As everybody in our country knows, the Congress of South African Trade Unions has been at the forefront of the campaign to create jobs and eradicate poverty. For years we have fought to ensure that this struggle is taken seriously and remains at the centre of the national agenda.
COSATU has done everything in its power to give a voice to the voiceless and speak out against the intolerable levels of unemployment and poverty in South Africa, and to explain the historical reasons for them and the policies we need to deal with the problem.
It is therefore shocking and disturbing to see that some workers and residents of poor communities believe that these problems are caused by foreign nationals and that they are attacking, robbing and killing those foreigners they believe to be responsible, who are themselves victims of the same unemployment, poverty and crime.
They are totally wrong. The problems they face are rooted in years of apartheid which kept the majority of South Africans in desperate poverty and denied them any democratic means to improve their plight.
Those problems persist today. The real level of unemployment, including those who have given up the attempt to find work, is still over 35%. This means that around eight million are jobless. There are certainly not that number of employed foreign immigrants. Even if they were all to leave tomorrow, the levels of unemployment would remain about the same, and so would the extent of poverty which afflicts at least half our population.
The same applies to crime. Criminals have been at work in South Africa for years — robbing, murdering and raping — not just since the recent influx of immigrants. There can be no possible excuse for people who claim to be fighting crime to use exactly the same methods as the criminals against foreign immigrants.
Many of the pioneers of the South African trade unions were migrant workers from all over Southern Africa. Many of them led our movement in its early days. We have always insisted that human rights are not just for South Africans but for all people, regardless of where they have come from. We must stand together to defend the rights that our constitution and laws give to all those living within our boundaries.
If people are made scapegoats simply on the basis of their country of origin we will be on a slippery slope towards regionalism and tribalism and the destruction of the unity we have built in the trade unions and civil society organisations.
The only people who will gain from such disunity will be the people we should be blaming for our problems — unscrupulous employers on the farms, in security firms and other sectors, who are exploiting desperate foreign workers by employing them on lower wages and benefits than they could get away with paying South African workers.
COSATU and its affiliates are fighting a daily battle to force such employers to comply with fair labour standards. We must place the blame on their shoulders, not those of their desperate, exploited workers, and present a united front in the battle to win minimum standards of pay, benefits and health and safety protection for all workers.
The same applies in the communities. To achieve faster delivery of services we need strong, united civic movements. Attacking foreigners will not build new houses, but working together as communities is essential if we want to transform the environment where we live.
We must also unite to solve the problems of poverty and underdevelopment here in South Africa and throughout the Region, so that workers are no longer driven to other countries to find work and food.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Workers of the world unite!