An interview with comrade Joe Slovo

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Smiles and hugs from long-time comrades, ANC leader Nelson Mandela and SACP leader Joe SLovo meet in Cape Town

For most South Africans, Joe Slovo needs no introduction. Some see him as “public enemy number one”. But many more know him as a tireless fighter of apartheid and a champion of socialism.

Comrade Slovo joined the Communist Party in the early 1940s and has been an active member ever since. At present, he is Secretary-General of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

He is also a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and was one of the earliest members of Its army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He is a former Chief of Staff of MK and was the first white person to be elected onto the ANC’s National Executive Committee.

Learn and Teach spoke to Joe Slovo at the ANC’s Head Office in Johannesburg.

LEARN AND TEACH: Firstly, welcome home! What’s it like to be back?
SLOVO: Well, I think it’s the most warming feeling to be back. I feel for the first time in twenty-seven years that I am home!

Learn and Teach: Can you please tell us something about yourself? For example, where were you born?
Slovo: I was born in 1926 in a village in Lithuania in the Soviet Union. Of course at that time, Lithuania was not part of the Soviet Union. The people in the village were very poor and so the heads of families used to go and look for work in other places, just like in the rural areas in South Africa. My father left when I was two years old and went to Argentina. He worked there for some time and then the great depression came in 1929. He lost his job and was unable to make a living so he took a boat to South Africa, and eventually he saved up enough money to send tickets for the rest of the family to join him. This was in 1936. My mother came with us but she died a few years later. She died in childbirth.

Learn and Teach: What did your father do?
Slovo: Well, when we lived in Lithuania he was a fisherman, catching and selling fish. But when he came to South Africa, he was a fruit hawker. He used to sell fruit in the streets. He then became a lorry driver for a bakery in Doornfontein. But he kept losing his job, and in those days if you didn’t pay your debts, you could be sent to prison. So he was in and out of prison.

Learn and Teach: What school did you go to?
Slovo: The school was called Observatory Junior Secondary — it went up to standard eight but I left in standard six. I think I was about fourteen then …

Learn and Teach: Why did you leave? Was it because of money?
Slovo: Yes, my father couldn’t support me. At that stage we were living in a boarding house and he was unable to pay the rent, so I went to work. At first, I worked for a company called S.A. Druggists. I was a dispatch clerk. I used to check orders.

Learn and Teach: How did you get involved in politics? Was your family political in any way?
Slovo: My family was not really political. But at school I had an Irish teacher who influenced me. He was very anti-imperialist, anti-British, and he helped me to understand what was going on in the world. He took some of us to what was known then as a junior left book club. During the Second World War leftists used to hold book clubs where we discussed politics. That was really my first involvement in any kind of structured politics. Then, when I went to work at SA Druggists, I became involved in trade union work. I joined the National Union of Distributive Workers, which was then an all-white union. Blacks were not allowed to be in unions.

Learn and Teach: When did you join the Communist Party?
Slovo: I joined the Party while I worked at SA Druggists. I was about sixteen, I think.

Learn and Teach: Could you join the party at such a young age?
Slovo: Well, I tried to join a little bit earlier. The party used to hold meetings at the Johannesburg City Hall every Sunday night, and when I started working I used to go to these meetings, but I was still young. I applied to join, and so they looked at me and said ‘Well, we think you’d better wait until you wear long trousers’!

Learn and Teach: How long did you work at SA Druggists?
Slovo: Not very long — I was fired because of my union and Party activities! We started a factory group of the Party at the company. We had a Party newspaper in the black toilets, and it survived for about two years because we knew that no white would ever walk into a black toilet. After a year or two, we had a strike which we won. Then I was sacked, and I got a job at Elephant Trading Company in Market Street. I was sacked again for my involvement in union activities.

Learn and Teach: What did it mean to be a member of the party?
Slovo: Well, it meant that I was committed to being involved in its activities, and to spending all my spare time advancing its policies.

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Joe Slovo and ANC leader Ahmed Kathrada singing Nkosi Sikelel i’Africa at a meeting in Lusaka

Learn and Teach: What does it mean to be a communist?
Slovo: A communist is a person who believes that the only decent way in which people can live is if there are no individuals who live off the labour of others. In simple terms, we are talking about the kind of society where there are no bosses, and where people work together for the good of the community as a whole.

Learn and Teach: You said earlier you were sacked from Elephant Trading. What did you do after that?
Slovo: I joined the army. At the time, the Party decided that all its white members should join the army to fight against the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini. Not blacks — because they were not allowed to carry arms. I fought in Egypt and Italy, and came back after when the war was over, at the end of 1945.

Learn and Teach: How did you come to study law?
Slovo: Because I was an ex-serviceman, I was able to get a grant to go to university and an exemption for matric — which I never had. I then studied for a BA LLB at Wits, qualified as a barrister (advocate) and from 1950 to 1963 I practised law at the bar in Johannesburg.

Learn and Teach: In the eyes of some white people you are “public enemy number one”. How do you feel about this label?
Slovo: Well, I suppose to be called “public enemy number one” by racists is quite an honour!

