Many people still remember the end of July in 1980. The city of Johannesburg was dirty for nearly two weeks. Nobody swept the streets. Nobody emptied the dustbins. There were big piles of rubbish in every street.
People waited for a long time at the bus stops. But the buses never came. Many bus drivers didn’t go to work. And many municipal workers from other departments also did not work.
Ten thousand municipal workers went on strike. They went on strike for nearly two weeks. They wanted more money. A man called Joseph Zenzele Mavi was their leader.
Now Mavi is dead. He died in a car accident on the 8th of June this year. He was only 44 years old.
Mavi was buried in Soweto on the 26th June. At the funeral, speakers praised Mavi.
Mr. Government Zini from a trade union called Macwusa said: “Mr. Mavi was not an ordinary man. He was a man of the people, a man you could trust at first sight. We have lost a tree under which we all sheltered.”
Joseph Mavi was born in the Transkei in 1938. He went to school in Umtata. In 1957 he came to work in Johannesburg. He got a job with the water department at the Johannesburg municipality. He worked there until 1959.
He got a job with a company in Doornfontein. He stayed there for nine months. Then he got a job with the CNA. In 1960 he got a driver’s licence.
In 1964 Mavi got a job as a bus driver for the City Council. He was one of the first black bus drivers to work for the City Council.
In 1968 he left the City Council. He wanted to work for his people. He joined the Bantu Federation of South Africa. He worked with great people like James “Sofasonke” Mpanza.
At this time, Mavi became interested in trade unions. He read all about trade unions. He believed that workers needed to stand together.
In 1970 he joined the African Transport Workers Union. He now worked as a truck driver for a large furniture company. In 1975 Joseph Mavi became president of the union. But he was not happy with the union. He believed the union was not helping the workers.
He went back to the City Council. He drove buses again. The City Council started a union called the Union of Johannesburg Municipality Workers. Joseph Mavi did not like this union. He said the union did not belong to the workers.
In January 1978 Mavi went to a meeting of the union. But the officials did not let him speak. Mavi walked out of the union. One hundred and thirteen people followed him. Mavi and his followers started the Black Municipality Workers Union (BMWU).
The BMWU grew quickly. Mavi was a good leader. He knew what the workers wanted. He was a worker himself.
Mavi was in jail a lot. The police arrested him for the first time when the workers went on strike. He was arrested at the magistrate’s court. He was at Court because he wanted to help the workers. The City Council fired the workers and was sending them back to the homelands. Mavi asked the magistrate to let the workers stay in Johannesburg.
Mavi worked hard to make his trade union strong. But Mavi did not work hard for only municipal workers. He worked hard for all the workers in the country. He wanted all workers to stand together.
A week before he died, Mavi spoke at a meeting at the Johannesburg City Hall. He spoke like he knew he was going to die. He said: “Even if Mavi dies, do not leave the Union. The work must carry on.”