More than 2000 comrades from different unions attended the first Congress launching the new trade union federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), held on 21-23 April 2017 at Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg, Gauteng.
Speaking to Karibu!, Felecity Lekgethe from Demcratic Postal and Communication Union (DIPACU), a union representing South African Post Office workers, said that “we are here to launch the New Fedaration”. Lekgethe said that the federation has to negotiate among themselves about the R3 500 National Minimum Wage proposed by the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to see if they will be able to come up with the solution. “We will be engaging on lowering the high rate of the unemployment that is affecting our youth in South Africa”, said Lekgethe.
On the second day of the launch, 22 April, delegates engaged on the name and logo of the new federation, eventually coming to a consensus and adopting the proposed name, SAFTU, and logo. The Congress also presented the principles of SAFTU to the union delegates, who engaged with them and made a few changes.
The Chairperson of the Steering Commitee Comrade Raymond Mnguni said their intention is to ensure that the federation act and behave in the spirit of the new society it is striving to create, as a militant, independent, worker controlled, democratic and socialist orientated union federation.
Mnguni spoke about the objectives of the federation being to unite all workers under one banner in the workplace community.
Other objectives include: to use all the means available to defend and improve the conditions of the workers; to initiate campaigns and support those of affiliates; to build a strong accountable and active shopsteward structure; to ensure that women comrades are able to play a full and meaningful role at all levels in the federation and its affiliates; to facilitate connections with international unions in order to foster international solidarity; and to institute and defend legal action where appropriate and to defend and promote the interests of the workers.
On the last day of the launch (23 April), the SAFTU Congress debated and adopted resolutions on the worsening material conditions of the working class, centralised and collective bargaining, and how the economy is trapped in a low growth path.
Municipal and Allied Trade Union of South Africa (MATUSA) said that “government is using the Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) as a smoke screen in communities. EPWP employees do not have benefits and are treated abusively.” MATUSA urged SAFTU to outlaw EPWP. South African Liberation Public Service Workers Union (SALIPSWU) said that they supported MATUSA but had to add an amendment to the proposal because there are lots of workers that would be affected if EPWP was done away with. “The New Fedaration has to expand [to include] all workers that are experiencing the same problems”.
Farmworkers also engaged the congress about their working conditions on farms. Lots of farmworkers in the Western Cape have been evicted from their houses by the owner of the farms they work on. The living and working condition in farms is harmful as the houses that they stay in are not in a good condition and could collapse at any time.
SAFTU also held its first elections and elected official office bearers. President of SAFTU is Mac Chavalala of NUMSA; the first Deputy President is Nomvume Ralarala of SALIPSWU; the second Deputy President is Thabo Matsotse of South African Police Union (SAPU); the General Secretary is Zwelinzima Vavi of NUMSA; the Deputy General Secretary is Phakedi Moleko of Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU); and the National Treasurer is Motshwari Lecogo of National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW).