Voices from Women Leaders at the NUMSA International Symposium on Left Political Parties and Mass Movements

by Oct 15, 2014Magazine

Following are excerpts from interviews by Amandla! staff of women activists in NUMSA, conducted during NUMSA’s “International Symposium on Left Political Parties and Mass Movements”, held August 7-10 in Johannesburg. Attended by international guests from around the world as well as 120 NUMSA shop stewards, the symposium was called to take forward resolutions adopted at NUMSA’s special congress in December 2013 calling for the building of a mass united front and a movement for socialism. The call by NUMSA – South Africa’s largest trade union, with over 300,000 members – has been welcomed by unions, social movements and grass roots formations throughout South Africa and around the world, renewing hopes for the formation of a new, genuine workers’ party that might challenge the existing hegemony.

These interviews were conducted on the 9th August, a day on which we not only remember especially the role women played in South Africa’s struggle for liberation from apartheid, but also reflect on the unfinished struggle for women’s emancipation. The full interviews are available on the Amandla! website: www.amandla.org.za.

Christine Olivier, NUMSA first deputy president

On women

In twenty years of democracy, not much has changed for women. Women should take their rightful place in society. The NUMSA moment is an opportunity for women to take up that space and work closely with community organisations. NUMSA is a male-dominated organisation. If we come together from a shop-floor level and join in with what the union intends to do, it could mean a beginning of new things.

Men and women need to unite in the fight against poverty. Men must take our hands and help us because I don’t think we should see whatever affects women today as a women’s issue. It’s important that men play their role in the fight that women are fighting. What affects women also affects men, maybe in a different way.

In the past in NUMSA we had a women’s committee, but we realised it was not working: it was a committee for women to go and release [their feelings?] in some corner, yet the actual culprits were out there continuing with what they were doing. So we changed it to a gender structure that included men, because they must help us.

On the United Front and social movements

For us, a key moment is launching the United Front and the movement for socialism, thereby seeing community-based organisations coming together and work together. Indeed social movements are weak. When we met with social movements, the first thing that they talked about was the lack of resources. And then it became a burden on NUMSA: if you want to work with social movements, you have to be able to provide the necessary resources. We haven’t discussed much how we can help social movements to become stronger. At the moment we’re just working with social movements on campaigns.

A lot of social movements and people involved in them want to work with us. This thing that we are trying to undertake is big and difficult. We must still sit down and come up with ideas on how to help social movements to become stronger and take up their rightful place in society. But I think that we have too many movements in the country. If you look at some of them, they are doing exactly the same work but it’s just they’re working in parallel with each other.

One solution is really to come together, and as we say in the trade union, to merge, because they are doing the same thing as we are. And by doing that you’ll bring together the few resources that there are and enable the unions to become stronger.

As NUMSA we are in a very good space. It is time for us now for all of us to work together, because the ANC has not delivered on its promises, and the ANC is not going to deliver on its promises. I think the ANC of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu has died. I think we need to come to terms with that, and it’s now for the working class to liberate itself.

At some stage we need to do a proper assessment of liberation movements on the continent: the experience of starting from being a liberation movement and then becoming the biggest oppressor of its people. If you look at Zimbabwe and many other examples of liberation movements that became the biggest oppressors of the people.

Let’s join hands, because no one is going to liberate us if we are not prepared to work towards our own liberation.

Khonzeni Mkhize, NUMSA deputy regional deputy chairperson for KwaZulu Natal

On debates in the Symposium and the spirit of NUMSA workers

It’s a great honour to be at this NUMSA Symposium. To me it’s history, because we talk about socialism but we don’t get a chance to speak to people from other countries with experience. We now engage with comrades from Brazil, Venezuela and other countries. It’s a long walk for us. But if we are patient on what we want. We will achieve socialism in South Africa.

Bullets are not a solution. By killing our three NUMSA leaders in Isithebe, the enemy reached a limit when it comes to ideas. We’re not forcing things, we are open for debates, but they chose to take up guns against us. NUMSA is too close to the masses, to the workers, and the workers know the new breaking ground, the NUMSA women. Metal workers are very strong. Workers are firm on our new resolutions, they’re defending the organisation.

On women

I appreciate NUMSA. It recruits women and gives them opportunity to lead in the organisation. As women of South Africa we must commit ourselves to the struggle and be vigilant. Women are strong and we lead and we’re honest in the struggle. Women must believe in themselves: we can lead this country, we can lead this movement – especially the social movement.

Venesia van Rooyen

On women

With the different types of parties present at the symposium, I fail to grasp the programmes they have to help emancipate women. It’s going to be very important for the movement for socialism to have a programme for women that speaks to women’s issues, because as things are women’s issues are always secondary to everything else.

We’ve got strong women in our communities but not all of them get the recognition they deserve. As a result you will find that women, strong as they are, will always see themselves as subordinate to men.

The emancipation of a woman comes from the woman herself. We need to stand up for ourselves. We still have the tendency tothink that we need men to emancipate us. Men will always try to hold onto dominance.

Socialism will definitely address equality for women. Women will be recognised as equals instead of subordinates. With socialism we will finally be able to stand our own ground, shoulder to shoulder with men, and no longer have to be the woman standing behind the man.

She will be able to occupy positions which she never could before. So she won’t have to see herself as a subordinate, because she will be an equal partner. For me that’s what socialism would be.

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