By Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary
The 7th COSATU Congress, held in September 2000, passed a resolution which proposed the establishment of the Chris Hani Institute as an “academy to provide education and training for selected youth, stewards and officials.” This resolution identified the urgent need in the current period, for cadre development with the following objectives:
to educate a cadre of working class leadership to understand and analyse the political economy of the changing global and South African realities from the standpoint of the interest of the working class. – to build organisation – to build the capacity of trade unionists and shop stewards to engage – to develop a layer of intellectual representatives of the working class grounded in our theory
The resolution further proposes that “Such a programme must provide a sound theoretical, ideological, practical and intellectual development and grounding for current and future trade unionists.” We are faced with the challenge of developing new layers of political leadership for the working class movement, which is an ongoing need. The concept of a Chris Hani Institute had been discussed, formulated and shaped in discussions with the SACP over a period of time before and after the 7th COSATU Congress.
In this discussion the following emerged:
One of the key features of apartheid South Africa was that almost all the foundations that were in existence largely served and were controlled by the rich and professional classes, with minimal focus on the interests of the overwhelming majority of the people.
- Since 1990, South Africa has seen an emergence of even more foundations and think-tanks primarily focused on the interests of the better off, including racially or ethnically defined interests with the notable exception of the Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko Foundations.
- The space provided by the advent of a democratic South Africa, and evidence that it is only those who are better off who are likely to be best able to represent their interests in the public domain, the media, government, business and in society in general. The strengthening of democracy in South Africa principally rests in the promotion and betterment of the overwhelming majority of its people – who are predominantly black, African, working class and poor. Other than government, major institutions of society – business, media, cultural institutions – still largely serve a white rich and middle class society, to the extent that the interests of the working class and poor are relegated to the bottom. Even in relation to government, unless there is a focused attempt in empowering the working class and the poor to effectively participate, lobby and influence government decisions, given the resources and lobbying potential of those who are better off.
- It is also in the realm of ideas and communication that there is hardly any systematic advocacy of the interests of the working class and the poor. Most experts are either drawn from the ranks of the better off or they tend to advocate for the interests of the better off.
- The establishment of such a Chris Hani Institute would definitely contribute and enhance the voice, ideas and aspirations of the working class and the poor through engaging in the public domain and engaging other major institutions of South African society. For COSATU and the SACP this voice is concretely about engaging strategically in order to advance to socialism.
- The CHI must co-operate and work together with existing progressive and specialised institutions and policy units like NALEDI, DITSELA, NIEP, CEPD, and other progressive foundations like Nelson Mandela Foundation and Steve Biko Foundations.
- The CHI must be autonomus and have relative independence in order to freely and critically engage with developments within the broad working class movement and its organisations. Criticisms and self-criticisms is a powerful weapon to strengthen democracy and progressive organisations. We don’t want praise singers!
With these few words, COSATU is pleased that we are finally launch the Chris Hani Institute today.