Phistus Mekgwe: Mr Distributor

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Phistus Mekge

“I was born in Soweto, Orldando East on 15 September 1957 but grew up in Rustenburg. It was a village of Luka, Phiring, part of the MoPhiriing clan. Phiri means “hyena”.

“However, for many Bra Fees was Mr Distributor, who was responsible for distributing Learn and Teach to unions, communities, churches. He made many trips to the post office too, posting subscriptions to the readers far and wide.

“When I left school in 1980, I went to work at SASOL, then only SASOL 2 and SASOL 3 was still under construction. SASOL 3 was also part of their plans. Then in 1981, I was transferred. There was no union.

“We organised ourselves into CWIU, which had their offices in Germiston. We were working with Tshidiso Modupi, who later became an organizer.

“Meshack Ravuku also worked with us, more or less underground, to form the union. Sasol at that time was under heavy security and did not like discussions or pamphlets on progressive things. They also lectured us about terrorism and unions.

“You see I had arrived at SASOL the first time, after the ANC bombing of which Solomon Mahlungu was implicated.

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Bra Fees with community activist Thusi Rapoo

“So the bosses were very strict with us, in terms of security. And I was an organising then members in the plant, in a very hostile environment.¨

“We organized for the simple reason: because our wages / salaries were very low, and Apartheid inside the company was very strong and the whites had a lot of power. The place was fully segregated: the canteens, the toilets, etc. One could not even use a mug that was reserved for whites…

“All these factors coincided in them responding to the call of COSAS for a national stay away. This all came 5 and 6 September 1984 when the mass strikes resulted in 6 500 workers were dismissed.

“One demand we made that was very important to us, was that of UNION Recognition… SASOL could not believe that the workers could join a union, after they tried to brainwash us, the workers.

“I was a shopsteward and a recruiter for members to join our union.

FIREDLearn and Teach’s Marc Suttner came to do a story on the strike. More or less at the same time, Mekgwe began to sell the magazines to striking workers, earning a small stipend whilst being on strike.

“Many of the workers were fired and some reinstated. In some cases, they were asked to re-apply. We re-applied but the cases of the leaders were rejected. The company had taken our photos and accused us of being the instigators of the strike… with the news that we will not be taken back. But many got back… Not me. I was one of those not reinstated.

“I was then approached by Learn and Teach. I had been a seller and was looking for work. So I began selling it at union meetings at COSATU and other union meetings.”

That is how Phistus became a contributor to knowledge creation and for him, sharing knowledge was very important.

Based on interviews Hassen Lorgat did with Bra Fees, on 17 January 2012

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