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Congress of South African Trade Unions


Congress of South African Trade Unions

Full name Congress of South African Trade Unions
Founded 1 December 1985
Members 1.8 million
Affiliation ICFTU-AFRO
Key people Sidumo Dlamini, president
Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general
Office location Johannesburg, South Africa
Country South Africa

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is a trade union federation in South Africa. It was founded in 1985 and is the largest of the country’s three main trade union federations, with 21 affiliated trade unions,[note 1][1] altogether organising 1.8 million workers.


  • History 1
  • Fight against Apartheid 2
  • Affiliated Trade Unions 3
  • Expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa 4
  • Government 5
  • Labour and social movements 6
  • Logo 7
  • Zimbabwe 8
  • Current officeholders 9
  • See also 10
  • Further reading 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


On 30 Nov 1985, 33 unions met at the [2]

Several resolutions where passed at this first meeting that defined the aim of the federation and how the federation operates, namely:[2]

  • To establish one union for each industry within six months.
  • To focus on the exploitation of women workers.
  • To call for the lifting of the state of emergency, withdrawal of troops from the townships and release of all political prisoners.
  • To continue the call for international pressure, including disinvestment.
  • To demand for the right to strike and picket.
  • To determine a national minimum wage.
  • To extend the struggle for trade union rights in the homelands.

The COSATU congress decided in 2012 to affiliate with the class-struggle oriented World Federation of Trade Unions, while maintaining its membership within the International Trade Union Confederation.

On 5–6 May 1987 a strike as part of COSATU's Living Wage Campaign was held coinciding with [2]

Fight against Apartheid

At the second national congress held from 14–18 July 1987, the [2]

At the third congress held from 12–16 July 1989, a resolution was adopted that called on the members of COSATU to "join a campaign of sustained action against apartheid" in the week leading up to the 1898 General Election of South Africa.[6]

On 26 July 1989, Cosatu, the [2]

Affiliated Trade Unions

The following unions are listed by COSATU as their affiliate unions:[7]

The following affiliated unions have suspended their participation in COSATU due to the expulsion of the National union of Metalworkers of South Africa.[1]

The following union has been expelled by COSATU.[8]

Expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa

On 8 November 2014, Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the largest COSATU affiliate,[9] the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), announced that the union had been expelled from the COSATU after a vote at a special central executive committee had been convened resulting in a 33-24 vote in favour of the expulsion.[8][10] NUMSA was charged with violating the constitution of COSATU[11]

On 6 November 2014, an urgent legal application by NUMSA to prevent the special central executive committee from being convened was postponed by South Gauteng High Court, thus allowing the meeting to take place.[12]

On 10 November 2014, 7 unions announced they they were voluntarily suspending their participation in COSATU's decision making bodies due to the expulsion of NUMSA and called for a special national congress to be convened.[1]

Irvin Jim described the expulsion as "a dark day for workers".[9]


COSATU is part of an alliance with the Zwelinzima Vavi, has described Jacob Zuma's government as a "predator society."[13]

Labour and social movements

South Africa has one of the largest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with a 2005 estimate of 5.5 million people living with HIV — 12.4% of the population.[14][15] The trade union movement has taken a role in combating this pandemic. COSATU is a key partner in the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a registered charity and political force working to educate and promote understanding about HIV/AIDS, and to prevent new infections, as well as push for greater access to antiretrovirals. In 1998, COSATU passed a resolution to campaign for treatment. “It was clear to the labour movement at that time that its lowest paid members were dying because they couldn’t afford medicines,” says Theodora Steel, Campaigns Coordinator at COSATU. “We saw TAC as a natural ally in a campaign for treatment. We passed a formal resolution at our congress to assist and build TAC.[16]

Notwithstanding the formal alliance of COSATU with the ruling ANC party, it has been at odds with the government, calling for the roll-out of comprehensive public access to antiretroviral drugs.[17]

Abahlali baseMjondolo offered a strong statement of support to the 2010 Public Sector Worker's strike.[18]

The wheel in the logo represents the economy. The gold colour of the wheel represents the wealth of the country. The figures pushing the wheel, consisting of two men and a women carrying a baby, represent the challenges that workers face namely, racial and gender oppression as well as economic exploitation. These figures are black as they represent the black majorities struggle against racial oppression. The figures are holding a red flag that represents the working class.[19]

The slogan on the logo is "An injury to one is an injury to all" signifies the vision the union has of social solidarity that binds the working class.[19]


In October 2004 and February 2005 COSATU sent delegations to Zimbabwe to judge conditions in that country before the 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections. They were expelled from the country on both occasions.

COSATU has arranged protests and border blockades against the regime in Harare.

Current officeholders

National office bearers:[20]

  • President: Sdumo Dlamini
  • First Deputy-President: Tyotyo James
  • Second Deputy-President: Zingiswa Losi
  • Secretary General: Zwelinzima Vavi
  • Deputy General Secretary: Bheki Ntshalintshali
  • Treasurer: Freda Oosthuysen

Regional secretaries:[21]

  • Eastern Cape: Macvicar
  • Free State: Monyatso Mahlatsi
  • Gauteng: Dumisani Dakile
  • KwaZulu-Natal: Edwin Mkhize
  • Limpopo: Gerald Twala
  • Mpumalanga: Fidel Mlombo
  • North West: Solly Phetoe
  • Northern Cape: Anele Gxoyiya
  • Western Cape: Tony Ehrenreich

See also

Further reading

  • Jeremy Baskin, Striking Back: A history of Cosatu, Routledge (September 1991), an account of COSATU's early years from 1985 until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990


  1. ^ One Union expelled, and seven Unions voluntarily suspended their participation in COSATU


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c d e f
  3. ^ South African History Online. "Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)". Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Cosatu. "Brief History of Cosatu". Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  5. ^ Friedman, Michelle (2010). "The Future is in the Hands of the Workers": A History of Fosatu. Johannesburg: Mutloatse Heritage Trust. p. 122–124.  
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Zuma slammed as strike builds, The Star, 28 August 2010
  14. ^ "2006 Report on the global AIDS epidemic".  
  15. ^ "Country profile - South Africa".  
  16. ^ "Stepping back from the edge". UNAIDS. Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  17. ^ "South African Union Boss Demands Government Supply Anti-AIDS Drugs". The Retrieved 2006-07-11. 
  18. ^ Hospitals blocked as South African unions resume massive strikes, Sipho January, Observer, 19 August 2010
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^
  21. ^

External links

  • Official homepage
  • COSATU Daily News
  • COSATU Press Releases
  • South Africa Info: Trade Unions in South Africa
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