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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

07 Oct 1993: Shilowa, Sam

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POM     It is possible that an ANC dominant government is inevitable.  In terms of the agendas, the economic agendas, with the ANC putting such increasing emphasis on its commitment to a free market economy, for example, where nationalisation has all but disappeared from their whole vocabulary and you look at COSATU's programme for reconstruction and development, examples of which are worker's rights, and is far more socialist oriented, how do you respond to that?

SS     Firstly, I think that the assumption that a showdown is inevitable is not entirely accurate because I think our approach has been to say that firstly we have our own long term vision, and our long term vision is that we need to move towards a socialist oriented future.  But we have also said that in the same way that when Pinochet fell his economy remained intact.  We are going to inherit the present economy.  Now our approach therefore, seeing that we have to take it, is how do we move and utilise the present economy, firstly to the best advantage of those who in the past have been denied access to the means and control of the ownership of production and beyond?  I think in terms of the ANC, our understanding is that the ANC is not adopting a free market economy in the true sense of the word, that they are actually adopting what I would call a welfare type of approach. While it would be correct to say that the word 'nationalisation' has disappeared from their vocabulary, they still put strong emphasis on the need for social infrastructure, housing and so forth.  And, incidentally, the programme for reconstruction and development that was being discussed at the congress and which was adopted with a slight amendment, is not a COSATU one, it is the alliance of the members of the club.  So we will be able to reconcile the two depending on how we shape our problems based on short, medium to long term objectives.  Our belief is that in the short to medium term our needs coincide with those of the ANC.  It may be in the long term that we may differ.

POM     I am fascinated by the fact that you are not only the Secretary General of COSATU but also a member of the Communist Party executive and one of the Trade Centre negotiators. COSATU has a number of its very prominent and elected leaders in parliament, whereas the SACP is trying to almost move in the opposite direction so that one of their elected officers would be available to enter parliament.  Why the two different approaches?  Which way did you go on each occasion?

SS     I think my approach firstly is that I agree with the COSATU process which was to say that it was important for COSATU to release key leaders, key leaders in COSATU, not because we believe they will be there to protect a working class agenda only, but because we believe it is going to be one moment of rapture in our history in terms of our old struggle and that when that moment arrives, those of our people who are skilled in terms of either negotiations or a whole range of other things, must actually be there to strengthen what we believe is going to be an ANC government.  The same thing applies to the SA Communist Party.  I think the SACP have not said all leading members of the SACP will not go into parliament.  I think what they are saying is that obviously the debate needs to be taken into account.  If we allow the Secretary General of the SACP to go into parliament under an ANC banner, what does that mean for the organisation?  And if he remains outside, what does it mean for the organisation?  And since you are asking which way did I, or will I, vote in all cases, my approach is, in the case of the SACP, I am not going to start from do we allow leading members to go in or not?  I start from the premise that says what is it that we expect in the next election, the first election, that the government, parliament, Constituent Assembly should be doing and how does it fit into the SACP's agenda and how best can it advance our agenda, and who are the people that can advance that agenda?

     So rather start from the end, I would start from looking into what are barriers, one wonders, who else?  Because you may find at the end of the day that the Secretary General is the most likely person to be able to further the agenda of the party, or you may find that no, he is not the likely person, he is more suited to lead extra- parliamentary struggles in that sense.

POM     How do you differentiate between the two organisations in terms of the long term edu-logical orientation?

SS     You mean between COSATU and the SACP?

POM     Yes.

SS     Between COSATU and the SACP? I think they have got a similar long term objective.  I think the only difference is that firstly in terms of the SACP, it is a political party with a political agenda. Right? Whereas we are a trade union movement whose primary aim first and foremost is to deal with bread and butter issues of our own members but based on our long term basis of moving to a socialist aspect.  Now the debate that has been taking place is to what extent can the alliance begin to forge a unified approach, how can that best be served in a combined worker's party?  Can it be served by the SACP/COSATU alliance being on the one side and so forth, or what is the role that the alliance, so to speak, plays at the present conjuncture?  And my approach has always been that if we are all convinced that the ANC is going to be the next government, that therefore it is in the interest of the alliance in general to actually ensure that its agenda is as well accommodated within the broad framework of the ANC because the ANC, as the national liberation movement, is actually supposed to be taking into account the views of the broad spectrum of our own people.  And lastly, if you take the history of the ANC, our own understanding of the history of the ANC is that its primary aim has been to liberate Africans in particular, I mean blacks in general, and that it has in the past years been calling on workers. I think in numerous speeches by the late O R Tambo, who was then president, he has called on workers to actually lead the struggle for national liberation.

POM     There was the suggestion that COSATU should break off its connection to the ANC, or to the alliance, after an ANC government is in place and some suggestions are that a workers party should be set up and be the primary proponent of that. What are your thoughts regarding, again, the role of the labour movement once the government of choice is in place? Would it remain an integral part of that government or does it stand back and resume its more traditional role as being the caretaker of workers?

SS     In the document which was delivered by the secretariat at the special congress, it had the current political situation and the role of the trade union movement now and in the future.  We are arguing as the secretariat, myself, Jay and together with the other national office bearers, that firstly we need an alliance with the ANC; that the present alliance is based on the need to eradicate apartheid and to move to a new dispensation; that a future alliance should be based on the programme for reconstruction. In other words, our commitment to reconstruct, to rebuild state organs, state institutions, social infrastructure and so forth, should be the thing that then unifies us into the future, which is not to say that COSATU cannot and should not further its own agenda. For instance, if an ANC government has a 55% majority in parliament, it means that it has a 55% representation in the cabinet of national unity.  Now it may be that it is committed to implementing a programme for reconstruction but because it does not have a sizeable majority to move that programme, it is therefore blocked by the other 45%.  COSATU, together with other civil society including an ANC outside of parliament, as an organisation should be there to take up struggles against those who are opposing the implementation of the reconstruction in backing the ANC.  But likewise if the ANC have a sizeable majority, say more than 66% in parliament, then it can if it so wishes implement a programme for reconstruction.  But if we find that because of lack of political will it is not being implemented, COSATU, together with civil society should be there to actually stand up and say to the ANC government, "We want you to implement", and therefore take struggles against them. So that is how I see us playing.  Our rules should not be to say we want independence from the ANC as if the ANC is a colonial power.  But we should say we remain independent to push programmes of our own members and that where they coincide with those of the ANC we will drive them together, but where they differ and our members say we need them implemented, our independence must allow us to able to go ahead and implement them.

POM     Would you see a kind of mass demonstration, agitation and boycotts, the tools that are still at your disposal and that could perhaps be called upon to use against an ANC government?

SS     All of that. Yes, I think we have said so in the past that we don't go on strike action, political strike action, for the sake of going on political strike action.  It is based on the political decision of that particular government.  Obviously, we don't intend COSATU to become a counter-revolutionary movement.  We intend it to become a movement in defence of the revolution, in defence of democracy.  Now to the extent that the ANC is furthering the revolution, their aims and objectives, it is furthering the need for democracy, then there will be no need for us to use those tools.  But these tools remain at our disposal from boycotts, stayaways, general strikes and so forth so each one would be used based on the magnitude of the problem at hand.

POM     Mr Mandela, Mr de Klerk, Mr Keys, Trevor Manuel, have all gone on this trip to Washington where they were asking for the lifting of sanctions and trying to forge a common  economic front.  If a group of foreign investors walked in here this morning, and said to you, "Mr Shilowa make us a case for investing in South Africa", what would you tell them?

SS     I would say to them that, firstly, I believe that it is important for investment at any given time, particularly at the present conjuncture, to come in whether it's foreign or whether it's domestic but that firstly certain investment must be coming in not only based on the need to actually make profit.  It must be based on the need to actually ensure that democracy prevails, that those who in the past have been denied access to loans in terms of banks because of the colour of their skin, those who have not been able to enter into partnership with either internal or external local business, should be allowed to do so.  They should actually invest in a whole range of areas, they should not all go for one commodity. We need to kick-start the economy.  But it is also important to say we want to boost the manufacturing industry but also that there has to be one way or the other of them contributing towards a social infrastructure.  And I would say to them in the same way that business went into Germany after it had been devastated by the Second World War, that it wasn't an economic miracle, it was based on a commitment by business people both from Germany and outside to say 'we want to rebuild this economy'.  They must come here on the same conditions.

