A relatively unknown black miner, Elijah Barayi, has become a national figure overnight on South Africa's troubled polical scene. He was elected president of the newly-formed 500,000-member Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the largest trade union federation ever formed by blacks. Cosatu could represent the most serious political challenge by black workers to white rule in the country's history, say analysts here.
Barayi was a stalwart of South Africa's premier resistance movement, the African National Congress (ANC), in the days before it was outlawed. At the time of his election, he was vice-president of the National Union of Mineworkers.
A Cosatu representative observed that the new organization shares many political objectives with the ANC. At an impromptu press conference after the new federation was launched, Barayi told reporters that Cosatu hoped to fill the vacuum that has existed since 1960, when the ANC was banned.
His remark caused Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland, to accuse Cosatu of being an ANC front. Buthelezi opposses the violent tactics used by the ANC to overthrow the government.
Cosatu's political aims are set out in the preamble to its Constitution. ``We . . . firmly commit ourselves to a united democratic South Africa, free of oppression and economic exploitation. We believe this can only be achieved under the leadership of a united working class.''
Within hours of his election, was booming defiance at a mass rally in Durban: ``Cosatu gives [President Pieter W.] Botha six months to get rid of passes.'' Barayi was referring to laws which require adult blacks have to carry passbooks.
``If that does not take place within six months, we will burn the passes of the black man,'' Barayi said. Clenched fists acclaimed his ultimatum. Anticipating a future in which Cosatu would govern South Africa, Barayi said: ``Cosatu will nationalize the mines and even take over some of the big businesses.''
Barayi castigated federalism, a political system some say might provide a solution to the nation's problems, as ``fraudulent and undemocratic'' because it would maintain control in the hands of the present minority. The new trade union federation favors a unitary state and universal adult suffrage.
The homelands system, which confines millions of blacks to poor, tribal-based territories, is designed to thwart the ``just struggle for one person, one vote in a unitary South Africa,'' union members averred. Black homeland rulers were accused of practicing ``extreme forms of oppression.''