COSATU president Zingiswa Losi

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has expressed shock and sadness at the murder of veteran union activist Lizo Vakala last week.

Vakala, 64, was reported missing on Sunday 22nd October. Police discovered his badly burnt body on the side of a road in Motherwell, Eastern Cape, on 25 October. They have said a thirty-five-year-old woman has confessed to murder.

Lizo “Sir Vaks” Vakala was a Provincial Deputy Chair of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). He was an anti-Apartheid activist and was imprisoned by P.W. Botha’s government during its crackdown on dissidents in 1985. In a statement, COSATU commended Vakala’s commitment to liberation: “Comrade Vakala was a seasoned activist who selflessly contributed all his life to the liberation struggle. He was an all rounder who participated actively in all Alliance components. His political clarity always guided his participation in these formations. His determination, dedication and devotion to the struggle defined the kind of leader he was. His political activism earned him a prison cell at St Albans Prison in the height of the State of Emergency in 1985.”

Before serving in NEHAWU, Vakala was active in the African National Congress (ANC). He served as a local councillor in the 1994 transitional government. Sir Vaks was also a chairperson in COSATU on a local level and sat on a Regional Economic Council.

Violence against or even between trade unions is not uncommon in South Africa. This summer marked ten years since the Marikana massacre, when police killed thirty-four mineworkers during a wildcat strike in North West province. COSATU does not believe Vakala’s death was related to his work. They condemned it as an example of violent crime endemic in South African society: “COSATU in the Eastern Cape condemns the gruesome killing of Comrade Vakala, not as an isolated incident but as a reflection of a society we live in. Crime is on the rise and our communities are under siege from criminals. We call upon organisations in our communities to join hands with police and other law enforcement agents to work together to combat crime.”

The Institute for Security Services reports that murder in South Africa has risen to seven times the global average. Data from the South African Police Service (SAPS) shows an alarming 22% rise in the first three months of 2022.

The morale of the SAPS and other public service workers is also reported to be low. Public service unions are on strike on 31st October against low pay and government austerity. The strikes include Sir Vaks’ union NEHAWU.

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