Despite the three-day 12th national congress of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) getting off to a slow start on Wednesday in Ekurhuleni’s Birchwood Hotel, with keynote speaker President Cyril Ramaphosa having failed to arrive, delegates in high spirit kept the gathering alive with singing and chanting.
While waiting for hours for Ramaphosa’s replacement Gwede Mantashe to arrive, delegates sang songs about ANC stalwarts Oliver Tambo, Chis Hani and Solomon Mahlangu.
Addressing the gathering earlier, Gauteng Premier David Makhura – taking stock of the poor ANC performance in the local government elections – said the alliance and workers in the province who fully participated in the election campaign were “all disappointed with the low voter turnout, especially in working class communities”.
Said Makhura: “We must interpret this low voter turnout politically. Voters who stayed away from the polls – who are the majority of all registered voters – chose not to vote in order to send a message to all parties.
“To us in the ANC, we must appreciate that the majority of these registered voters, chose not to vote for any alternative to the ANC.
“However, they are also not convinced that as the ANC we have done enough to address what they see as problems of corruption, service delivery failures, and socio-economic problems such as unemployment and deepening levels of poverty.”
Renewal, said Makhura, needed to be fast-tracked “to tackle both organisational divisions, ethical degeneration and socio-economic problems facing millions of people in our communities.
“We must insist that there is no turning back on renewal. We must act with urgency to win back the confidence of those who chose to stay away from the polls instead of choosing to vote for opposition parties or independent candidates.
“We can win back the trust of the people if we act with consistency and urgency on the renewal of both the ANC and Government.
“We remain confident that we will still have the majority in most municipalities even though in some we need to work with other like-minded parties or individuals to set up government,” said Makhura.
Describing himself as “a product of Nehawu”, Makhura said he remained “deeply grateful to the union for its contribution to shaping my personal, political and ideological development”.
Said Makhura: “This Union shaped my class consciousness, my attitude to life, working people, politics, society, and to issues of injustice and inequalities locally and internationally.
“To this day, my theory and practise on matters of the alliance and governance have been shaped by many debates we had in union meetings and political schools.
“Here in Gauteng, the alliance has been working very hard to confront and tackle difficult political, social, economic and governance issues together in a united way.”
Makhura said in the past18 months, South Africa went through “very difficult times as a country with Covid-19”.
“In Gauteng we have lost a lot of healthcare workers and without the unions coming to the party, the public healthcare workers in our province in particular, we would have had great difficulty with managing this pandemic.
“I wish to take this opportunity to officially thank Nehawu and other public sector unions for their positive role in helping us to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The leadership of Nehawu has enabled us to face various challenges, including dealing firmly with PPE (personal protective equipment) corruption and other acts of malfeasance.
“We will rely on your support in fixing the current problems and dysfunctionality of the Gauteng Department of Health,” he said.
He added: “We remain committed to the fight against corruption and ensuring that all those who are involved in any unlawful practices face the full might of the law.
“We continue to make progress in our vaccination programme.
“To date, three million people in Gauteng have been fully vaccinated – the largest number in the country.”