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Press Statements

Last updated: 26 December 2008

The Unveiling of Gert Sibande Statue

Tribute to the late Gert Sibande

26 December 2008

Thank you Programme Director, Comrade Mahlangu

To the Sibande family, I wish to salute you for having allowed your father and grandfather to be part of liberation forces in our country.

To comrade Mabuza and the entire leadership of the ANC, both at the national and provincial levels
To the leadership of the SACP and COSATU and affiliated unions
Comrade Premier and other deployees in government
All protocol observed

Indeed it is an honour and I feel humbled to speak at this historic event. This is an event meant to honour and pay a befitting tribute to a stalwart of our movement and a veteran of trade union organization

The Lion of the East is a product of suffering, of struggle waged on this suffering, and of organization to pursue this struggle against this suffering

Comrade Gert has proven a fighter of high note. A son of working class parents, a child growing on farms and under horrible and slave-type living conditions, he reached a moment in life when he decided that this situation cannot be tolerated.

He was instrumental in organizing farm workers - a first farm workers organization at the time. He proceeded to be part of our movement, rising in stature to become the Transvaal Vice President of the ANC.

One of the key defining moments of his skilled organizational capabilities was when he, with the assistance of Ruth First and other progressive journalists under the stewardship of Brian Bunton, organized and led a successful potato boycott in the 1950s.

This ANC boycott campaign owes its origin and conceptualization to comrade Gert Sibande's brains and efforts. We salute him for this and other achievements. The potato boycott was about terrible working and horrible living conditions of our farm workers and dwellers.

Has the situation changed from 50 years ago? I wish to be blunt and say the situation on farms has not changed an inch for workers and dwellers.

Farm workers still work in conditions of hostile weather, be it scorching sun to rainy conditions, to long working hours, from sunset to sunrise, to handling dangerous chemicals without protective clothing.

These workers and their other family members still live in conditions far from decent. Some still draw water from the same stream used by live-stock and they still do not have access to electricity and sanitation facilities and some still share accommodation with pigs in a pig stall.

To make it worse, some of these farm dwellers do not know what liberation is. They still have their identity books confiscated so as to deny them the right to vote. They are afraid to report abuses against them to police station, where they do report little, if any investigation is made. If such investigation is made then prosecution is poor and where prosecution is successful, then punishment is 'a slap on a wrist'.

In his honour we call on our movement to take the plight of farm dwellers as a serious and urgent mission. The situation as it exists cannot continue any longer. Liberation and a better life have to reach this sizable section of our society.

This would the best befitting tribute, in addition to this statue, to the memory of Gert Sibande

Delivered by Katishi Masemola
FAWU General Secretary and COSATU CEC Member