Learn and Teach: Perhaps we can talk about events in the country that are taking place now. You were a member of the ANC delegation at the meeting with the government at Groote Schuur in May. Could you please talk about why the ANC decided to come and speak to the government?
Slovo: Well, I don’t think anyone in the ANC ever thought that negotiations is something which stands in a different corner to the struggle. We very early on accepted that negotiations or talks or dialogue is just part of the site of struggle. The goal of talks and the goal of struggle is the same. There’s no difference between the two. Our goal is, and has always been, people’s power. There’s no principle that says ‘violence is the only way to struggle’ or ‘dialogue is the only way to struggle.’ Of course, if you look at our history, we were forced into armed struggle because all the other avenues had closed. But we have always believed that if we could achieve what the people wanted through peaceful means, that was the preferable course. It’s the preferable course for all serious revolutionaries.

Learn and Teach: Why do you think the government was finally prepared to come to the table with the ANC?
Slovo: Well, I think the main reason was the many years of increasing pressure from people inside and outside the country.

Learn and Teach: How do the ANC and SACP see the unbanning of these organisations?
Slovo: The ANC and SACP weren’t unbanned as a present from de Klerk — it was a victory for us. This victory opened up new space for us to take the struggle forward. When an organisation is made legal this opens up enormous possibilities for it to grow strong, to get better organised, to mobilise the people more effectively. As you have seen since the unbannings, we are trying to use that space fully.

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A close alliance – ANC leaders ALfred Nzo and Nelson Mandela with SACP leader Joe Slovo at an ANC meeting in Lusaka

Learn and Teach: Could you please tell us how the ANC sees the process of negotiations?
Slovo: Well, I think it’s clear from the Harare Declaration that there are three stages in this process. The Harare Declaration was a document which was drawn up by the ANC, and was then adopted by the whole world. The first stage is the removal of all obstacles in the way of negotiations. The Harare Declaration says there is no possibility of negotiations starting until the state of emergency is lifted; organisations are unbanned; political prisoners are released and the exiles are allowed to return safely; troops are removed from the townships and repressive laws are removed. So far the government has only met some of these conditions. So, that is the first stage, and that is the stage at which we are. In our meeting with the regime at Groote Schuur we told them to meet all these conditions before we can get to the next stage — which is the suspension of hostilities on both sides leading to a cease-fire. We are not talking about abandoning the armed struggle but suspending it. But we made it clear that we are not prepared to suspend the armed struggle unless the government stops violence on its side. If that second stage is achieved, then the way is open for the third stage: the parties can now sit around the table and begin negotiations proper. But until that happens, of course, the struggle goes on in the same way as before.

Learn and Teach: At the end of these talks, both the ANC and the government signed an agreement which came to be known as the Groote Schuur Minute. In the Minute, both sides said that they were committed to the process of peaceful change and working groups have been set up to see that these changes happen. How important is this document and what does it mean to the struggle?
Slovo: Well, it is part of this process that I have just described. It’s at the moment just a piece of paper, and the real question is whether it will work.

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Flashback to Lusaka, January 1987: Joe Slovo with MK leaders Chris Hani and Joe Modise

Learn and Teach: There are some people who are critical of the ANC for talking to the government at this time. What is your response to this criticism?
Slovo: As I said in my speech at the rally in Soweto, it is precisely because we engaged the regime in struggle — including armed struggle, not just in theory but in practice — that they have been forced to open this dialogue. And perhaps I should say that some people are very confused about ‘what is a revolutionary policy’. Some people think that a revolutionary policy is a policy that sounds revolutionary. That is not the correct test. In some cases to engage in violence is revolutionary, and in some cases, it is counter-revolutionary. In some cases, to talk of peaceful dialogue, is revolutionary, in other cases, it is counter-revolutionary. The only test is: ‘Will what you are doing take you back, or enable you to go forward?’ We believe that by talking, we are going forward.

Learn and Teach: At this point, what should people and organisations on the ground be doing to end apartheid?
Slovo: I think we should continue struggling against apartheid. We should be mounting campaigns, around all the issues — not just local grievances, but around the issues of people’s power, such as the demand for a constituent assembly, for a redistribution of wealth, and a redivision of the land.

Learn and Teach: The ANC and SACP have fought side by side for many years. Can you please tell us something about the history of the alliance?
Slovo: The alliance has had a long history which started from the beginning of the 1920s, when the Party was formed. The two organisations have always worked together on campaigns like the anti-pass laws. This led eventually to the creation of a formal relationship in 1961.

Learn and Teach: Why was this alliance formed and how is that the two movements are able to work so closely together?
Slovo: The majority of our people suffer two kinds of oppression — economic exploitation and national oppression. You cannot really completely separate the two. They see themselves as being exploited, not just as workers, but as black workers. And so, it’s quite understandable that two organisations — one which is trying to achieve the national aspirations of people, and the other which is trying to achieve the class aspirations — should move closer and closer together. At the present time, the Party accepts that national liberation is the emphasis of this stage of the struggle.

Learn and Teach: The South African government sees the ANC as being dominated by the SACP. Can you please comment on this?
Slovo: It’s not true. And in fact, let me say this: One of the reasons why this alliance exists so strongly, and why non-communists, starting from Luthuli to Tambo to Mandela, treasure this alliance is for the exact opposite reason that the government gives. It is because they have learnt that communists don’t go into an organisation to dominate it, that the ANC values the contribution that communists have made throughout history to the growth and strengthening of the ANC as the ANC. When communists participate in the ANC as members — and I am one of them — they accept that they fall under the discipline of the ANC. If you have ever been to an ANC conference, you would have seen how communists sometimes argue in completely different directions on ANC policy.

