'Don't lift sanctions', says South African unionist

March 27, 1991

By Norm Dixon

SYDNEY — "The president of the white people, F.W. de Klerk (he's not my president as I never elected him, I have no voting rights in South Africa), has been doing the rounds telling the international community that apartheid is at an end ... We are that apartheid is still in place ... The opinion of the oppressed people in South Africa is: please put pressure on your government not to lift sanctions yet. We, the oppressed, will inform the international community when to lift the sanctions."

This was the plea that Elijah Barayi, president of the 1.2 million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions, made to a gathering of Australian unionists on March 20. Barayi is also vice-president of COSATU's largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers. He made a brief visit to Australia to attend the conference of the National United Mineworkers Federation.

Barayi told the Australian unionists that black miners continue to be underpaid and exploited. "Where have you seen a man with 10 children — who's got to feed them, who's got to send them to school — being paid 520 rand (A$260) a month? That's exploitation at its worst.

"Blacks are working in the most dangerous areas. They start going underground at 4 a.m., and some of the sections don't come out until about 5 p.m. without having had anything to eat. White mine workers go underground at 8 a.m. and come out of the pit at half past one."

Apartheid must be dismantled, Barayi reminded the gathering. "We have been at pains to demand an interim government and a constituent assembly ... How do you talk of reforms if the government cannot meet those two demands?

"South Africa is still a police state. People are still murdered by the defence forces, by the security police, by the hit squads."

The COSATU leader also touched on the role of the unions after the ANC takes power. "We are trade unionists. COSATU represents the workers. Be it a black government, be it a white government, be it a red or yellow government, if one clause is not enshrined in the new constitution, then there will be bloodshed in the country. That clause is: All workers should have the right to strike."

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