About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Congress Of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

An umbrella trade union body formed in 1985, initially COSATU claimed to have just under half a million members. By 1994 it represented 1, 3 million black workers and its numbers have sky-rocketed since. Among its largest affiliates are the National Union of Mineworkers, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the Transport and General Workers' Union. COSATU is by far the largest trade union federation and through its alliance with the ANC* (see also Alliance, Triple Alliance*) and its wide support base, also holds considerable political power. In the 1980s, when a debate arose over the political role of trade unions, the populist faction within COSATU, that favoured a direct political role, won the day over the workerists, and COSATU thus aligned itself with the United Democratic Front* and then (after 1990, when it was unbanned), with the ANC. Two prominent COSATU leaders, Alec Irwin and Jay Naidoo, both held ministerial posts in the Government of National Unity that was set up in 1994. COSATU also played a major role in launching the post-election Reconstruction and Development Programme* for socio-economic upliftment. However, once the ANC moved into a position of full power, backed by strong support countrywide, it began to dominate over the SACP* and COSATU, its Triple Alliance partners.

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.