by Charlene Snelling, Illinois Labor Network Against Apartheid
Forest Park, Illinois, United States
Undated, apparently June 6, 1993
Publisher: Illinois Labor Network Against Apartheid
6 pages
Type: Speech
Coverage in Africa: South Africa
Coverage outside Africa: United States
Language: English
Speech delivered to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) convention by Charlene Snelling on behalf of the Illinois Labor Network Against Apartheid. Snelling talks about the importance of the first-ever election for all people of South Africa coming in the spring. The media may give President F. W. DeKlerk credit for this historic event, but this is truly a workers' victory! For generations, South Africans have fought and died to end apartheid tyranny, led largely by workers, who have inspired generations of activists. The victory also belongs to those in the anti-apartheid movement, who kept the heat on for decades, with actions from demonstrations at embassies, to divestment campaigns on college campuses, to corporate, sports and cultural boycotts, to battles for state and federal sanctions. Three years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of jail, and the legal structures of apartheid began to fall. Western corporations built the economic system upon which apartheid is based and created a cheap labor system. Organized labor in South Africa, with support of trade unionists around the world, exerted pressure on those corporations and have played a key role in undoing apartheid. South African and U.S. workers have much in common and much to learn from one another. Apartheid uprooted millions to live in rural wastelands and to make room for whites; apartheid was maintained through brutal repression and death squads to eliminate union, political and community leaders. For generations, I.D. passes were used to enforce this control. 30,000 young South Africans went into exile; many more died in prisons. Many powerful forces don't want to see workers’ rights and the right to strike written into the constitution, which will happen in a new South Africa, given that South Africa has one of the strongest labor movement's in the world today. Right-wing white groups have created an alliance led by five generals who resigned their posts and began heading up the challenge to majority rule and to stop the election; there are also blacks who have for many years been on apartheid's payroll. There are only 9-10 months to get millions of people ready, willing and able to vote in the first election. The speech says 75% of the majority population cannot read or write, and they speak more than a dozen languages; there may be 20 parties on the ballot. There are huge problems with voter identification; after 30 years of struggle, the apartheid pass system was eliminated in the 1980s; liberation groups must now convince the same people that now identification to participate in voting is needed. One quarter of the total black population (over 5 million people) live in apartheid homelands, or Bantustans, where political and union organizations are still basically off limits. Nelson Mandela is expected to announce the official election date in several weeks and the lifting of sanctions on all but oil and arms. Mandela will come to the U.S. and Chicago to raise funds for voter education in early July. The Labor Network is being invited by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to send union representatives to South Africa to encourage union-to-union links between the Midwest and South Africa. Next Saturday, in honor of Soweto Day, a Walkathon on the South Side will raise money for voter education in South Africa. The speech mentions Johannesburg, Jay Naidoo, Gatsha Buthelezi, solidarity, land, property and voting rights, and violence.
Used by permission of a former member of the Illinois Labor Network Against Apartheid.
Collection: Kathleen M. Devine papers