge facing the alliance is to develop a fighting programme which maintains the mass character of the ANC, alliance and mass clemocratic movement as a whole, and forges a common perspective on the challenges of the transition.

We need to begin confronting the dangers of fatalism and triumphalism spoken about at the beginning of this paper. The 'mass-driven character' of the RDP is at this stage a total myth. Involvement of people in the process is spontaneous, and where it happens it happens by accident rather than design. The alliance must take a large part of the responsibility for this. COSATU needs to ensure meaningful representation and participation by its affiliates rather than head office personnel. The ANC must usethe structures on the ground to identify areas of concern to the public and to lead the process.

The RDP won't become mass-driven through some magical process. We need appropriate structures and programmes to harness people's creativity. Most of all we need to recapture our revolutionary imagination, which somehow seems to have been lost.

There have been good ideas, including at COSATU Congress about voluntary RDP brigades to build infrastructure and implement RDP programmes, RDP councils in the communities, as well as RDP councils in the workplace. But a coherent programme is needed as a focus to activate and clynamise these structures.

Without mechanically transposing other experiences, we need to look at mass programmes which have been implemented in other revolutionary transitions, such as Nicaragua and Cuba. The fact that we have had a 'negotiated revolution' doesn't mean that we can't mobilise national campaigns around literacy, inoculation, land reform, and housing, which involve the masses of our people.

We need to mobilise all our sectors and local structures, just as we did in the UDF campaigns, and the campaign of rolling mass action, in a national campaign which everyone contributes to according to their local conditions. To be successful a Front for Reconstruction and Development has to have as its basic unit the locality, the village, the workplace, etc. Failure to develop this approach will begin to see the emergence of contradictions and divisions within the people, as they fight for scarce resources. This is already being seen in some areas, including the attacks on 'foreigners' in Alexandra.

The Alliance also needs to devise means of assisting SANCO. We are all aware, that our civic movement was conceived during years of illegality and may not necessarily be equipped to deal with issues related to the present time.


While these are thoughts seen from a COSATU perspective, they no doubt resemble the same issues that the entire democratic movement is facing. We need to find a way in which to integrate the resolutions from the COSATU and ANC Congress, as well as those which are likely to emerge from the Party Congress. There should be a meeting of minds between the leadership of the Alliance.

We have the ability to rise to the occasion. The country is looking to us for direction, we dare not fail them. Let's make 1995 the year in which we deliver on RDP implementation.

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.