OPINION: Our democracy was won through mass mobilisation, armed struggle

The ANC-led government has over the years addressed the rights of workers, writes Zingiswa Losi is President of Cosatu. Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers

The ANC-led government has over the years addressed the rights of workers, writes Zingiswa Losi is President of Cosatu. Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 28, 2024


Zingiswa Losi

We have much to celebrate and much to strive for as we celebrate 30 years of democracy. It’s natural to take for granted what we have achieved and forget the sacrifices. South Africa’s democratic breakthrough in 1994 was born through the struggles of thousands who went through prison, detention, torture, execution and exile.

Our democracy was won through mass uprisings, strikes, military resistance and international solidarity campaigns led by the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and other democratic formations.

Some ask what have we achieved? We have won historic victories, we have stumbled, and we have much to do.

We are proud of the strides we have made under the leadership of the ANC.

On May 29 we will hold our 7th democratic elections. Today no sane person questions the capacity of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to deliver free and fair elections. We are governed by one of the world’s most progressive Constitutions that compels government to address the legacies of the past and the inequalities of today.

Whilst some who fall foul of the law cry about judicial encroachment, we celebrate a judiciary not afraid to hold the most powerful accountable.

Workers have travelled far from the dark days of apartheid when the likes of Oscar Mpetha were imprisoned for standing up for workers’ rights. We are humbled by the faith so many have shown in the pioneers of the trade union movement, including elevating two renowned former General Secretaries of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Kgalema Motlanthe and Cyril Ramaphosa to the highest office in the land.

We have travelled far from the days when workers were treated little better than slaves and put in place progressive labour laws that guarantee workers the right to unionise, collective bargaining and when aggrieved, to strike.

Today workers have the right to equal pay for equal work, a national minimum wage that has raised the wages of 6 million workers, to work in a safe environment, to paid time off and leave, to maternity and parental leave, to unemployment and workplace injuries insurance.

We underestimated the scars of our colonial and apartheid legacies, many of which remain and will take much more to overcome. We applaud the journey we have travelled from when the state spent a fraction of what it spent on whites with what it spent on African, Coloured and Indian citizens.

Today 60% of the budget is invested in uplifting working-class communities. Free schooling with meals is provided to over 12 million learners, millions have access to tertiary education, pregnant mothers and infants have free health care and Parliament recently passed the National Health Insurance Bill laying the foundation for universal health care.

Whilst much more needs to be done to reduce our painful levels of unemployment, the state provides social grants to 27 million of our poorest citizens, the first step towards comprehensive social security.

Government has provided housing, water, sanitation and electricity to millions. A test of leadership and progress is how we perform under crisis. South Africa and President Ramaphosa faced many challenges that others made of less stern material would not have passed.

We endured a decade of state capture and corruption. Today the leaders of this shameful chapter of treason have been purged into political obscurity. The South African Revenue Service (Sars), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Lottery Commission and many other institutions are being rebuilt and showing flames to those who steal from the public.

Sars is exceeding tax revenue collections which will enable the state to fund the public services society and the economy need to thrive. It is no small feat that a former President can be convicted for contempt of court, or a Speaker of the National Assembly resigns when charged. This is accountability.

The world was confronted with Covid-19, and none had a blueprint on how to manage it. Ramaphosa rallied the nation around a common plan and millions of lives and livelihoods were saved.

We rolled out one of the most successful health, safety and vaccination campaigns and dispensed R65 billion to help 5.7 million workers and the SRD Grant helping 11 million unemployed.

From September 1 the Two Pot Pension Reforms driven by Cosatu will be implemented providing relief to millions of indebted workers. Whilst we celebrate our many achievements, much remains to be done. We dare not be complacent with 41% unemployed. We dare not normalise shameful levels of crime and gender-based violence. We must not tolerate those steal from the state or workers.

Our challenges require the collective effort of government, business, labour and communities. When we work together, we emerge victorious.

Do we have much to celebrate 30 years into democracy? Yes, we do. It is these hard-won victories and our difficult challenges that give Cosatu and millions of workers confidence and inspiration to endorse a second term for Ramaphosa and the ANC on May 29.

Zingiswa Losi is President of Cosatu

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL