Programme director,
President of the NUM and national office bearers;
General Secretary of the NUM;
International guests from the CMFU Australia and CMFU European Union;
All guests.

Please accept my warm congratulations to those who have been elected as you prepare to take up the responsibilities and challenges of your positions. We congratulate those too who have not been elected as we appreciate that elections is an instrument for strengthening an organisation from time to time. As this organisation embarks upon its renewed journey, we collectively look forward to working together to develop and concert our efforts in the cause of the NUM, its members, and all people.

During the past two days of conference, I decided to sit and listen to the debates and discussions by delegates and I was impressed by the quality of the inputs which gave me the understanding that the NUM is not only alive and kicking, it is as militant and central in the life of workers and our polity as ever. For me, sitting there and listening was a way of renewing myself and my understanding of the place and role of organised workers in our country. I also take this opportunity to congratulate the NUM on celebrating its 40th Anniversary.

The convening of this conference was itself delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has proved to be a disruptor of note. It has catapulted society across the threshold into the clasps of technology and automation. We dare say that the world as we once knew it has changed and possibly changed forever, and our power to adapt and develop resilience is the key to our integrity and survival. Change and challenge is the only constant.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the manner in which we conduct our lives in real and practical ways and together with the compound effect of existing economic, health and social crises, it is sadly too often that our country’s most vulnerable people fall through the cracks. As history will tell, whether during times of relative certainty or during times of national disaster, it is mainly the poorest people who are overlooked and escape notice.

We have a chance to examine the continuing inequities highlighted by the pandemic, fundamental changes that need to be addressed, and what opportunities exist to rebuild our political, economic and social structures. It is a golden opportunity to consider our history and make sure that this time we leave no one behind.

It is in the genes of the NUM, its origin, its history, and its members, that we inherit the power of political consciousness. The NUM was, and is, a pivotal force in holding up the rights and dreams of mine workers and the workforce in general.

So, as we examine ourselves and our history, we discover that our past is punctuated with challenging moments for the NUM, and it is for this reason that our political consciousness is so important.

For this we need to put more thought into making enough time available for reflecting on political consciousness that is consistent with the demands of the current position/situation of the NUM.

Philosophically consciousness means that one has the ability to know how to make the connections between what one says or does and the possible consequences thereof.

Political consciousness which entails class consciousness means that one understands that society is divided into classes: the haves and have-nots, as well as the middle class.

In the work milieu, workers attain trade union consciousness once they appreciate the importance of associating with each other in order to advance their immediate interests of what they earn and related benefits. In order to gain political consciousness over and above trade union consciousness, each worker must then participate in the struggles of the community where he or she lives. Ultimately to gain class consciousness, the workers must attend classes on historical and dialectical materialism.

Comrades, the challenge we confront with politics and political consciousness, therefore, involves our devotion to humanity towards others, in conjunction with our dedication to promote and advance the NUM.

It is these considerations and more that brought us to this congress.

A conference or congress by definition is a gathering of all members, but due to constraints of the size of the venue as well as the need to manage debates and deliberations, not all members are able to attend. And so, those who are unable to attend, delegate their right to participation to elected representatives who are referred to as delegates.

As delegates, it is therefore clear that you don’t only represent yourself, yes, but also those who have sent you. But, most importantly, you don’t only represent the living, but those who are no more – those who have departed from this earth.

Hence the burden of the delegate is that you must be present, attentive, take copious notes, and represent the views of those who are not present, as accurately and loyally as humanly possible.

Therefore the conference is not an outing, but a serious undertaking for all delegates present.

Worker organisations are characterised by unity and solidarity. Hence the clarion call:
“An injury to one is an injury to all. Unity is strength. Solidarity forever.”

From the organisational report, presented by the Acting General Secretary William Mabapa, we have learnt that the union is operating in very difficult sectors and has waged courageous struggles and won basic rights for the membership and workers in these sectors.

But over and above that, the union offers benefits to members which sets it apart from its competitors, and therefore we would want the union to consider packaging all of the benefits in a small booklet that can be used as a recruitment tool.

We are impressed by the position of the union to give organisational expression and presence to the youth in mining. The best way to train young people is to give them responsibility. We also recognise the various opportunities for youth entrepreneurship in the mining industry.

Both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister Thulas Nxesi spoke about the need to establish a social compact arising from the debates and discussions at NEDLAC. Therefore we expect NUM members to use their agency in furthering discussions around the call for a social compact. Social compacts are normally based on trust which is earned by getting worker representatives to sit on boards of companies so that they become armed with information like everybody else.

On climate change, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, spoke about the need to find sustainable solutions through clean coal technologies as opposed to yielding to pressure to give up the usage of coal.

As we understand it, the universe itself is an aggregate of all things, the totality of everything across space, including the earth itself. But when considering what it is that allows for habitable conditions for plants and animals, we are given the opportunity to discover the natural phenomena of the world. A complex combination of air, water, and soil: elements that blend and brew to imbue a primordial soup in a delicate balance that allows for life on earth.

In a word, the universe is a balance of forces and the tendency of human society is to disturb those forces either by carbon emissions, flying too many jets in the sky, water and air pollution, or other activities in the course of production. At our peril we disturb the balance of those forces and then nature reminds us that we are reckless by unleashing natural disasters upon us.

You opened your congress by singing Nkosi Sikelel’ instead of the South African National Anthem and I wondered as to which congress of the NUM resolved not to sing the South African National Anthem. Is this a form of protest and struggle against an important national symbol? So I will take the liberty to explain the history behind our National Anthem and how it evolved over time.

Here are the facts:  

  • Enoch Sontonga composed the first two stanzas of Nkosi Sikelel’ in 1897 for his school choir.
  • The other stanzas to Nkosi Sikelel’, were added by renowned poet laureate Samuel E.K. Mqhayi.
  • The Ohlange Institute choir offered a rendition of the song after a closing prayer at the South African Native National Congress meeting in January 1912.
  • “Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso” was written by Moses Mphahlele in 1942
  • And the leadership of the African National Congress decided that this Sesotho version was a good companion to Nkosi Sikelel’
  • And hence they are sung together as the National Anthem.
  • Whereas Die Stem van Suid-Afrika is a poem written by CJ Langenhoven in May 1918. The music was composed by the Reverend ML de Villiers in 1921.
  • The song (Die Stem) was firstly sung on the 31st of May in 1928 as an anthem of the Afrikaners.
  • On 20 April 1994, President Nelson Mandela proclaimed that, in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the Republic would have two National Anthems. It would be “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika” and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika.
  • And so a committee was established to work out how these two anthems were going to be arranged and sung.
  • The committee responsible for this new composition included Anna Bender, Elize Botha, Richard Cock, Dolf Havemann (Secretary), Mzilikazi Khumalo (Chairman), Masizi Kunene, John Lenake, Fatima Meer, Khabi Mngoma, Wally Serote, Johan de Villiers, and Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.
  • It was this committee that decided to start with:
    • Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika;
    • Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso;
    • Die Stem;
    • And then added the English part, ‘Sounds the call’, by Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph.

That is where our South African National Anthem comes from.

I thought for whatever it is was worth and since according to the classics, a political leader is not only responsible for the way he leads but also by what is done by those he leads.

Therefore as we once again congratulate the NUM for its 40th anniversary, we are also reminded that this year marks the 80th anniversary since the composition of “Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso” by Moses Mphahlele who is rarely ever acknowledged, and perhaps the NUM could give recognition to this leader of our people.

I am aware that I am standing between you and your dinner so allow me to conclude with the words of our national poet laurate, Keorapetse Kgositsile:

“The new born infant asks which
way is the way to the way”

I thank you.