Vavi aligns with SA’s modern Wyatt Earp as Pravin’s Nov 2 showdown looms.

The strongest leaders emerge during periods of greatest crisis. It is no surprise to see respected labour leader Zwelinzima Vavi grabbing a lot more attention as South Africa heads towards its November 2 showdown. Yesterday Vavi used the invitation from Investec Asset Management to lay down the dire facts and share his proposed solution. The full speech is republished below. Foreign investors in the audience who had not been exposed to the Zuma Administration’s shenanigans must have wondered whether the trade unionist wasn’t exaggerating just a tad. To the rational mind – the prerequisite of any professional investor – the scenario he paints of widescale kleptocracy and abuse of power seems a tad over the top. Not so. In South Africa right now, it’s difficult to exaggerate the depth of the ruling elite’s narcissistic avarice. It no longer even cares about to disguise a grand pillaging plan under the thin cloak of a nuclear build programme that will bankrupt the country. We have described Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan as a modern day Marshall Wyatt Earp in this updated version of the Gunfight at OK Corral. If his deputy Mcebisi Jonas is Doc Holliday then people like Vavi and outspoken Anglogold chairman Sipho Pityana could be cast as the two Earp brothers. You don’t have to be a fan of great Western movies to name the gunslingers they’re determined to face down. – Alec Hogg  

By Zwelinzima Vavi *

Thank you very much for extending the invitation to me to join your conversation today.

You are asking a trade unionist with decades of struggle experience to come and speak to an investor forum. I have been told that you are a group of top wealth managers and financial advisors who are significant supporters of Investec Asset Management. I am told you are concerned about the prospects of our country.

Zwelinzima Vavi. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg News
Zwelinzima Vavi. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg News

I am happy to join you today, not just as another speaker, but someone who recognizes that there is something in common between all of us, other than differences.

Today I will speak about some of the common concerns and commonalities.

Firstly I see a group of fellow South Africans who are not at all different from me, and not at all different from the millions in labour that we seek represent. There is a significant overlap between your concerns and ours. Yes there are differences, but what experience has taught me is that if you start by outlining differences you may not get an opportunity to speak to the common concerns.

So, what do we agree on.

In these trying and challenging times and great developments let me remind you of what Shakespeare said:

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

And I think you would all agree we are all living through a time of acute misery.

You are asking me to speak about the unfolding crisis in our country, which I have spoken about so many times. I have said that South Africa is on autopilot. I have likened the South African political crisis to a ship floating in the deepest ocean, in the middle of the darkest night with its captains blind folded and without navigators.

There is a well-planned and orchestrated plan by a predatory elite to drive our beautiful country into a kleptocractic capitalist order in which there will be no rules or accountability.

This programme involves domesticating and hollowing out all of institutions that are cornerstones of our hard won democracy. This domestication includes targeting what we in the democratic movement called the organs of people’s power – the mass formations that could hold leadership to account.

The attacks extends to the Judiciary, Public Protector, Scorpions and now Hawks, intelligence services, SAPS and IPID. The agenda to weaken and divide the ANC itself which has led to it being so discredited in the eyes of a growing number of South Africans.

Read also: Vavi on SA: ‘A kleptocracy led by thieves’ – corruption cost R700bn in 20yrs

As this programme is implemented with military precision, the real problems facing society are getting compounded. Unemployment, poverty, inequalities and corruption are all keeping us awake at night.

Having said this let me once more emphasize the point that I have made that whilst its true that South Africa is facing an unprecedented political crisis but South Africa is not broken. We are not a banana republic, at least not yet!

South Africa is not broken because not withstanding this orchestrated attack on the foundations of our constitutional democracy, we remain a constitutional democracy. Our judicial system remains intact playing a critical role in protecting these foundations of our democracy.

The Office of the Public Protector has been incredible even though there are emerging concerns with the new Public Protector.

Our media, though largely untransformed, continues to play a critical role as a guardian of our constitutional values. The opposition parties notwithstanding the overall crisis of representation in our political system as a whole have been phenomenal in exposing and stopping abuse. Civil society though weakened with the domestication of the main trade union federation COSATU, did their best to rally society in defence of our moral values.

