Clr Vasco Da Gama - Speaker of the City of Johannesburg Legislature

The dyad of democracy: Why economic and political freedom cannot be disconnected

Political truths have a tendency to echo across the eras, as the human race fumbles through history, seeking solutions to human problems which seldom seem to change. At the turn of the twentieth century, German politician, Eugen Richter, made the pronouncement that “Economic freedom has no security without political freedom, and political freedom can find its security only in economic freedom.”

It is fitting that Freedom Day and Workers’ Day are celebrated in such close proximity in this country, considering the role that the workers and trade unions played in fighting for that freedom.
However, the closeness of these two public holidays also reminds us of how far we have strayed from some of the initial ideals and promises made during the struggle for freedom.

Democracy promised a better life, a step out of poverty, a step-up for the working class to decent wages, a quality standard of living and protection from unethical employees.
But the integrity of some political parties and unions has had to be questioned over the years, with the rights of workers playing second fiddle to the desires and deals of union leaders pandering to the demands of politicians.
In an insightful article published in 2017 on, Sara Gon, IRR Policy Fellow, suggested that unions in South Africa are reactive rather than proactive.

Their inability to meet the needs of workers in difficult economic times, combined with the growing influence of opposition parties “suggests that workers may no longer be interested in unions and federations representing their political interests.”
As we hear the echoes of Richter’s pronouncement centuries later, we see the inevitable unfolding in our country. As the promised economic freedom fails to be delivered, our people grow restless.

Workers speak out against Union leaders. Unions question long-standing political alliances.
Voters switch allegiance. And new leaders move to address the scourge of corruption which must be purged in order to make headway in our quest for the political and economic liberation of our people.

One such initiative driven by our coalition leadership aiming to deliver grassroots economic liberation, is the City of Johnnesburg’s programme to insource waste management and security services.

Almost 4000 security guards will be insourced into the City, increasing their remuneration and benefits while costing the City no more than what has been expended on over 100 security contracts in the City.
Following successful meetings held with SAMWU, IMATU and Pikitup management recently, some former contract workers and some former Jozi@Work employees will be insourced by the City.

These employees will see their earnings increase from R2200 to R6000 per month and be employed on a permanent basis.
This is one of the largest scale insourcing projects ever undertaken in the public sector, but we are driven by what is fair and just, rather than what produces lucrative profits for the few fortunate enough to win these tenders.

We are happy that the unions have expressed their support for our efforts in bringing fair pay to workers within the City. We hope that they will maintain their support as we work to better the City.

This is one simple example of the steps we need to start taking as a nation if we are to protect and liberate our workers.
Government at all levels should be committed to the cause of ensuring the political and economic freedom of our people.
By ensuring that our processes and practices as an employer of a large workforce are in line with fair practice and ethical conduct, we will set an example for employers in every sector in our country.
History the world over has shown that the power of the people sits with the working classes, who will eventually rise if they are being wronged.
Let us work to create a South Africa in which the our workers are treated with the dignity they deserve.
Let us reflect on the dyad of democracy – that political and economic freedoms are intertwined and interdependent.
We fought hard to win our democracy; now let us fight hard to reap the benefits which such a political system should bring to all its people.

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