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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.


From its inception, the federation is based on the following core principles:

Non-racialism - COSATU rejects apartheid and racism in all its forms. We believe that all workers, regardless of race, should organise and unite. Now more than ever before we need to bury the apartheid legacy.

Worker control - COSATU believes that workers must control the structures and committees of the federation. This approach aims to keep the organisation vibrant and dynamic, and to maintain close links with the shop floor. We have programmes to develop worker leadership, especially women, within the trade unions and the country as a whole. Through training we have been able to build and empower ordinary workers. We try to develop the skills and abilities of those most disadvantaged by apartheid. We want workers to be equipped to determine their own future in the country and in the economy. In a country where women have been highly oppressed, we are determined to strive for gender equality and women leadership.

Paid-up membership - COSATU and its affiliated unions strive for self sufficiency. This means that while we receive money for specific projects from other trade unions, we remain able to take our decisions without interference from funders. While it has not been easy, we remain committed to its full realisation.

One industry, one union - one country, one federation - In order to unite workers across sectors, we have grouped our unions into industries. Our 6th National Congress resolved to merge unions into cartels or broad sectors such as public sector and manufacturing (see list of unions). We also remain committed to unity with all unions and federations that are committed to, among others, these principles. At the same time, for as long as there is no single federation, we have no choice but to recruit even those workers who belong to other unions and federations.

International worker solidarity - International solidarity is the lifeblood of trade unionism - particularly in the era of multinational companies. COSATU maintains links with a range of national and international centres. We are committed to building links with unions in the newly industrialised countries. New international conditions open possibilities for a unified union movement.

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.