     I would add that we would not allow any investment, whether coming from outside or domestic, to be used to undermine labour standards and trade union rights.  We would expect trade union rights and labour standards to be actually enhanced beyond where they are presently.  We would expect the question of centralised bargaining to be one of the key issues that is actually being promoted, because it is only through a strong national centre, be it as a federation, be it as a union, that employers can be able to enter into lasting agreements.  It is very difficult to enter into agreements with individuals because it is difficult for them to sustain them but where you enter into an agreement with an organisation, it is able to actually say, right, these are the rules of the game, and each one of us plays by the rules of the game and we all know what happens if any of the two chooses to act outside of those rules of the game.

POM     Of course, I would say if I were one of those potential foreign investors, I would say, "Mr Shilowa, you have given me a lot of reasons why I shouldn't invest here: first of all I can invest in other places and get a good return on my money; and two, not only are you telling me the standards of criteria I would have to meet if I do invest; three, the country is rocked by violence; four, as a trade union movement you are still committed in the future to stayaways, boycotts, whatever. The fact is that I will take my money and go to Zaire or go to Scotland or I'll go to Chile or I'll go any place where mobile capital is needed, there is so much competition for industrial funds.

SS     You see, to be honest with you, I would say that then he is welcome to do so because, you see, I don't believe that South Africa is a begging bowl, we are not going out asking for handouts.  We do have our own mineral resources, we do have a strong social infrastructure, we do have a strong economy.  The problem is with the structure of the present economy, there are enough internal resources. The problem is that the investors in shares in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are invested in property in terms of buildings, they're invested in financial institutions, and they are not being used for investment.  So I would say to such an investor that if his primary motive is just to come in for profit, that is the primary motive, you may as well go to Zaire, and if he is coming from America or he is coming from Japan or he is coming from any of the western world, I would say to them that surely even in your own countries, you take Germany, you take France, there are strikes there, there are boycotts actually not only by workers. You take France, the farmers, who are actually employers,  blockaded highways in France in support of their own demands.  Therefore, there is nothing new around it.

     Regarding violence, I would say to them that we are committed to the eradication of violence, that one way of actually ending violence is not to say that we are not going to invest in South Africa, it is to say we need to invest particularly in labour intensive problems so that we are able to create more jobs, take on more people so that at the end of the day we have less people in the streets, because once we have a breakdown in the social infrastructure of course it does lead to violence.  Even if we can deal with political violence, crime countrywide, whether it is in Los Angeles, whether it is in Miami, is not based on political aspects, it is also based on the social conditions of people there.  I would then say that we are not just setting pre-conditions, it is in the interest of that business.

     You see you can go and invest in Zaire, exploit their workers, but at the end of the day they are not committed to that aspect and actually there is a lot of wastage that would take place because the Zairian workers would see it as them and us.  And I would argue to that investor, that in our country, what we want to bring out is a situation where members would be able to stand up one day and say this our own economy.  We want to increase production.  We want to actually ensure that we are more skilled. And I would argue with them that actually they should invest here because we do have experienced people.  They may not have skills in the form of certification but we have got a lot of workers who have actually been working for 15 or 20 years in the mines who know what is taking place there.  We have got a lot of people who have been working as artisans even though they are not classified as artisans. And that, therefore, to go into Zaire, fine, you will be able to exploit, but you will not be able to get the type of skilled workers that we have here, that will allow them to be able to go places.

POM     So you would suggest, if I am clear on what you are saying, that if investments were to be made here you would attach conditions to it in terms of workers' rights, that it would have to be accepted by the trade union movement?