As the attempts to domesticate and hollow out all these institutions intensify so is the “fight back” strategy is intensifying.

This weekend we saw unprecedented coming together of CEOs of top South African companies who I have accused of complaining at night and complying in the morning. They signed a declaration to say enough is enough.

More encouraging are the cracks that are beginning to show within all the organisations that have been hijacked, domesticated and hollowed out to defend this political chaos, the tripartite Alliance led by the ANC.

Only a few months ago it was imaginable that a Chief Whip of the ANC and a growing number of other leaders would speak out so emphatically against this national crisis.

The emperor’s clothes are slowing falling off.

Cartoon courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey
Cartoon courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey

The unchallengeable emperor is slowly showing signs that it has been fundamentally weakened by the Constitutional Court ruling at the end of March 2017 combined with very significant electoral setbacks the ANC suffered in the August 3rd local government elections.

For the first time, many in the ANC have a fear that they may lose elections in 2019. This has opened real possibility that some in the ANC will start calculating the costs and the meaning of losing power at the personal level.

They have seen their comrades in Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg metros vacating their mayoral palaces. They see more and more of their former colleagues no longer able to afford their Range Rovers instalments and or mansions’ mortgage bonds.

We are living in very interesting times indeed.

It’s been said a house divided cannot stand.  The divisiveness in today’s South Africa is tearing apart the promises made in 1995.

We all want to believe in South Africa. I believe in South Africa.

I also believe the challenges of our survival are more difficult than those of other nations elsewhere.

Why? Because justifiably, we, and others, hold ourselves up to a higher standard.

Read also: South Africans mobilise to save SA from state capture” Can they eject Zuma?

We are the children of colossal giants such as Nelson Mandela and our struggle against apartheid was not only just but also inspired all human kind that a moral based state in possible in Africa and everywhere in the world.

There may be other nations which can afford the luxury of eternal internal strife, quarrelling, ramped up corruption and beating each other up.

But we South Africans cannot. There is just too much at stake for us to allow that to happen!

A great Society, an infinitely capable Society, a hard-working Society, a Society who want to live and have the right to expect something from life, is a society that lives in a country, where no matter how hard we work, the fruits of our labour are often corruptly stolen from us.

Our daily struggle to survive and thrive, is so much more difficult in our country because of the cost each of us pays for the cancer of corruption.

Our daily struggle to survive and thrive is so much more difficult because our government is so inward facing that its valueless decisions are driven by a corrosive ME framework, that it has completely abandoned the national WE.

Our daily struggle to survive and thrive is because in response to the sometimes insurmountable challenges created by our government, business has made decisions that are in the best interest of profit, shareholder value and executive bonuses rather than what’s in the best interest of the country and its workers.

These decisions simply tell workers that they too must contract out of the national we and also pursue me first.

I’m not here to burn down your house, but I am here to say that unless we find a mutually beneficial solution, all of our houses will burn.

So that leads me to the core, fundamental question.

How do we create a working bond between in our society led by labour and business where the common metric is a development of shared value

And how can that shared value metric enable us to deliver to all South Africans, historic levels of societal value?

I am not going to be a rude guest and suggest what you can do; all I can do here today is share with you what we in the rebooted labour movement are thinking.

We see a new labour federation with a very singular purpose, that is,to redefine labour’s role in addressing the needs of an evolving South Africa. 

We are convinced that a South Africa that won’t industrialize in the near future will be doomed forever. The role of the labour movement must be to champion that industrialization and building of manufacturing capacity of the economy whilst systematically changing South Africa’s economic structure to serve its entire people.

Colonial structure must give way to a modern economy whose values shall be based on three pillars: dignity, equality and opportunity.

Labour’s role of tomorrow is not what labour’s role of yesterday was.  It can’t be.  We cannot have a 19th or 20th century strategy to capitalize on our 21st century realities.

We are creating a labour federation which sweeps aside all barriers, unites the countryside, working people, farmers and intellectuals, black, white, brown, yellow and establishes as the supreme goal – the protection of THE DREAM, the protection of THE PROMISE, AND, the protection of THE CONTRACT that exists between all of us – anew CONTRACT to achieve the reality of what South Africa could, should and must be!

