ASLEF supports Action for Southern Africa

01 October 2016

ANDREW HOURIGAN, EC member for District 3, reports on Action for Southern Africa, successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which works for peace, democracy and development in southern Africa

ASA(Featured in the ASLEF Journal, October 2016, pp15)

When Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison in 1990 and then, four years later, led the African National Congress to victory in South Africa’s first democratic,multi-racial, general election it wasn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end, of the struggle. But it was the end of the beginning.

That struggle goes on today, and every day, which is why ASLEF recently affiliated to Action for Southern Africa, the successor organisation to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which campaigns for justice, rights and development in the region.

FREE OF POVERTY

‘Action for Southern Africa was established in 1994,’ says senior campaigns officer Sunit Bagree. ‘We support the people of southern Africa in their efforts to achieve a region free of poverty, based on human rights and equality for all. As a democratic, member-led, campaigning, non- governmental organisation, ACTSA encourages individuals and civil society organisations in the UK and beyond to stand in solidarity with those struggling for rights and justice in southern Africa.’

They work hard to eradicate poverty, push for sustainable development, and promote democracy on the continent. They want to improve women’s rights in the region,particularly in Zimbabwe and Swaziland. And they still campaign for those who suffer from the poverty and injustice caused by apartheid.

ACTSA currently has two major campaigns: Justice for Southern African Gold Miners and Democracy for Swaziland. In addition, the organisation works on a broad range of other issues (especially trade, HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights), often as an active member of civil society coalitions, and is also active in Angola and Zimbabwe.

JUSTICE FOR MINERS

Tens of thousands of mainly ex-gold miners across southern Africa have silicosis, an incurable, debilitating disease, caused by exposure to silica dust, which makes the sufferer more likely to contract tuberculosis. It is preventable, by putting health and safety measures in place, but the owners and managers of apartheid South Africa’s gold mines treated black miners as cheap and expendable labour,to be exploited then discarded when ill. This injustice is compounded by the scandalous refusal of the mining companies to accept responsibility and provide decent health care and compensation.

In March a settlement was announced on behalf of 4,365 claimants against two mining companies,Anglo-American South Africa and Anglo Gold Ashanti. The companies will put 500million rand (£27m) in a trust fund. Former miners who have a medical, and have silicosis at or above a certain level, and are able to demonstrate they workedfor either company for at least two years, will receive compensation. While welcome, this is a closed settlement, and not the comprehensive industry-wide arrangement that ACTSA, and the trade unions, want.

Two months later, the High Court in South Africa certified a class action against30 mining companies (including Anglo-American and Anglo Gold) on behalf of30,000 ex-miners. If the class action succeeds it will effectively lead to an industry-wide compensation scheme for those with silicosis and TB. ACTSA called on the companies not to appeal against the ruling, and to negotiate with representatives of miners and ex-miners. Regrettably, the mining companies did not heed ACTSA’s call, but the High

Court refused the companies leave to appeal‚ prompting them to petition the Supreme Court. ACTSA will continue shaming the companies for their behaviour and campaign for decent health care provision and compensation.

RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY

ACTSA campaigns for human rights and democracy, and against poverty and inequality,in Swaziland. King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has been on the throne since 1986. His extensive powers include the ability to appoint the prime minister and members of the judiciary, and two-thirds of the upper house,as well as the right to veto legislation. The current constitution fails to respect democratic norms, and many laws undermine basic freedoms, especially those of women.

The country’s largest opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement, is banned. Trade unions and CSOs seeking to promote human rights are systematically oppressed. As a result of mismanagement and corruption the economy is in a dire state, with 63% of the population living below the poverty line, and wealth concentrated in the hands of the royal family and a tiny elite close to the king.

MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE

In June ACTSA published two briefing papers: ‘Swaziland’s Downward Spiral: The International Community Must Act Now’ and ‘Women’s Rights in Swaziland’. These led to meetings with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and MEPs. Real and lasting change will only come about through the actions of its people and their representative organisations. ACTSA has called on the king to enter into meaningful dialogue with his political opponents and all sections of civil society.

The men and women calling and organising for human rights to be upheld, and democratic norms adhered to, in Swaziland want and need international solidarity. ACTSA relies on its members and supporters. It does not get any support from the UK government.

If you would like to become an individual member of ACTSA you can join online at www.actsa.org/page-1026-Join_actsa.html or by calling 020 7186 0750.

If your branch would like to affiliate it can do so at www.actsa.org/page-1436-Affiliate_to_ACTSA.html or call 020 7186 0750.

For further information please visit www.actsa.org

 

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