Source: Congress of South African Trade Unions
Title: Cosatu: Vavi: Address by the general secretary, at the reburial of Leslie Massina, Johannesburg
President of the ANC and the Republic, Comrade Jacob Zuma
Members of the ANC National Executive Committee
Crosby Moni, and all members of the SACP Central Committee
Members of the COSATU Central Executive Committee
Family of comrade Leslie Massina
Comrades and Friends
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me begin my address by quoting the South African Congress of Trade Unions founding congress declaration. As you know this is the congress that elected Leslie Massina as the General Secretary in March 1955. The declaration said:
"History has shown that unorganised workers cannot improve their wages and conditions of employment on a lasting basis. Only when workers have organised in effective trade unions have they been able to improve their lot - raise their standards of living and generally protect themselves and their families against life's insecurities and exploitation by employers."
The experience of the trade union movement the world over has established that the movement can only progress on the basis of unity and the spirit of brotherhood and the solidarity of all workers. Trade unions must unreservedly reject any attempts to sow disunity among workers on the basis of colour, nationality or any other basis.
Just as an individual worker, or group of workers, cannot improve their lot without organising into trade unions, so is the individual trade union powerless unless there is a coordinating body of trade unions, which unites the efforts of all workers. For such a trade union federation to be successful, it must be able to speak on behalf of all workers irrespective of race or colour, nationality or sex.
The future of the people of South Africa is in the hands of its workers. Only the working class, in alliance with other progressive minded sections of the community, can build a happy life for all South Africans, a life free from unemployment, insecurity and poverty, free from racial hatred and oppression, a life of vast opportunities for all people
But the working class can only succeed in this great and noble endeavour if it itself is united and strong, if it is conscious of its inspiring responsibility. The workers of South Africa need a united trade union movement in which all sections of working class can play their part unhindered by prejudice or racial discrimination.
Only such a truly united movement can effectively serve the interests of the workers, both the immediate interests of higher wages and better conditions of life and work, and the ultimate objective of complete emancipation for which our forefathers fought.
"We firmly declare that the interests of all workers are alike, whether they be European or non-European, African, Coloured, Indian, English, Afrikaans or Jew. We resolve that this co-ordinating body of trade unions shall strive to unite all workers in its ranks, without discriminating, and without prejudice. We resolve that the body shall determinedly seek to further and protect the interests of all workers, and that its guiding motto shall be the universal slogan of the working class solidarity: ‘An injury to one is an injury to all'."
This was yet another attempt at creating a non-racial trade union federation in our country. Before this a union federation called the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) led by Clemens Kadalie was formed in 1919. Despite its many successes the ICU did not succeed to unite all workers. It was a one-man show.
Another federation called the South African Non-European Trade Union (SANETU) was formed in 1928. In 1941 another federation called the Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU) was formed under the leadership of Moses Kotane, Gama Makhabeni, Dan Tloome, David Gosani and James Phillips.
Comrade Leslie Massina, a teacher by profession abandoned his career that paid better than the unions to organise a union of laundry workers in 1946 and was later elected as its secretary for the Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU).
We are standing on the shoulders of a visionary, who played a critical role in the drafting of the SACTU inaugural congress declaration. This declaration formed the cornerstone of the preamble of the Congress of South African Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU) when her new constitution was adopted on 1st December 1985. It remained relevant then, 30 years after it was adopted by the 1955 congress of SACTU, and it is still relevant today 55 years after that 5 March 1955 congress.
Leslie Massina died in January 1976, five months before the June 1976 students' uprisings and barely three years after 1973 Durban strikes that spread like wildfire throughout the country. The seeds of the uprisings of both the workers in 1973 and the students in 1976 were planted by this visionary.
To comrade Massina the words he helped to write in that historic 1955 Declaration were not hollow words but a clarion call that guided his actions until the last day of his life. He was the true embodiment of the Alliance. From the beginning he understood that the struggle for national liberation, the struggle against super exploitation of workers and the struggle against patriarchal society, which oppressed and exploited women, was but one struggle, which is intertwined and could not be separated.
The declaration of the SACTU congress said: "The future of the people of South Africa is in the hands of its workers. Only the working class, in alliance with other progressive minded sections of the community, can build a happy life for all South Africans, a life free from unemployment, insecurity and poverty, free from racial hatred and oppression, a life of vast opportunities for all people". He understood that he could not just operate in the factories to build a better life for all. From this quote we can see that even so many years after is has been written the ANC and the Alliance adopted its tenets in the recent election campaign "building a better life for all!"
Today as we rebury the remains of Leslie Massina we fondly remember his fellow fighters both those who have passed on and those who still live today.
Comrade Massina was not just an embodiment of the Alliance but was a fighter par excellence. Right from the beginning SACTU launched a campaign for a national minimum wage of one pound a day. This was one of many campaigns SACTU led, until the great repression after the Sharpeville massacre drove the SACTU leadership into exile.
He was a Deputy Volunteer in Chief for the Transvaal and a Treasurer of the ANC in the Transvaal in 1953. In 1955 he was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee.