SS     It would not be a condition imposed on foreign investors only, only domestic.  What we are saying is that we will not reach a situation in our country where employers and workers are going to kiss and hug one another, but both of us meet in the same environment.  Can we stand up and say this is our country, we want to build one economy, one nation, one identity and this is what we are going to do, and that investors coming in from outside are coming in because they believe that it is important that as South Africa returns to international recognition that it does not degenerate into another banana republic, it is in their interest?  But you see, when I speak about the domestic market, I am not looking into South Africa, I am looking into Southern Africa, and it is in the interest of the west to invest here because you see that 80% of the Lesotho GDP comes from here and that, therefore, them investing here is actually assisting not only South Africa, it is assisting Southern Africa.  We have an agreement on a hydro-electric project with Lesotho, in terms of the Lesotho Highlands water project, we have the Cahora Bassa project with Mozambique, and that  should be seen as part of actually rebuilding the economy in southern Africa.  If the pronouncement by UNITA of the acceptance of the results hold, if the peace settlement is achieved in our country, if in Mozambique you have a peace settlement, you now actually can have South Africa as a gateway to Africa and to the entire world, also either on a south to south basis but also in terms of intercontinental aspects.

POM     It is estimated that if the level of income per head were to stay as stable as it has been over the last number of years, if business were to stay stable over the next ten years, that South Africa would have an estimated growth of 5.5%, something that you haven't achieved since the sixties and that would require an investment of approximately 100 million dollars over a period of ten years.  What measures do you think must be taken to bring about that level of growth?

SS     There are a number of things that need to be done.  Firstly, you need workplace re-organisation, that is the one thing that needs to be done.  When I speak about workplace re-organisation I am saying that presently there is a lot of hierarchy, you have got between 14 and 16 grades in the workplace which means that you have a manager, supervisor, somebody, managing director and so forth, you have to break that down and bring it to about three or four grades in a company so that you eliminate wastage in terms of just creating posts for the sake of doing that.  Secondly, you would need to restructure industry, you restructure industry in such a manner that it allows the workers to get involved in the determination of the production aspects at the factory.  Thirdly, what you also need to do apart from restructuring the industry, is you need to look into what the internal needs of our people are.

     Let me give you an example, South Africa does not manufacture bicycles, but the majority of the people in the rural areas have got no means of transport and if we were to manufacture bicycles only as one example, what it is going to do is to actually provide one you are creating more jobs for people, but you are also creating a market because there are people out there who are looking for those things.  So that is one of the things you would have to do.

     You would also have to begin to actually say to workers jointly with management, "Let us work out production targets", but employers would have to agree that when we deal with the question of productivity it will not lead to lay-offs.  You see the only reason why unions do not want to get involved with these discussions is that in the past the introduction of technology into our country has been linked to lay-offs and so forth.  So lastly, what one would want to see happening is that in terms of the state itself it must also begin to ensure that it does not invest only in non-productive aspects.

     So there are many ways of raising productivity, I am not saying that we would not be able to reach the 5.5% growth in one year, but I believe that coupled with international competition, and when I say international competition I am actually saying that we need to ensure that South African companies are capable of competing internationally, that they are able to export some of their articles and I am saying that if we build all of that together I am convinced that you can actually begin to move the country in a particular direction.  If you provide electricity, for instance, to the majority of Africans, presently only about 20% of blacks possess electricity, therefore it means those who are producing stoves, irons and so forth they have a small market but if you provide electricity you are actually creating a much bigger market.  So a whole range of things would need to be done to kick start the economy and to try and sustain it.  We believe it can be done, it has been done elsewhere, why not here?

POM     But this brings me to the point, a strong centralised government would have a better chance of kick-starting the economy, a federal system won't.  We got from the ANC that at university a year ago they were studying the new deal and how to get things going and they found out that in 1932  to get things going they had these programmes before the war but the emphasis was on a strong central government that had the capacity to take these steps but if you have a strong federal system it tends to slow down the process.  In your particular situation where you are trying to negotiate what Mr Mandela calls 'a strong central government, strong regional government, a strong local government', how does this debate change the subject particularly in the light of the fact that such a strong central structure be established before the Constituent Assembly?

SS     You see we support the ANC's position that says that you do need a strong central government.  I think that there has been a misunderstanding when Mr Mandela says that we also need a strong regional government.  If we take it to mean that what he says is that power must be devolved away from the centre to the regions, this is what he is saying and I know this because I have been part of the key negotiators both in bilateral negotiations and in the national negotiations council presently.  What we mean is that we want regions to be given certain powers which cannot be taken away at the whim of the centre, but the centre must be able to have overriding powers around a number of issues. For instance, insofar as we need to set up a national economy it is important for us to be able to move in that direction and be able to carry everybody.

     So yes, you are right to say that to implement the type of things that I am talking about you would need a strong, rather what you would call a 'commander' type of central government, but I am convinced that the type of settlement that we are going to reach, it is a settlement whereby on the one hand you are going to have a government elected by the popular will of the people nationally, which government should be given powers; in other words we should be given powers not only to govern the country around issues of national interest only, but that it must be able, even in terms of the need to grow, to assist various regions to actually come together.  Now we believe that we can actually defeat Buthelezi's agenda on the table; we believe we can do that because, firstly, he has decided that he can negotiate outside of the council. Now he may be able to win one or two principles here and there but, you see, he is losing out in terms of the input that he should be making to ensure that we have the same understanding and meaning.  Secondly, even in Natal we don't believe that Buthelezi is going to win the majority in that area and therefore even you have strong regions, between me and you, the CA is going to come up based on elections which will also be counted in terms of the regional vote so the extent to which the ANC is strong at the centre is also going to mirror the strength of the ANC in various regions.  We can't have a 70% representation in the centre only; if you have 70% representation in the centre the ANC would also have 70% representation in terms of the regions countrywide so whether they are strong or not strong they will be forging and moving in one direction based on one particular organisation but really in terms of the first five years.

POM     Do you think that Buthelezi can play the role of spoiler or that at a certain point you must just draw the line and say, "You know, we have got the public behind what Mandela says so far and we can go no further with regard to regionalism just to accommodate Buthelezi"?

SS     I think he will continue to be a spoiler. The time definitely has to arrive where we say this far and no more, but I think we need to differentiate between saying thus far and no more and from saying we are not prepared to talk to him.  We need to continue dialogue with Buthelezi to try to convince him, one, to come back to the negotiating table, but also to see reason in the need for us to move the country forward and to say to him that actually the alliance that he has presently with the right wing is an alliance of convenience rather than an alliance of being on the same principles, but those with whom he is actually in bed, their approach is to maintain the status quo which, by the way, is what we believe ties them to Buthelezi.  I think he has seen all polls say that even in Natal he is going to lose and that is why he is raising this question of Zulu nationalism and so forth because he thinks, he knows rather than thinks, that an election is going to bring about the end of the KwaZulu Bantustan, not the Zulu nation but the KwaZulu Bantustan as it is presently constituted, so that he knows. So yes, the time has to come where we say so far and no more, where we say we have made enough concessions where he has not made a single concession and we need to engage them publicly and say to them they should tell us what concession they have made.  They haven't made one single concession since the negotiations started, not one.

POM     Do you think that here is a man who is really an egomaniac to put it gently, who constantly uses the word "I, I, I," and constantly refers being insulted by this person or that person or the other person?  The biggest insult of all would be to take part in an election and find out that nobody voted for you, to have nothing and therefore you would want to shun elections and maybe negotiate with you after elections have taken place?

SS     I don't think so.  You see he is sending confused signals, I think it is based on the conflict within his own executive.  There are those who agree with most of the positions that we are putting forward at the World Trade Centre, those who actually agree that we have made enough concessions to be able to accommodate such people.  But also you have to take into account that yes, he is egoistic, I think he is looking to himself as coming first and everybody else coming second, but I believe if it comes to a push he will participate in the elections because, if you look, they are preparing themselves for an election despite the fact that they are saying that they are not going to take part in the elections.  All of his statements are made in such a way as to actually pushing and mobilising people around him rather than just saying we are not going to the elections.