Learn and Teach: What are the Party’s plans in the short term?
Slovo: The party is going to emerge as a legal organisation, and this is going to happen sooner than you think. We’re going to announce our interim leadership soon. But of course, we’ve been illegal, for forty years, and you can’t change everything in forty days. It’s a little bit of a process!

Learn and Teach: Will anybody be able to join the Party or will there be a strict selection procedure?
Slovo: The party will invite people who support its policy/its programme and its strategic approaches to join it. Just like any other normal political organisation. We want to grow into a mass party of the new type, but we accept that our numbers will be fewer than the ANC. Much more is demanded of a communist than of a person who belongs to any other political organisation. We believe that communists must show by their contribution by personal character, by dedication and by their readiness to sacrifice. We believe that each communist is an example of a revolutionary.

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African Heads of States and ANC NEC members met in Lusaka in February this year. Joe Slovo can be seen in the background.

Learn and Teach: What is your relationship with COSATU?
Slovo: We recently had a very fruitful workshop with COSATU in Zimbabwe. COSATU had 32 delegates, and we had 28 of our members. We spent three days discussing the role of the working class both now and in a post-apartheid South Africa, and we exchanged views on many questions. We believe that in future there will be many occasions for us to work together in an alliance with the ANC, because both COSATU and the Party represent the working-class.

Learn and Teach: How does the party see the role of trade unions in the future South Africa?
Slovo: I think the trade unions have a completely independent role. They must not be controlled by any political force whether its the ANC or the Communist Party. Their job both now and in a future society is to represent their membership — the organised working class — and to protect their interests. I think one of the main reasons that things went wrong in Eastern Europe, is that the trade unions were controlled by political organisations and they were suffocated.

Learn and Teach: How does the Party see the role of women both in the Party and in society at large?
Slovo: Well, our position is very strong on this question. Our practice is not so strong! But, we are really very conscious of the need to be serious. If you read our Umsebenzi, I don’t think there is ever an issue which doesn’t contain some kind of reflection on this problem. The women’s issue is really about men. Some men still have male chauvinist attitudes and this is what we have to address.

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Joe Slovo: I am absolutely convinced that socialism will work

Learn and Teach: You mentioned Eastern Europe earlier. Could you briefly talk about recent events in Eastern Europe and what it means for socialism?
Slovo: Well, I think it’s done a lot of damage to socialism, obviously. And I think the one lesson which we must learn, which I think our party learnt even before Gorbachev, is that, if you want to destroy socialism, you separate it from democracy.

Learn and Teach: After what happened in Eastern Europe, can you say that you still believe confidently that socialism is a better system than capitalism?
Slovo: Oh, I have absolutely no doubt that it’s the only civilised way in which humanity should exist. Socialism has achieved much — even in those countries where it failed because of corruption. It achieved the absence of unemployment, social security for every person and free education. For example, take a poor country like Cuba. It is really a Third World country, mainly because of the attempts by the United States to destroy it. But in Havana, fewer babies die at birth than in Washington D.C. That is a United Nations statistic. Even capitalism has been influenced by socialism, for example, the social welfare measures in some countries. It is true that a lot of crimes have been committed in the name of socialism. But remember that even more crimes have been committed in the name of religion. That doesn’t make people move away from their faith in their religious beliefs and so I don’t think we should lose faith in socialism. I think socialism can work, and I am absolutely positively convinced that it will work, despite the setbacks we’ve had in recent periods. I am also convinced that socialism will eventually work in South Africa. It’s also very odd that people talk about the failure of socialism, but what has failed in South Africa is capitalism, not socialism.

Learn and Teach: You have said there must be democracy at all levels of society in South Africa. Can you explain this?
Slovo: That’s right. Democracy is not only voting in general elections every five years or so. For a society to be truly democratic, democracy must be practised from day to day. It is necessary, for example, for workers to participate in the direction of the factories where they work. Organisations such as trade unions, women’s organisations, youth organisations should be given real recognition and participate in the whole process of running society, including civic and local structures and so on and so forth.

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Comrade Joe Slovo shares a joke and a laugh with UDF leader “Terror” Lekota

Learn and Teach: Does the SACP support the spirit of glasnost that is blowing through the Soviet Union? How does the Party understand this word?
Slovo: The Party supports the spirit of glasnost. To us, glasnost means a spirit of openness, a spirit of debate, a spirit of tolerating different opinions, as long as they’re not destructive. In other words, a spirit of democratic discussion in the real sense of the word. A spirit of accountability, where the leadership is not a power unto itself, that it can be questioned by the rank and file, and it can be criticised, and it must answer those criticisms. So glasnost really means openness, accountability, democracy.

Learn and Teach: In a recent interview, you spoke about the need for a leadership code. Could you please explain what you mean?
Slovo: Well, it’s going to take time before there is economic change in an ANC-led future society. Overnight we will not be able to provide everyone with a job and a house. And people will have to make sacrifices. But if the leadership earns big salaries and live in nice houses in smart suburbs, there’s no way we will get the people to accept the need for such sacrifice. There is going to be a long period where people are going to be asking themselves: ‘What has happened to this liberation?” And we will have to explain that it’s a process we have to work for, it doesn’t just happen when the ANC flag flies over Pretoria. And the only way those people will remain with us is if they see that the leadership is sharing some of these sacrifices. This is one of the lessons that we can learn from Eastern Europe — that if there is one lifestyle for the leadership and another for the people, the people obviously won’t accept the need for hardship. So I think it is very important that the broad liberation movement starts developing a leadership code of conduct.