Those who study the history of our liberation struggle know that precisely because of what the SACTU declaration said - which later was to influence the strategy and tactics of the ANC - dual membership and dual leadership is as old a phenomenon as the history of the liberation struggle itself. Attempts to isolate and campaign against those who hold dual membership in the Alliance today, if allowed to succeed, will lead to the destruction of the Alliance itself.
The trade union movement, the leading detachment of the working class, played a critical role in the liberation struggle. For this, trade unionists made supreme sacrifices, and suffered immensely at the hands of the brutal apartheid regime.
At some point Leslie Massina and all members of the National Executive Committee of SACTU were banned. When the regime did this and saw that the SACTU offices were still opened they moved in to ban the typist in the office, Miriam Sithole, who was only 19 years at the time.
Comrade Massina was one of the accused in the Treason Trial that lasted for four and half years, starting in 1956. Now a banned person, Comrade Massina left for Swaziland in 1960 where he lived and died in January 1976.
As we recall comrade Massina and his generation's contribution to our struggle we also recall that the first Umkhonto We Sizwe soldier to be hanged by the apartheid regime, on 6 November 1964, was a unionist, Vuyisile Mini.
We recall that the first person to die in detention was a unionist, Looksmart Ngudle, who was captured by the enemy on 19 August in 1963 and tortured for 16 days until he died. It took 44 years to find his remains in an unmarked grave. We are happy that he has since been reburied, thanks to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Today as we lay to rest the remains of this giant, we raise our red flags in remembrance of all of his colleagues, past and present. One of those who still lives on is our stalwart and hero, the last General Secretary of SACTU, Comrade John Nkadimeng.
We will raise our voice and sing in praise of Moses Mabhida, Lilian Ngoyi, Ray Alexander, Wilton Mkwayi, Raymond Mhlaba, Mark Shope, Oscar Mpetha, Gert Sibande, JB Marks, John Gaetsewe, Bertha Mashaba, Viola Hashe, Elijah Barayi, John Gomomo, Chris Dlamini, Violet Seboni and countless others.
We stand on the shoulders of these heroes and heroines of the trade union movement and the liberation struggle. Thanks to these pioneers on whose shoulders we stand, today we stand taller. COSATU today boasts of over 2 million paid-up members. It has become - not by declaration, but through its deeds and consistency - the conscience of our young democracy, a fearless spokesperson of the most downtrodden, a champion of the most marginalised and a friend of the oppressed in Palestine, Western Sahara, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mexico and Colombia. We are certain that Massina would have been very proud of his offspring, SACTU's offspring, COSATU.
He would have been very proud of the many strides we have made under the leadership of the ANC. He would not be shocked at all to see all the gains we have registered since the democratic breakthrough of 1994. He would have smiled that we are making steady progress in building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa, just as SACTU congress declaration visualised 55 years ago.
He would have been disappointed though by the fact that despite registering so many strides forward, the apartheid economy fault lines remain in place in our education and health systems, in the labour market, on land redistribution, etc. He would have been shocked that 58% of Africans remain trapped in grinding and dehumanising poverty.
He would have been disappointed that South Africa has now surpassed Brazil and is officially the country with the worst income inequalities in the world. In 2005/6 the average income in the richest 10% of households was 32 times the average income of the poorest 60%. Like Lenin, Massina would have told us that: "No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses". More than ever we need economic freedom. But Massina would have been happy that this government has now put a new industrial policy action plan and will announce a new growth path in June this year. He would have insisted that both these critical strategies to restructure our economy need to be buttressed by an appropriate macroeconomic strategy to succeed.
He would have been in the forefront of the new battles workers are today facing against labour brokers who enslave them. He would have been very disappointed that only one in nineteen farm workers belong to unions. He would have been in the forefront of efforts to organise a national farm workers summit to take place in August to discuss these challenges.
He would have been shocked to hear a one-time spokesperson of the ANC unashamedly declaring that he ‘did not struggle to be poor'. He would have led the ANC - just as he did then - whenever our movement faced the daunting challenge to fight against these foreign cultures fostered into our movement, including crass materialism, greed, abuse of public office for narrow personal gains, corruption and downright ill-discipline. He would have insisted that the movement must take decisive action to confront these new cultures before our movement and government together with politics are discredited in the eye of the people.
Leslie Massina would have recalled what Lenin said: "Despair is typical of those who do not understand the causes of evil, see no way out, and are incapable of struggle. The modern industrial proletariat does not belong to the category of such classes".
The challenge we face is to reproduce more Leslie Massina s. That is the challenge our education and political programmes face. If we fail to do this, the future of our glorious movement is bleak. Self-interest and crass materialism are simply threatening the foundations laid by this colossal giant.
Leslie Massina would have been the first to tell us that the struggle continues! It is the struggle that require his generation's vision, commitment, discipline, unity, tenacity, militancy, strong leadership and clarity of the mind about where we are going.
To the family of Massina and Nyanda we say that old wounds have been opened in the recent weeks and today. We know as activists in your own right would take solace from the fact that finally you will point the grave of your father, husband, uncle and brother to your children and their children.
Lala ngoxolo comrade Massina