POM     In the new government, which would consist of members of the SACP, the ANC and COSATU, who would have the first call on, say COSATU in terms of allegiance?

SS     Who would have the first?

POM     Would their allegiance be first to the ANC and then to COSATU or to COSATU and then to the ANC?

SS     The people that we are releasing? No. You see we are releasing 20 people on an ANC ticket, they know the COSATU mandate, it's going to be part of the ANC election platform but these people are going to be accountable to an ANC caucus in parliament, and, therefore, what we are hoping for is not that they will be there representing COSATU but they will be there representing the broad interests of the working class.  Let me put it this way: personally, you see, my approach is simply this that parliament will not be able to fight and wage struggles on behalf of civil society, but what parliament can do is to actually pass enabling legislation that allows us to do our own fight and that is the least that I expect from the ANC.  We hope, obviously, that SACP members, COSATU members and other people with a left orientation, and people coming from the disadvantaged groupings, will try to ensure that we push an agenda that allows for the social upliftment of our own people, but we are not only going to rely on that, we are going to rely on our own mass power to wage and strengthen our own struggles, not on parliament, not on the 20 people that we release.

POM     Do you see any contradiction between the labour movement on the one hand that seeks higher wages and benefits for its members and on the other hand tries to create employment opportunities?  I mean the general law is that once you increase the cost of labour the demand for labour goes down and unemployment takes its place.

SS     No, you see we don't see it as a contradiction.  I think we are saying that first and foremost it is important to create more jobs in our country so that more people can actually become wage earners, they must have an income.  Secondly, we are also saying that people can't be working and be paid starvation wages, that is what we are really saying and as far as we are concerned it is possible to engage in a labour intensive type of programme that absorbs a lot of people who are unemployed.  You take the question of housing, it is possible where if you have a proper housing policy that in areas where you are building houses you actually use the community in that particular area and thereby absorb the unemployed.  So, therefore, there is no contradiction. You see COSATU's history is one where we are the defenders of democracy not only of our own members. That is why I have always taken insult from those people who have said we represent an elite. I have said to them that we have members who earn between R30 and R50 per fortnight in areas such as KwaZulu and other rural areas and for them to say that we represent the elite is actually to say to these people who have between eight or ten mouths to feed, that R50 means that you have joined the ranks of the elite.

POM     The ANC have approached the IMF and the World Bank looking for financial help and the IMF have said that they would have to have a written statement of the fiscal constraints that the economy would need to put over in order to make sure that these programmes work and adjusted structures have to be made. As you know many countries in Africa proved to be a total failure where impoverished people did not improve their standard of living.  Has COSATU been consulted on that issue?

SS     Yes, we have been consulted, both by the ANC.  We are in discussions with the IMF themselves and we have said to them that the IMF and the World Bank will come into our country on our own terms.  We believe it is possible to negotiate ourselves out of structural adjustments because we don't believe that they will work.  You see South Africa is highly politicised, it has a high maintenance workforce and to try to impose structural adjustments that go against the grain will not be accepted.  Therefore, what we are actually saying is that it is possible that for a country like South Africa to take a deep deficit as long as it has a programme whereby it is able within a ten or fifteen year programme to come out of that.  It has been allowed in other countries, it can be allowed here even by the IMF and the World Bank.

POM     Do you reject categorically their emphasis on budget cutbacks in the public sector?

SS     What we reject is the situation where somebody decides unilaterally what fiscal policies are going to be, what macro-economies are going to be. What we are saying is that we should decide what fiscal policies we are going to use and what macro-economics balance is going to be in place to ensure that the country moves forward.

POM     What should the average resident in a township be able to expect from the new government after five years?

SS     I think what they should expect is that their conditions of living should have improved, either in terms of housing, in terms of education for their kids, in terms of peace and stability, in terms of job creation and in terms of skills training and empowerment, but lastly the whole question of building black economic empowerment distinct from building a 30% elite within the African and the rest of the 70% remaining in poverty. There would need to be a mixture of all of those aspects.

POM     Thank you very much, I will see you again next year in November.

SS     OK, thanks very much.

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