Unfortunately, we still live in a South Africa where some believe that it is justified to attack workers’ dignity in pre-1995 fashion. My words to these misguided individuals (and companies) are that you not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem – and these practices and beliefs must be, and will be,eliminated.

The new federation will fight to preserve the dignity of our millions of workers – white collar, blue collar or no collar.

This leads me to the second pillar, equality. We live in a nation where on a daily basis we are the victims of pervasive examples of the inequality of equality.

The contract that the ANC made with South Africa in 1995 promised to end the harsh inequalities of the Apartheid.  We were promised a journey of roses, and we find ourselves on roads of thorns.  The only thing we know, as being certain is that this government’s legacy is going to be excuses, lies, inaction and more broken promises.  Clearly, promises they make are to win an election, not to govern a nation.

Who here believes the ANC has put you first in the last ten years?

We need a government that puts people first with competence, compassion, foresight, discipline and integrity to implement policies that will help create opportunities – not one that will kill the economy with poor policies, procedures and practices and a lifetime of incompetence.

And lastly, the third pillar is opportunity. We are not going to tolerate the repeating the lies by so many corrupt politicians, corrupt labor leaders and corrupt business people who endlessly and baselessly promised to create jobs.

South Africans want to work. But what we together must do is end the inequality of opportunity by creating the conditions for opportunities to work. I’ve long believed that each generation’s responsibility is to go further than the generation preceding it. What does that mean? It means that for your children and ours, we have to create the solid foundation where they can stand on our shoulders.

If we do this, they will have opportunities beyond anything we’ve ever known. As my father told me, “If opportunity doesn’t knock – build a door.”

Yes, opportunities create decent jobs, jobs for everyone, blue collar and white collar, woman and man, employed and unemployed.

I would like to close by sharing with you a very personal and intimate hope.

I have a dream. I’ve always had this dream from my earliest days working as a child labourer, looking for work among neighbouring farms, and then in the gold mines in Klerksdorp and Orkney.

I have a dream that one day soon; this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of the promises and contract that was made in 1994. And that every South African, will enjoy the sweet fruits of dignity, equality and opportunity.

I have a dream that labour and business, together with civil society, traditional leaders and religious leaders will all sit together at the table of brotherhood where the menu answers the question, “what is in the best interests of South African society?”

I have a dream that your children and mine will one day live in a South Africa that has an abundance of unlimited educational, health care, service delivery and economic opportunities.

A protestor holds a banner suggesting the African National Congress (ANC) is "For Sale" during a nationwide march against corruption in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Several thousand people joined marches in three of South AfricaÕs main cities on Wednesday to protest corruption in the continentÕs most-industrialized economy. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg
A protestor holds a banner suggesting the African National Congress (ANC) is “For Sale” during a nationwide march against corruption in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

As I said earlier, ‘a house divided will always fall.’ The creation of a new labour federation is the glue, the cement, the bond, that will bring all labour under one roof with the power to determine who leads this country to achieve its unique destiny, and with the power to address labour’s role in meeting South Africa’s societal needs. At the same time, the new federation will have the determination to find bridges of collaboration with business, so that together, we say,

WE can do betterWE must do betterWE will do better!

And, for South Africa and South Africa’s workers, we can do it!

I pledge to you that our new Federation will be an essential part of the People, for the People, and with the People,to serve all of our South African society. We will work with anyone who shares that goal. It is going to take us all to strive to understand each other, to remove all barriers, which separate triumph and us over all the stupid skeptics, those who mock us.

Above all on this day we wish to express our renewed faith in our Society, our confident belief that it is an outstanding, industrious, hard-working and decent people, and that this Society shall have a future, because it is we who will ensure that future!

A parting thought, our destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice. Your choice. Our choice.

Thank you for your hospitality and your generosity, and thank you for inviting me here today.

  • Zwelinzima Vavi is the former head of South Africa’s largest trade union movement. He made this speech to an investment conference in Cape Town hosted by Investec Asset Management.