Learn and Teach: Are you hopeful for a speedy end to apartheid?
Slovo: Well, I’m hoping for a speedy end but I can’t say for sure — it’s not written in the stars! It doesn’t depend on what I and other people hope, it depends upon struggle. But I do believe that the power of the people today is great enough to make the other side realise that they can’t continue holding on for too long.

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

A job in the sky

img26Johannes Chiyi is a window cleaner. He cleans windows outside the big IBM building in Johannesburg. The IBM building is 21 stories high. He told Learn and Teach his story:

I am now 29 years old. I am married and I have one child. My wife and child live at my home in Grey town, Natal.

Before I came to Johannesburg, I worked in a hotel in Durban. I worked in the hotel for a few years. In 1957, I decided to come to Johannesburg. People told me I can make money in Johannesburg. That is why I came to find work in Egoli.

The first job I found was this job. At the job, I found other people who had worked here for a long time. They knew all about the job. They showed me what to do. They did not teach me for a long time. I learned the job quickly.

When we clean the windows, we stand in a steel box outside the building. We call this steel box a cradle. I was very scared when I went up in the cradle for the first time. I said to myself: “It I die, my wife and parents will be sad. And nobody will send them money anymore.”

Now I am not scared anymore. I go up in the cradle everyday. Sometimes I forget that I am cleaning windows on the 20th floor. I just clean the windows and think about my home and other things.

We work in groups of four people. Two people work outside in the cradle and two people work inside the building. We all clean the same window at the same time. Then we clean the next window. We take six weeks to clean all the windows in the building. After we finish cleaning all the windows, we start again.

We use pink soap to clean the windows. The soap is like a dish-washing soap. We also use sponges and a rubber thing. The rubber thing is called a squeegie. The squeegie takes the water and soap off the windows. Then the glass dries quickly.

Sometimes we drop water or something from the cradle. Then we see people in the street waving or pointing at us. Maybe they swear at us. Or maybe they laugh at us. We do not know.

I say that I am not scared anymore. But I know that my job is dangerous. I can do everything right. But things can still go wrong.

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This is a picture of the street from 21 floors up

One day last year we were working on the tenth floor. The cradle made funny noises and did not go up or down.

I tried doing everything I knew. But nothing happened. Then the cradle started moving from side to side. I did not know what to do. I thought I was going to die.

Then the cradle started moving again. Some­body fixed the machine on top of the building. I nearly cried with happiness. I hope such a thing never happens again.

Another kind of love

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Gay activist Simon Nkoli

About one in every ten people in South Africa is gay. In other words, three and a half million South Africans prefer to make love with someone of their own sex. Even though there are so many gay people, they still suffer much oppression…

THE telephone rings. Simon Nkoli answers. “Hello, Gay and Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand.

Can I help you?”

The person on the other side speaks. He tells Simon that he is sixteen years old and he thinks he is gay. “I don’t know what to do. I feel so alone. I feel that I’m the only one who is gay.”

Simon tells the youth not to worry — he is not the only one, because he is speaking to Simon, who is also gay! Simon promises to send the youth a membership form and invites him to come to the next meeting of GLOW.

In another part of Johannesburg, at the magistrate’s court, a 40 year-old man is found guilty of having sex with a man of 18. The law says that if one of the men is under 19 years, he is committing a crime. The 40 year-old man is worried that he will get fired from his job, because in the eyes of the courts, he is a criminal.” In Soweto, a young girl has tried to kill herself. She was afraid to tell her parents that she loves women, not men. These are just a few examples of the troubles that gay people experience.

JUST THE SAME
Learn and Teach spoke to Simon Nkoli, who is a founder member of GLOW. Simon is also a political activist who was one of the accused in the famous Delmas treason trial. We began by asking him what it means to be gay.

“A gay person is someone who is attracted to another person of the same sex,” he said. “Part of that attraction is sexual. This does not mean that a gay man does not like women or that a gay woman does not like men — I have many women friends.”

Unfortunately, many straight people cannot understand gay love. They cannot understand that a man can love another man, or a woman can love another woman. Some straight people tease gay people. There are cases where gay people have been assaulted — just because of their sexual preference.

FINDING A “CURE”
It is especially hard for parents to accept that their child is gay. Simon remembers when he told his parents that he was gay: “They thought I was bewitched. They sent me to prophets, to traditional healers, to western psychologists. They all tried to “cure” me, but of course, there is no cure, because being gay is not a sickness.”

But many gay people suffer terribly because other people think they are not “normal”. Simon says that he knows many young people who hate themselves because they are told that they are “sick”. Some people cannot cope with the pain and they land up in a mental hospital or commit suicide.

“There is so much pressure on men and women to get married and have children,” he said. “People ask you all the time: ‘When are you going to settle down?’ You don’t know how to answer. You don’t want to hurt those who love you, but you know that if you get married, your life will be a big lie. But many gay people do get married and then they cheat on their husbands and wives.”

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Johannesburg, 12 October 1990. SA’s first “Gay Pride” march

NO CRIME
The law in South Africa also makes life hard for gay people — especially gay men. There are two laws in South Africa about sex between two men. One law says that sex between two men is a crime, even if they both want to have sex. This law is almost never enforced, but it is still an ugly threat.

