Late Cosatu president John Gomomo, late South African Communist Party general secretary Chris Hani, Cosatu’s founding general secretary Jay Naidoo, and then secretary-general of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa in a 1992 protest march.
Late Cosatu president John Gomomo, late South African Communist Party general secretary Chris Hani, Cosatu’s founding general secretary Jay Naidoo, and then secretary-general of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa in a 1992 protest march.

ANC started betraying workers in ’96, says Jay Naidoo

By Sihle Mavuso Time of article published May 2, 2021

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With some workers almost every week questioning whether the ANC should be still called a pro-working class and pro-poor political party and whether it should be supported at the polls or not, the founding general secretary of Cosatu, Jay Naidoo argues that the decision whether the labour federation should quit the alliance or not lies with the membership and their leaders.

In an interview with Independent Media, Naidoo who was the founding general secretary (1985 to 1993) of the labour federation in 1985 when workers agreed to set aside their differences and unite, said the ruling party showed signs of dumping workers in 1996.

That’s when it dumped the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) policy which favoured the working class and the poor two years after taking power and adopting the much-despised GEAR policy ( Growth, Employment, and Redistribution) which favoured relaxing of exchange controls and massive privatisation of state assets.

Naidoo first served as minister without portfolio from 1994 to 1996 and was then moved to the Telecommunications Ministry from 1996 to 1999 amid reports that then deputy president Thabo Mbeki never liked him and frustrated the work of the RDP office.

Almost 25 years after the RDP Office in the presidency of late former president Nelson Mandela was shut down, Naidoo spoke about why the 1976 student uprising saw students failing to overcome the apartheid government.

He said the students, who he was part of, left behind most members of the society when confronting the apartheid regime. He said after the setback they went to the drawing board and came up with a plan to mobilise everyone, from workers to the poor. He said that plan gave birth to the formation of Cosatu in 1985.

But he had some unkind words regarding the tripartite alliance.

“Any support for a political party should favour the workers. For me, when the RDP (a policy meant to address the immense socio-economic problems brought about by apartheid) collapsed in 1996, the reason for the alliance disappeared.

“The labour movement should not be a conveyor belt for political parties. The RDP office was closed down and replaced with GEAR. However, it is up to today’s leaders of Cosatu to decide whether to support the ANC or not,” he said when asked the labour federation should stay in the alliance and try to influence the ANC government to implement pro-worker policies.

Still, on workers issues, the outspoken Naidoo said it was unfair for the ANC government to impose a freeze on civil servants salaries even at the bottom as some employees are paid peanuts. He said salary cuts should be effected at the top and that should apply even in the private sector where executives score huge bonuses, thus widening the income and inequality gap.

“Salary freezes should not only be in government, we need it across the board, both in government and in the private sector. At the end of the day, the belt-tightening process should only be at the top, not at the bottom. This should happen now.

“The inequality in South Africa is abnormal, therefore, I suppose the notion of a salary freeze at the top should be considered … in a country rich like South Africa, no one should go hungry ... Stop the payment of huge bonuses to people for a job that they are well paid to do. We need a salary freeze at the top both in the public and private sector,” he said.

Despite the harsh assessment of Cosatu and their decision, he said the federation achieved several important goals in its early days and in the first years of democracy. Among the achievements was uniting workers and making them a formidable political force.

“Dignity, that’s the first one. We restored the dignity of workers. Remember that we went from workers who could be dismissed arbitrarily to restoring their dignity. We brought back the dignity of workers, more especially mine workers and migrant workers.

“Number two, we were able to organise workers and win bargaining rights. At some point, black workers were not allowed to mobilise. The third achievement was that we were able to organise two million workers and created political power for them. The power of Cosatu at the political level was enormous.”

He also admitted that the workplace has changed in the past decades, and as such, mobilising and collective bargaining is not easy and unions would struggle to attract new members.

Naidoo was also forthright on the current state of affairs in the ANC.

He said some of the corrupt elements infiltrating the ANC started shortly after 1994.

“The question should be what have we done with our political power when one-third of our people are living in power. So where did we go wrong? When we took power we wanted to create a state that will do everything for the people but only to disempower them.

“We came up with great policies like RDP but they fell away. However, along the way, some created strategies where the politically connected would get rich. Then later there were people who joined politics to enrich themselves, unlike the likes of Mandela who were there to serve the people.”

He stressed that the current efforts by the ruling party to force members who have been criminally charged to step aside until they have been cleared were a first step towards cleansing the ruling party.

“The ANC was founded on the ideals of the Freedom Charter, so if there are leaders implicated in corruption, they should be summarily dismissed. Also, factionalism should not be allowed to continue. At the end of the day, political parties must serve the people, not themselves and I think stepping aside is the first step towards the process of cleaning the ANC as leaders must account for their actions and that is their responsibility.”

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* Sihle Mavuso is senior political correspondent for Independent Media.

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