Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe delved into South Africa’s growing poverty and inequality on Friday, calling for a unified vision going forward, but he did not offer solutions.
“Now is the time to begin laying the basis for a social contract for our labour relations and our labour market that will contribute to achieving a more equitable and inclusive form of economic growth,” he said.
As has been the norm in the aftermath of Marikana, Motlanthe inferred that the tragedy could have been avoided with closer dialogue between labour, business and the government.
Addressing the annual summit of Nedlac, the negotiating chamber for the government, labour and business, he said the judicial commission of inquiry into last month’s massacre at Lonmin’s Marikana mine would help the government to deliberate fully on the events and decide on an appropriate course of action.
Motlanthe said the tragedy of Marikana should make fellow South Africans reflect on how to confront poverty and inequality through our institutions and organisations and challenge us to recommit ourselves to more effective social dialogue.
He said one of the key challenges was the representation of the poor and the marginalised, the unemployed, the urban and rural poor and those working in the informal sector.
“These constituencies are not easy to organise or to represent in any formal sense. We must therefore ask ourselves what we can genuinely do to ensure that Nedlac’s ‘community constituency’ is fully represented, their voices are heard and that their interests are adequately addressed,” Motlanthe said.
The constituencies represented at Nedlac are the government, organised business, organised labour and civil society.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said unemployment, poverty and inequality remained the big triple challenge to all of Nedlac’s constituencies. Labour had repeatedly warned that South Africa was sitting on a ticking bomb. The Marikana massacre was an exploding bomb, sending an alarm to all.
He said: “We shall be discussing the lessons to be learnt from the tragedy over the coming weeks, but one which is undeniable is that it is completely unsustainable to maintain the levels of inequity in our society, which have made us the most unequal country in the whole world. It is creating a vast cauldron of poor people who feel marginalised, ignored and angry.”
Vavi said the state should be biased in favour of workers and the poor, and must shift the economy from one that was too dependent on raw materials to one firmly based on manufacturing.
Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who has been brokering a peace accord between the unions and Marikana management, said if the workforce returned to work today, negotiations would start tomorrow.
Lonmin management, the National Union of Mineworkers, Solidarity and Uasa signed a peace accord on Thursday but the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union refused to sign, saying it had not been part of the process leading to it.
Meanwhile, the Black Business Council and Business Unity SA signed a memorandum of understanding binding them to a single business caucus at Nedlac.