Another law says that it is a criminal offence for a gay person — a man or a woman — to have homosexual sex with someone who is younger than 19. Gay activists say that these laws are unfair. A heterosexual person can have sex legally at the age of 16. Why do gay people have to wait until they are 19?

For gay people, the thought of being charged in court and given a criminal record is terrifying. They can be fired from their jobs. Their story may be written in the newspapers. Gay activists say that what goes on in the bedrooms of two adult people who agree to have sex is a private matter and should be legal.

There are other laws that are unfair to gay people. Gays are not allowed to get married. A gay couple are not allowed to adopt children, even if they have a long relationship and can give the child a good home. Gay couples are also denied benefits such as insurance and pensions. All this causes great sadness and anger to gay people.

GOD MADE US ALL
Until recently, there was no help from the church either because the church also saw gay people as “abnormal” and “sinful”. Today, the official attitude of the Catholic, Anglican and Dutch Reform Church is that it’s okay to be gay, but you must not have sex.

Many gay Christians are not happy with the church’s attitude. One gay minister, Heinrich Pretorius from Pretoria, recently resigned from the Dutch Reform church, saying that he couldn’t preach in a church that sees homosexual love as a sin.

Some gay Christians have formed organisations where they can pray together and help each other. One such organisation is the Gay Community Centre, which has branches all over the country and is non-denominational and non-racial.

Learn and Teach spoke to the leader of one of the GCC’s branches, who asked us not to give her name. “I would like the church to accept committed gay relationships. By “committed” I mean serious loving relationships. Many gay couples have long relationships, just like a marriage. They make promises and vows to each other. I believe that the church should accept these relationships, including the sexual part,” she said.

The GCC leader does not believe that the church should accept gay marriage, however. “Marriage is for having children,” she said. She also said that the church should not accept promiscuous sex — like ‘one night stands.’ “The church doesn’t accept promiscuity in straight people, so it shouldn’t with gays. But it should apply the same values and standards to all relationships.”

She ended by saying: “God made all people — gays and non-gays. We are born as we are. So if God allowed us to be born as we are, God loves us all.”

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Simon Nkoli with GLOW’s banner

A SLOW STRUGGLE
On October 12 this year, a “Gay Pride” march was held in Johannesburg. It was the first ever gay march in South Africa. In overseas countries, gays have been having gay marches and fighting for gay rights for many years. We asked Simon why South African gays have been so slow in taking up the fight.

“There are many reasons,” he said. “Firstly, there is the political situation. For many years, we have only been able to concentrate on one thing — freedom from political oppression. So other struggles — such as gay rights, women’s issues, the environment and so on — have taken second place.

“Secondly, black and white gay people never met because of apartheid laws like the Group Areas Act and the Immorality Act. So there was no unity. Today, many gay organisations are non-racial and are struggling for gay rights together.”

We asked Simon what gay rights and demands are. In reply, he gave us GLOW’S manifesto which demands among other things:

• that parliament changes the law so that two adult gays who agree to have sex together can no longer be prosecuted
• that the law gives long-standing gay relationships the same benefits that heterosexual couples get, like pensions and insurance
• that political organisations adopt a Bill of Rights to protect gay people from discrimination
• that the liberation movement includes gay liberation as part of its struggle for freedom from all oppression
• that religious traditions accept their gay members without conditions
• that newspapers, television and the radio show gay people in a good light
• that employers give gay people the same chances as straight people

“As a non-racial organisation fighting for democracy in our country, GLOW encourages its members to join anti-apartheid organisations so that we also make a contribution to the struggle. We have been silent for too long and it’s time that society learnt that gay people are also human,” Simon said.

“We want people to know that a gay relationship is just as beautiful and wonderful as the relationship between a man and a woman and that we deserve the same respect as any other person. It is not just the laws of the country and the attitude of the church that must change. It is especially important that the attitudes of people change,” he ended.

If you’ve ever thought badly about gays or made a cruel joke, now is the time to think again about your behaviour.

Those of us who are struggling for a new South Africa — a South Africa that is free from oppression and where everyone can live in peace — must make a special effort to think about the suffering of a people who are also oppressed — and to help them find acceptance by society and our courts of law. Let it not be said of us that we ourselves have oppressed!

There are many words to describe people who are attracted to the same sex as themselves. In our story, we have mostly used the word “gay”, which can refer to both men and women. Here are some others: The word “homosexual” comes from Latin, and means love of one man for another. The word “lesbian” comes from the Greek island Lesbos where the poetess Sappho, who loved women, used to live. The word lesbian can only be used to talk about gay women, not men. The word “heterosexual” is used to talk about sex between a man and a woman. Gay people talk about heterosexual people as “straight”.

Stop racist sport!

An Interview with Krish Naidoo, General Secretary of the National Sports Congress (NSC)

IN 1960, South Africa took part in the Olympic Games for the last time. Soon afterwards, the African countries got together and made a resolution calling for an international boycott of South African sports. The Resolution was adopted. Since then, any tours to South Africa have been rebel tours.

This year, Mike Gatting and his British cricket team have come here to play cricket. Everywhere the cricketers go, they meet with thousands of people telling them to go home. In restaurants and hotels, the staff have downed tools and refused to serve the rebels. And on the playing fields, the applause of the few spectators is drowned out by the steady hum of freedom songs from those outside the stadium gates.

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Nconde Balfour, chairperson of the NSC, announces the Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign at a press conference in January this year

Learn and Teach spoke to Krish Naidoo, the General Secretary of the National Sports Congress (NSC), the organisation that has spearheaded the Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign.

