South Africa is no normal society

Andrew Chirwa

13 December 2014
NUMSA President says a tiny minority wallows in extreme luxury while the majority suffer the indignities of extreme poverty

NUMSA PRESIDENT ANDREW CHIRWA’S OPENING ADDRESS TO THE PEOPLES’ ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED FRONT – 13 DECEMBER 2014 | SOUTHERN SUN OR TAMBO – KEMPTON PARK, December 13 2014

NUMSA Central Committee Delegates;

Distinguished leaders of all organisations present;

Invited guests;

Members of the media fraternity; and

All Fellow Delegates to this Assembly:

On behalf of the more than 350 000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, and indeed on behalf of all the women and men and youths and their organisations who have already signed up to the United Front, please allow me to welcome all of us, to this important, first ever, Peoples Assembly of the United Front.

Each one of you, please know that we, the working class from NUMSA truly appreciate and value your generosity with your time and talents to be with us today and tomorrow, as we work out the details of how we must work as a United Front, towards our full formal launch next year.

We appreciate and welcome all the organisations represented in this august meeting.

A special word of thanks we must make to all our spiritual and religious leaders who have made time to be with us in this meeting. We value your presence among us.

All of you, we know, are busy people, especially at this time of the year, when we all are doing everything to quickly wind up the activities of 2014, and go for a well-deserved break.

We appreciate your responding favourably to our humble request for you to join us, in the tough journey we must undertake, together, to cleanse our land from material and spiritual poverty, from the waste of human lives that unemployment is, and from the extreme inequalities which feed the evil racism which prevents all our people from becoming one.

A. Objectives of the Assembly

We have invited you, and of course we all know that given enough time and resources we could have called many more South Africans, from all corners of our country, to come and share with us on the following:

1. NUMSA background to the United Front;

2. A democratic invitation to South Africa to join hands with us, in the United Front;

3. To identify a national working team to work with us to ensure that by the time the formal launch takes place, the United Front is truly national, democratic and all embracing; and

4. Producing a Road Map towards and for the formal launch.

The General Secretary of NUMSA has been requested to make a full presentation before this Assembly of NUMSA’s origins, theory and practice of the United Front. It is our hope that you all will make your own contributions, based on your unique experiences and thinking, on how best the United Front should operate.

Allow me, therefore, to state upfront that we do not regard any of our ideas as incapable of being democratically influenced and improved upon, changed or even abandoned, if need be. Of course for us ultimately we do this in the union through our internal democratic platforms including our congresses.

We are open to persuasion, and we encourage all of us to be so, too. We can unite only if we are able to be tolerant, democratic, respectful and truthful to one another.

The United Front is an organisational form for us, not only for growing the popular power of the working class and the voiceless, the weak and poor in society, but it must also be an experiential teacher of strong, militant and profound democratic values. We therefore urge all of us to be advocates of true democracy, in all that we do.

We are determined to make our contributions to uniting working class struggles with community struggles. It is, after all, from their miserable wages that the working class create their communities!

B. What is the United Front for us in NUMSA?

Our just ended December 2014 NUMSA Central Committee has just reaffirmed our understanding at NUMSA of the key principles of the United Front. These include:

The United Front we are building is a United Front of working class organizations, whose task is to fight against neo-liberalism wherever and whenever neo-liberalism manifests itself, and for the immediate and radical implementation of the Freedom Charter.

The united front has nothing to do with assembling so-called ‘electoral combinations’ of leaders to achieve parliamentary aims. The work of the United Front is in the communities and workplaces, not in parliament.

The United Front is not a political party. It draws within its ranks the working class and their community organisations irrespective of political affiliation.

Our overriding objective is to unite the entire working class in a common struggle against the bourgeoisie, and this can be achieved if the working class is organized independent of political affiliation. This approach goes to the heart of the art and science of working in mass organizations.

We understand that every action of the United Front, or of any of its components, even the most trivial everyday demand, can lead to revolutionary awareness and revolutionary education; it is the experience of struggle that will convince the mass of the working class of the need for socialism.

Our General Secretary will give a more elaborate understanding at NUMSA of how we have conceptualised and thus far, developed the United Front.

All of us gathered here and all those we are already working with and those who will join us as we go along, have a right to share with everyone in the United Front their understanding and organisational experiences, so that, together, we can build a truly democratic organisation for the working class and poor people of our land.

Unity in action, we plead, should be the watchwords we all must be guided by. The matter of unity is so important for the United Front to succeed, we all must pay particular attention to it.

C. Our request, to the Assembly

After 1994, 20 years down the line, we have no right to pretend that all is well in South Africa today. We must not allow anyone to force us to accept that being the most unequal society on Earth is a normal thing.

We must refuse, all of us, to accept that it is normal that 26 million South Africans barely manage to stay alive, because of extreme poverty.

We, together, must admit that it is an abnormal society that allows the situation where a tiny minority wallow in extreme luxury while the majority suffer the indignities of extreme poverty.

We must together reject that corruption must become a permanent feature of our daily lives.

We must reject the moral decay which feasts on the crass materialism which is the whole mark of our kind of society.

Low and inferior wages, a racist wage structure which places black people at the bottom of the food chain, collapsing public services and decay everywhere cannot become what we become accustomed to.

We invite all of us in this Assembly to pull together our intellectual, moral, spiritual and experiential resources to bravely confront the crisis and many challenges which dehumanise our people in general and the working class in particular.

We appeal to all of us gathered in this Assembly to demonstrate the highest possible democratic values, to respect one another, to be truthful and allow all of us the opportunity to freely share our thoughts and experiences, so that at the end of the Assembly, we may have done the work necessary to ensure that 2015 truly becomes the year we advance the cause of the plight of South Africa’s working class and the mass of our poor people.

We are confident, ourselves at NUMSA, that the experience, wisdom and maturity gathered in this Assembly will match the challenge of forming an organisation that will make its mark on socio-economic transformation for our post 1994 South Africa.

I wish this Assembly all the success it needs.

I declare the Assembly open.

Andrew Chirwa,

Numsa President,

13th December, 2014.

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