The last ride

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005Early one morning last month, they found a dead man at the Village Main Station in Johannesburg. His name was Simon Khamanga.

Some thugs got Simon the night before. They got him while he waited for the train to take him home. The gang stabbed him many times.

Simon Khamanga died all by himself. Nobody was around to help him. His death was a lonely death.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005But Simon was not alone when he went to the grave. He was a man with many friends. For Simon was a member of the Johannesburg Scooter Drivers’ Association (JSDA). The JSDA is a trade union for scooter and motor – bike drivers. And the guys in this union stand together. When one of the members dies, that member does not have a lonely funeral.

After all the union’s slogan is: “An injury to one is an injury to all”.

All the members heard about Simon’s death. When they heard they went to talk to their bosses. They told their bosses they wanted their bikes for the funeral. They said they wanted to give their friend his last ride.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005They met at the Kliptown football field on the Sunday morning. They began to arrive at 11 o’clock. They came in two’s and three’s. Drivers who had no bikes, came on the back of their friend’s bikes. Some drivers also brought their girlfriends along.

Soon the field was like a sea of different colours. The clean silver of the exhaust pipes shone with the bright red, yellow, black and white helmets of the drivers. Many of the guys came with black leather jackets and dark sunglasses. And most of them stuck the sign of the union on the back of their bikes.

The union organizer moved around the field. He collected money from the drivers. He took their money and wrote receipts. The drivers gave over R800 to help with Simon’s funeral.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005At 12 o’clock, about 150 bikes were parked on the field. The organizer told them to make two long lines. Then suddenly they all started up. The small bikes buzzed. And the big bikes roared.

They drove off. They made their way to the Catholic Church in Pimville ­ where Simon’s body lay waiting.

At the church, they parked their bikes in two long rows. They went quietly into the church. They sat with Simon’s famiIy. They sang and prayed for their dead friend.

Two of the union leaders spoke in the church. They prayed for the soul of Simon Khamanga. And they told the drivers they must always stand together. They told them they were strong when they stand together.

The driver’s agreed with their leaders. “An injury to one is an injury to all,” they shouted.

Six members of the union stood up. They put on their crash helmets. And they carried the coffin out of the church. They put the coffin into the big black funeral car outside.

All the drivers went back to their bikes. They started up again. And they drove off slowly. They led the big, black car to the Avalon Cemetery in Soweto.

At the graveside, the members of the union stood together with the Khamanga family. And they prayed again. The coffin was slowly dropped into the grave. Some of the drivers picked up spades. They filled their friend’s grave with the thick, red soil.

Afterwards they went to Simon’s house in Pimville. They all had some­ thing to eat. And they remembered their dead friend from the union.

The members of the union were sad that day. But they went home with one happy thought. Each man knew that when he has problems, his friends will be around to help.

After the funeral Learn and Teach spoke to the organizer of the JSDA. He told us about the union.

“We are not like an ordinary trade union,” he said. “Most unions help workers when they are alive and well. We help our members when they are working and when they are dead.”

“Scooter drivers have many problems at work,” he said. “Wages are very low. Some drivers get under R60 a week. The union is fighting for a better wage.

“Scooter drivers also have a dangerous job. How many times have you seen a scooter driver lying half dead in the road? Often the bosses do not give us boots, gloves and rain suits. The bikes are also often not safe. The union fights to make this job safer.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005“We also lose our jobs very easily. Sometimes a driver has an accident. He goes to hospital for three weeks. He comes out of hospital and he has no job. His boss has got another driver.

“And sometimes the drivers don’t get their compensation money. Workers get this money from the government when they get sick or have an accident at work. The union helps scooter drivers with all these problems.”

The Union has now got over 400 members in Johannesburg. They also now organize scooter drivers in Germiston and Randfontein. The JSDA organizer believes over 12,000 scooter drivers work on the Wit­watersrand. He says the union needs many more members to get strong.

Are you a scooter driver? Do you want to join the union? You can write or go to the JSDA at:

Room 203,
Chancellor House;
25 Fox Street;
Johannesburg,

Tel: (011) 838-2377

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