Address by President Nelson Mandela at 6th National Congress of Cosatu, Johannesburg

16 September 1997

Comrade Chairperson;
Comrade President,
John Gomomo;
Comrade Secretary-General,
Sam Shilowa;
Members of the Central Executive Committee;
Distinguished Delegates;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this, COSATU's Sixth National Congress. May I therefore start by thanking you most sincerely for inviting me to be a part of it.

It was my privilege also to take part in the Fifth National Congress, in September 1994.

Then, we were fresh from the election of a democratic government led by the ANC, a historic victory made possible by organised workers acting in unison with other democratic forces.

Then, we were witnessing the launch of elements of the government's programme of action, with the RDP's Presidential Lead Projects that shone like beacons in our nation's quest for a better life for all. These projects - for school feeding; free health care; access to clean water; land reform and urban renewal - were also markers of our determination to focus especially on improving the lives of the poor.

We can rejoice in the fact that, on average, every single day since the democratic movement took office, 1,000 people have gained access to clean water; that each week has on average brought another two clinics with access to health-care for some 20,000 people; that currently 1,000 electricity connections are being made each day and 1,000 houses are being brought into construction or completed under the government's capital subsidy programme every two-and-a-half days. It is puzzling therefore that a perception persists that government is not addressing basic needs. It is perhaps natural that those who were privileged under apartheid are less appreciative of the change. It is only to be expected that our opponents, especially those who have lost power and who have no alternative policies of their own, will pretend that our work lacks substance and, with scowls on their arrogant faces, scoff at us when we celebrate our achievements. In this situation it must surely be amongst the tasks of Alliance leaders to help communicate the reality that the cumulative impact of such programmes is changing millions of lives which were blighted by apartheid's inhuman policies. The foundation for a better life has been laid. Our task is to speed up implementation.

We could add much to the list of gains made between COSATU's last congress and this one, in particular for the workers of South Africa.

Our new constitution and other laws secure and entrench new rights of workers, most of them unheard of in the history of our country; many of them among the most advanced in the world. In NEDLAC we have an institution which formalises and promotes the participation of civil society in the determination of policy. We could point to the intense consultations between unions in particular sectors and corresponding government departments in the formulation of policy and legislation.

We cite such gains not because they are the sum of what has been achieved, nor because we can be satisfied with them. Rather they form the backdrop to an acknowledgement that we need still more effective liaison and consultation in the field of policy. They provide a context for broaching issues which remain unresolved or are being debated, not only between Government and organised labour, not only between the ANC and COSATU, but also within the ANC as much as within COSATU itself.

These matters are lightened by the successful recent Alliance Summit, and its agreements on processes for continuing discussion where differences remain.

It is common cause that restructuring of the public sector; macro-economic policy; the labour market and industrial development strategy are fundamental to the process of transformation. These are precisely the areas in which, as partners, we most need to focus on strengthening our consensus on the policies and measures that will promote our shared goals.

It is in the nature of an alliance that its partners will not agree on all matters that fall within the broad vision that binds them. What is important is the readiness to discuss disagreements when they do arise and the shared commitment to find solutions. It is therefore not in keeping with the character of our Alliance when COSATU declares that position it holds that differ from those of the ANC or government are non-negotiable. By the same token it is wrong for the ANC to present its own positions as non-negotiable, even while exercising its broader responsibilities in government.

Our starting point must be the need to ensure that we produce the resources to achieve the goals of reconstruction and development; to use them to the greatest effect to improve the lives of our people, especially the poor; and to adopt the policies which promote the achievement of those goals.

As we agreed at the recent Summit, macro-economic strategy must be measured against the objective needs of transformation and the real constraints the country faces.

Like any policy, it is not cast in stone. Its usefulness must be measured against its goals. Its appropriateness must be judged in the light of prevailing conditions. For the same reason, any proposed elaboration or modification must find justification in changes in objective conditions and not merely in a desire for agreement, or in a sectoral drive to satisfy narrow self-interest.

And while our measuring-rod must always be improvement in the lives of the poor, democracy dictates that any such decisions must be with the involvement of all major sectors of our society, including labour and business.

What we do know is that we cannot continue to give up one-fifth of our national budget to servicing debt; that jobs performing no useful function in government should not consume resources that could be used to provide services and productive investment; that it defeats our purpose to produce goods that our own people cannot afford and others will not buy; and that we should restructure and streamline public corporations in line with the challenges of transformation.

There are also dilemmas that arise from the competing nature of some of our goals, from the multiplicity of interests not only among the former victims of apartheid in general, but also within the ranks of the poor, including the organised and the unorganised; the employed and the unemployed; as well as rural and urban communities.

For example, allocating fishing quotas away from big corporations to allow a share of this sector to poor fishermen excluded by apartheid, is seen by the workers in the big corporations as a threat to their own employment.

And though they differ in scale, such dilemmas and hard choices are, in the end, of a kind with those which have delayed the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill. The problems that have attended this Bill not only testify to the importance of the issues involved. They also bring out in bolder relief the debate about our reading of the current situation and the route we should adopt towards the common objectives of a democratic, caring and prosperous society.

I am confident that, as we have done before, we will find a solution in the form of a compromise acceptable to all sectors. More important still, when we do this, we will be opening the way for a major improvement in the working conditions of the overwhelming majority of South Africa's workers. That the Bill is a strategic advance, there is no question. But the issue is how we resolve outstanding matters in a manner that is consistent with our broader objectives of reconstruction and development.

Such an achievement will stand us all in good stead as we face still greater challenges, not least that of job-creation. There are important questions about the precise nature and scale of unemployment in our country. But there can be no doubt that the level is unacceptable. There can be no doubt that we have been more successful in turning the economy around and generating growth than we have been in creating jobs.

We have all accepted the proposal of the Labour Market Commission to convene a national jobs summit, so that all social sectors can join together in taking responsibility for the development of programmes for employment-creation. Certainly, this matter will create challenges and dilemmas for all of us - government, employers and employed workers - as acute as any that we have faced.

We are confident about our economic future, because the fundamentals are in order. The long-term trends include growing strength in manufacturing; improving export performance; and falling inflation. Major investment in mega-projects and Spatial Development Initiatives are helping fuel what is akin to an industrial revolution. As was agreed at the Summit, we need together to elaborate our industrial strategy to take us into the new millennium on a high road of sustainable growth. We need to work together to mobilise the investment to achieve this, public and private, local and international.


I have dwelt on the challenges that face us as allies, because we bear so large a responsibility for dealing with them.

But we should also remind ourselves of the broader Alliance vision from which these issues derive their meaning; the deepening of democracy; the entrenchment of human rights; freedom of speech and other rights that we gained in struggle - all of them underpinned by the Reconstruction and Development Programme. It is our joint responsibility to defend and advance these gains and guard them like the apple of our eye.

Nor should we forget that the Alliance has a mission to lead not only its own constituencies but the whole of society in the building of a new nation founded on a partnership of all social sectors. Reconstruction and development depend on, and in turn promote, reconciliation and nation-building, and these too form part of our mission.

Such are the reasons that make this Congress, and the forthcoming conferences of the ANC and the Communist Party, to have such critical importance.

That is why the structures of the Alliance must not fail us. The processes set in motion at the recent Alliance Summit should ensure that all of us make a decisive contribution in charting the way forward into the twenty-first century.

In the three years since we achieved democracy, we have laid the foundation for a better life.

Today the call is to build on those foundations.

Forward ever!

Njalo Nje!

Source: South African Government Information Website