n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Trade unionism and politics in Africa : the South African experience

Volume 45, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



This paper reflects on trade unionism and politics in Africa in general and South Africa in particular, from colonisation to post-colonial Africa and constitutional democratic order. It first deals with the origins of trade unions, their relationship with political parties, their critical role in the struggle for independence, and their contribution to present day struggles for democracy. Special emphasis is on South Africa as an illuminating case of the African experience with trade unionism and politics, particularly because South African trade unionism is the most developed on the continent and post-apartheid South Africa is one of the few democratic and constitutional states in Africa. The paper then focuses on the particular origins of trade unionism in South Africa, its relationship with political parties, its contribution to the struggle against apartheid, and the current status, strengths and weaknesses of the South African trade unionism with reference to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is the largest federation of trade unions in South Africa. It argues that trade unions remain critical for democratic consolidation and will continue to play a meaningful role in this process. However, despite their relationship with political parties, trade unions should remain autonomous.

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