Learn and Teach: Could you please give us some background to the National Sports Congress (NSC). How and when did it start?

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Krish Naidoo, General Secretary of the NSC

Krish Naidoo: The UDF began to be concerned with sports and culture in 1985. In the same year, it campaigned against the New Zealand All Blacks rugby tour. The UDF made it clear to the team they couldn’t play in a country where apartheid is felt in each and every aspect of life, even sport. The tour was cancelled.

In 1986, the UDF established its Sports Desk, with the aim of working with UDF affiliates. In April 1988, we decided to form a broader sports organisation, called the National Sports Congress. Today, we have both regional and national structures and our membership has been open to all local sports clubs since December last year.

Learn and Teach: What are the NSC’s aims?

Krish Naidoo: Our policy is based on three legs. The first one is unity — we believe that in a post-apartheid South Africa there will be only one sports movement. The second leg is the development of sport — in Africa, too little attention is given to sports. We are trying to develop sports people for a post-apartheid South Africa.

The last leg is preparation — we are preparing our sports people to play a meaningful role in the new non-racial democratic society we are building.

As part of our programme of action we have organised Soccer Unity talks. They are going well and we hope that by the year 1992 we will have one soccer federation. We are also involved in unity talks in sports such as tennis and table tennis.

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A kitskonstabel on guard outside the change rooms of the English cricketers

Learn and Teach: About Mike Gatting’s English Cricket tour— could you please talk about the campaign against it.

Krish Naidoo: Last year we met with the South African Cricket Union (SACU) and told them to forget about the English Cricket tour. We said they should instead solve the problems in sports in South Africa, such as the division in sport along racial lines. SACU refused to cancel the tour.

We then sent representatives of the UDF and COSATU to meet with the English cricketers. The cricketers still said they would not cancel. It was then that we decided to form the Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign. We have organised protest demonstrations against the tour like those that have taken place at Jan Smuts airport and Bloemfontein.

Learn and Teach: What are the aims of the campaign?

Krish Naidoo: Simply to stop the tour. But we have also decided to use this anti-tour campaign to educate our people about the sports struggle. At the same time, the campaign has shown us how much support we have. We hope that this will be the last rebel tour in this country.

Learn and Teach: What do you say to those whites who say that it is their democratic right to invite and watch Gatting and the English Cricket team?

Krish Naidoo: That is a mad understanding of democracy! They are not genuine with themselves because if they were truly democratic, they would do what the majority of the people in this country and the world are doing — that is, to reject the tour.

Learn and Teach: What gains have been made so far in the anti-tour campaign?

Krish Naidoo: We have had the chance to explain to our people about the sports struggle. We have made links with other sports organisations inside and outside South Africa. And we have had the chance to lay the basis for a mass sports movement in the future. Most importantly, we have educated and organised our people against apartheid sports.

Learn and Teach: Mike Gatting and his fellows have been called “rebels” and “mercenaries”. Do you agree with these descriptions?

Krish Naidoo: Yes! Mike Gatting and his English cricketers are breaking the laws of the world sports movement. We are not the founders of those laws — the international community is. So Gatting and his fellows are rebelling against the world.

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Hotel workers at the Sandton Sun in Johannesburg protest against Mike Gatting’s rebel tour

Learn and Teach: Some time ago on TV we saw some black people in Bloemfontein protesting in favour of the tour. Who are these people?

Krish Naidoo: Those were school children who were transported from Bophuthatswana by SACU. They were not from Kimberley. We have learnt that they were paid to come and protest in favour of the tour. It was sort of a Rent-a-protester business. It makes a mockery of SACU and its leader AN Bacher, because people are asking why they used black children. This proves true that “SACU is riding to fame on the backs of blacks.”

Learn and Teach: Why has Mike Gatting’s tour been targeted? Other sports people who have broken the boycott, like the golfers at the Sun City “Million Dollar Tournament” and the recent American athletics team, did not experience the same protest actions as the cricket tour.

Krish Naidoo: We are still a new organisation, and we are doing it slowly but surely. We are still educating our people. We are planning more meetings to educate our people about other sports.

Learn and Teach: What is the NSC’s relationship to the South African Council of Sports (SACOS) and to the South African Non-Racial Olympics Committee (SANROC)?

Krish Naidoo: We have a working relationship with SANROC, although we do not have formal links. SANROC has helped us a great deal during this Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign. Among other things, we have used their offices in Britain to launch our campaign there against this tour.

Our relationship with SACOS is not easy to explain. It is too early to talk of unity between the two organisations, but what I can say is that we have a very good relationship with some of SACOS’ sporting codes, especially cricket and rugby. Some of the officials and members of these codes are also NSC Interim Executive Committee members. We have discussed the question of unity with SACOS several times and we hope that SACOS will in future see itself as one of those forces that are fighting for unity in this country.

Learn and Teach: What is the NSC’s position on sporting contacts with other nations or sports people from other nations?

Krish Naidoo: The International Campaign Against Apartheid Sport (ICAAS) says that no nation or sports people from other countries should have contact with South Africa until apartheid is completely destroyed. We are part of that world community.

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The hot sun didn’t stop this comrade from protesting against the rebel tour

Learn and Teach: Are there any exceptions to the NSC’s policy? In other words, are there any situations where the NSC would support sporting contact with other countries?

