CAPE TOWN November 10 1997 - SAPA


Business should confess to the "terrible role" it played in violating human rights and suppressing trade union activity under apartheid, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Thursday.

In a statement released ahead of Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings on business' role under apartheid - scheduled to be held in Johannesburg on Tuesday - the federation called on business to fully disclose its relationship with the apartheid regime and its willful support of apartheid laws such as job reservation and pass laws.

Cosatu is set to make its submission on Thursday.

Business should give details of how it paid starvation wages, employed children on farms, used prison labour and refused to recognise black trade unions, Cosatu said.

But the federation doubted whether business could be trusted to fully, and with humility, disclose its role in defending apartheid.

"We remain of the view that apartheid, with its form of institutionalised racism, masked its real content and substance - the perpetuation of a super-exploitative cheap labour system."

Everyone knew the primary victims of apartheid was the black working class, and the primary beneficiaries the white ruling elite, Cosatu said.

In the period under review by the TRC, business had co-operated with the apartheid state and taken measures to undermine and crush the trade unions, the federation said, citing numerous examples.

The idea that the private sector's chief sin was that it failed to "speak out against a system that was against economic logic" was spurious, Cosatu said.

The record showed that far from being innocent of racial oppression, many captains of industry, particularly those in the diamond and gold mining industry, helped pioneer many of the core features of apartheid.

A vast body of evidence pointed to a central role for business interests in the elaboration, adoption, implementation and modification of apartheid policies, Cosatu said.

Apartheid's labour laws, pass laws, forced removals and cheap labour system all benefited the business community.

"While we acknowledge the fact that a few individual businessmen and companies did speak out against apartheid before it became fashionable to do so, hardly any of them declined to partake of the vast profits created by decades of cheap labour policies."

Few businesses declined to use punitive labour legislation against black workers, and almost none declined state contracts and subsidies.

Cosatu said a broad-based approach should be taken towards awarding reparations.

It urged that a new culture be created in which abuse of workers was seen as a fundamental abuse of human rights, and where the circumvention, ignoring or breaking of protective measures was criminalised.

The capacity to abuse came from unequal power and wealth, Cosatu said.

It proposed a number of measures to get rid of these inequalities and thus help prevent future abuses, including:

- The narrowing of the apartheid wage gap.

- Investment in staff training to address the low level of skills in the economy and promote job creation.

- Investment in previously neglected areas.

- Abolition of the systems of migrant labour and forced single sex hostels.

- The setting up of a workers' museum as a monument to those who struggled for trade union rights.

Cosatu also called for the TRC to ensure that the security forces and employers returned all video footage and photographs taken of workers engaged in union activities, as well as material confiscated from union offices.

The federation proposed that the TRC consider granting amnesty to people who illegally took capital out of the country, on the condition that they fully disclosed what they did and how they did it, and that they reinvest repatriated funds in the development of disadvantaged communities.

Cosatu said it would judge South African employers on the basis of whether they fully disclosed their wrongdoings under apartheid, as well as on how, in the future, they addressed issues such as trade union rights, closing the apartheid wage gap, and allocating resources to train workers.

"As workers we are ready to forgive them; our only condition is full disclosure and real commitment to the future," Cosatu said.

South African Press Association, 1997
This text is for information only and may not be published or reprinted without the permission of the South African Press Association