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South African Unions Call Mandela Model to End ‘Economic Apartheid’

Flowers, posters, and messages left by mourners lie in front of Nelson Mandela's old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013.
The spokesman for Congress of South African Trade Unions says Nelson Mandela’s legacy of poverty alleviation is a guiding principle for the group to demand better working conditions for South African workers.

Patrick Craven expressed hope the ruling African National Congress will implement a policy the party adopted last year to improve the living conditions for the country’s workers.

“By far the best way to honor the memory of Nelson Mandela is to try as far as possible to emulate what he did in the next stage of struggle,” said Craven. “We still have a long way to go in ending what we call economic apartheid. We still live in an extremely unequal society and have a huge job ahead of us, to bring about similar changes on the economic front.”

Development specialists say since the end of apartheid, the government has built two million homes for the poor, and vastly extended access to electricity and potable water. However, they say the economic gulf separating whites and blacks has grown larger over the past 12 years, with white-led households earning almost double the amount earned by blacks.

Craven's comments come as South Africa prepares for the arrival of world leaders for Mandela’s funeral as crowds of mourners converge on sites around the country to pay tribute to the global anti-apartheid icon and Nobel laureate.

“COSATU members are attending all the incredible number of events across the country,” said Craven. “We will obviously be thinking of some more permanent way of expressing our appreciation for the absolutely unique role, which Comrade Nelson Mandela has played in our democratic revolution.”

COSATU is a Trade Union Federation formed in 1985, a part of the Tri-partite Alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party.

Craven says COSATU is working with the ruling ANC to improve workers conditions as part of an effort to bridge the economic divide between the “haves and the have nots.”

He says Mandela’s legacy of fighting for equal economic opportunity for all South Africans will be a guiding principle for COSATU to negotiate a better deal with the government in Pretoria.

“They [ANC] passed a resolution last year, which is spelling out exactly what we are saying needs to be done. What they have called the second phase of the transition, which basically means a fundamental restructuring of our economy to make it into one which is more equal, more efficient and distributes the wealth of the country in a much more equitable way, by creating jobs and improving the lives of the very poor,” said Craven.

“We need higher wages, better social benefits, more incentives to small businesses, and this will not only improve the lives of millions of people, but it also will promote economic growth, and lead ultimately to a more wealth to be distributed, which will be done to improve the lives of all the people permanently,” said Craven.

He says Mandela’s pro-poverty alleviation policies could help COSATU in its drive to have a better economic environment for all workers.

“It will be an enormous assistance if there are people who oppose those policies we can point to the fact that we are following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela,” said Craven. “[It] will give us the moral high ground if we are continuing the struggle which he began and played a crucial role in and take to its conclusion.”
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