Krish Naidoo: The only exception is when we encourage people to go to other countries for training only. But those sports people must come back and share their skills with others. This is part of our 1990 programme of action.

Learn and Teach: What is the NSC’s opinion of SACU’s township cricket coaching clinics? Do you see this as a sincere attempt to promote non-racial sport, or just an attempt to fool the world community?

Krish Naidoo: I have said that development is part of our programme. But our people have problems with SACU’s programme because they were not properly consulted by SACU. We learnt that they only consulted the DET, an apartheid structure that our people do not support.

In townships like Atteridgeville in Pretoria, people are organising against SACU’s cricket programme. The NSC is also planning to replace SACU’s pro­grammes with our democratic ones.

Learn and Teach: Under what conditions will the sports boycott be lifted?

Krish Naidoo: For the sports boycott to be lifted, the South African sports people have to get their house in order. They have to be united and fight against apartheid. All of them — black and white — have the serious task of getting together and solving the problems of sponsorships and apartheid in sports.

We are quite confident that within two years we will have addressed these problems. We hope to see our sports people marching hand in hand with the masses of our people towards a non-racial democratic country. Then we shall be saying that conditions are ripe for the sports boycott to be lifted!

NEW WORDS
objectives — aims
mercenaries — people who are only interested in money
an attempt — when you make an attempt to do something, you try to do it
make a mockery of something — make something look stupid
address a problem — discuss a problem and try to solve it

The story of Kok Nam

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Kok Nam took this photograph of FRELIMO soldiers setting off for action in the light of the moon

EVERYBODY in Mozambique knows this man. The children follow him every morning on his way to work with his camera hanging over his shoulder, calling “Hey Kok Nam! Take a picture of us!”. And every day his reply is the same. “Tomorrow”. In the rural areas of Mozambique like Cabo Delgrado, Nampula and Gaza, adults come up to touch him and shake his hand.

 

But who is Kok Nam?

“Kok Nam is a very good photographer, one of the best in Mozambique,” says Carlos Cardosa, a journalist and friend of Kok Nam. “I think the reason why he is so popular is that — unlike other people who are good at their work — he is humble. His greatness does not go to his head.

“The people of Mozambique love him so much that they call him the Colonel General of photography,” continues Carlos. “Now, where in the whole of Africa would you find a Chinese person honoured in such a way?”

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Kok Nam with his children Nuno and Michelle and a small friend

“SOUTH OF CHINA”

 

Learn and Teach met Kok Nam on a short visit to Maputo last month. He cooked us a finger-licking supper of prawns and rice, and told us his story.

It begins 50 years ago on 19 December 1939. On that day, a fat and smiling baby was born to a Chinese couple living near the city of Maputo. After four daughters, the parents were very happy that the fat baby was a boy.

“So they called me Kok Nam, which means South of China,” says the smiling photographer. “You see, my parents were from the South of China. When I was born, they were so happy that it made them think of home.”

Kok Nam’s parents never went back to China. In the 70’s, when the struggle for independence in Mozambique got fierce, the whole family left for America. Kok Nam was the only one to stay behind.

LEARNING THE ART

As a young boy, Kok Nam went to a Chinese school for six years and then went to work as an apprentice for a photograph­ic shop. It was there that he learnt the art of photography. It was also there that the boy learnt to hate dark rooms. “I spent so much time developing photos in the dark room. That is why today I don’t develop my own photos!” he laughs.

Later Kok Nam got a job as a photographer for Mozambique’s second biggest newspaper, called Diario de Mozambique (Diary of Mozambique). Afterwards, he moved to a newspaper called Voz Africana (African Voice).

“This was a very popular weekly paper and was read by intellectuals, workers and peasants. It spoke of how the workers were exploited by the Portuguese colonialists. It wrote stories about the low wages of African workers, about chibalo — the system of forced labour and about the bad living conditions.

“During this time, I worked with many interesting people. One of those was Jose Luis Cabaco who is the number 2 in FRELIMO and the former Minister of Information. I also worked with Luis Bernado Honwana who is today Minister of Culture.”

Round about 1968 or 1969, a group of right-wingers bought the paper and it was eventually closed. The African Voice would remain closed until after independence in 1974.

STILL GOING STRONG

In 1970, seven pro­gressive journalists, including Kok Nam, started a magazine called Tempo. From the beginning, Tempo supported FRELIMO as the liberation move­ment of Mozam­bique. When FRE­LIMO defeated the Salazaar govern­ment, Tempo was chosen to publish the FRELIMO Party Programme.

During the struggle for independence, Tempo was heavily censored. Kok Nam remembers those days: “We had to send three magazines worth of stories to the Censorship Com­missioner. When it came back, they had put a cross through so much that we only had enough information for one magazine!”

Today, twenty years later, Tempo is still going strong. Kok Nam is still with tho magazine, the only member of the editorial staff to have stayed so long.

The magazine prints more than 40 000 copies a time. But many more people read it, says Kok Nam. “People are poor and so they share magazines. The other day, I saw a youngster read­ing an old copy of Tempo from 1987.”

CLOSE TO THE HEART

Kok Nam’s work has taken him all around Mozambique and the world. He has met and photographed Bishop Tutu, Dr. Boesak, Robert Mugabe, Oliver Tambo and the famous general Giap of the Vietnamese army that defeated America. But the person who remains closest to his heart is Samora Machel, the late president of Mozambique.

Kok Nam first met Machel in 1974. At the time, Machel was in the bush in Tanzania where FRELIMO had their base at Naschingwea, near Pembe in Mozambique.

“The first time I saw Samora speak I knew this was a master of mass communication,” says Kok Nam. “He just knew how to speak to people. That day he was speaking to over a thousand new guerrillas. He was like a magnet when he began speaking. He was dressed in a guerrilla uniform and looking very smart. He made all of us feel good.”

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Samora Machel speaking to more than a thousand FRELIMO guerrillas in 1974

Proudly, Kok Nam shows us a photograph of Machel speaking to the people who have just joined Frelimo’s army.

A FRIEND AND LEADER

It was on these trips that Kok Nam came to know Samora’s intelligence and sense of humour. He tells this story. One day at a press conference in Botswana, a journalist from South Africa stood up and asked Machel about a Mozambican pilot who had run away from Mozambique to join the SADF with his Russian fighter aircraft.

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Samora Machel, president of Mozambique until his death in 1986

“Tell me,” asked Machel.” ‘How many black pilots do you have in South Africa?’ The South African journalist took a while before he answered: “Not one.” Samora then told him with a smile of satisfaction: “You are wrong! You have one, and he was made in Mozambique! That was Samora at his sharpest!” says Kok Nam.

 

Kok Nam tells us that many people think that he was Samora Machel’s personal photographer. “That’s not true. I just happened to be asked by the Ministry of Information to go with Machel on one of his visits overseas, and then I found myself going to many places with him and the FRELIMO leadership. I think they asked me to go with Samora because I could be trusted and I was a professional in my job.”

He was with Machel at Nkomati, at the United Nations and in Nigeria and Europe.The day Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986, Kok Nam rushed to the scene to say goodbye to his old friend and leader. This was one of the saddest moments in Kok Nam’s life.

ANGER AND LOVE

We asked Kok Nam why he takes photographs. “I believe that every photograph records more than a story. It records history. Photojoumalists record history through images,” he says. “These photographs are the property of the people of Mozambique. This is our history.

“That is why I don’t believe that a photographer in any country can say they are neutral, they don’t want to get involved in politics and so on. There is no such a thing. In photography you must take sides because you are taking photographs in the society where you live. You cannot stand aside from the people’s problems.

“When I take a photograph of RENAMO bandits killing innocent people, I take a photograph with a lot of anger. But when I photograph the children, the workers, the peasants and those working for a just society I take a photograph with a lot of love and respect for what they are struggling for.”

Kok Nam has some strong words about the job of a journalist. To be a photojournalist or journalist, you have to be brave, says Kok Nam. “The war has made many journalists afraid to travel. But how can you write a good story sitting in an air-conditioned office and speaking on the telephone? Our profession is a risky one — if you do not want risk, then you must write about beauty queens.”

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Kok Nam surrounded by the children he loves

A RAINBOW FOR ALL

We ask Kok Nam if he would like to visit South Africa. “I would love to!” he says. “I want to show the people my slides and my photographs and to talk of Mozambique and how our struggles are one and the same thing. South Africa must learn to forget racism. The rainbow does not only belong to Mozambique. It belongs to the whole of Africa. We in this region must learn to live together and solve our economic and political problems as one people.”

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Kok Nam with the famous General Giam of the Vietnamese army

“But there is another reason why I want to go to South Africa. I want to photo­graph Mandela with his people next to the ANC flag, and next to the red flag.”

 

We ask Kok Nam if he has other loves besides photography. “Yes!” he says. “I love my children, Nuno and Michelle. I love cooking, especially prawns and rice. And I love jazz.” We promise to send him two tapes when we get back.

“But most of all I love this hot beautiful country and I love the South of Africa. Maybe I should call myself Nam Africa — South of Africa”. We all laugh, believing that this name really tells the story of Kok Nam’s work and wishes. Perhaps one day Southern Africa will live in peace, and Kok Nam will be there to record it for us.

NEW WORDS
humble — someone who is humble does not think he or she is better than others intellectuals — great thinkers censor — if a government censors some­thing you write, it tells you what you can and cannot say
magnet — a person who is magnetic draws people to him or her
photojoumalist — a newspaper reporter who only takes photos

Moss Mayekiso – Worker Leader

Last week Moses Mayekiso was chosen as the general secretary of all MAWU — the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union. So Learn and Teach went down to the MAWU offices to talk to him. We wanted to meet this important man.

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When we got to the MAWU offices, we found many people waiting — everyone wanted to talk to Moses, or Moss, as his friends call him. While we were waiting, we spoke to a  woman who was busy typing.

We wanted to ask her about Moss. But when she told us her name, we felt shy. She was Khola Mayekiso — Moss’s wife. But Khola was happy to talk to us. She also works at M AWU.

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Khola Mayekiso – always at Moss’ side

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

 

“I first met Moss in 1982,” Khola says. “We were both at Queenstown station in the Eastern Cape. I was on my way to Burghersdorp. Moss was going home to Joburg.

“I saw that he liked me. When I went to the waiting room, he gave me the seat next to him. Then we began to talk, just about simple things like my work, and his work and so on.

“On the train, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said “Yes”. So we agreed to write to each other. Not long after this, Moss asked me to come to Johannesburg.

“When I came, he asked me to marry him. I loved him very much but I wanted to tell my parents. Moss did not let me go home. We got married that weekend.”

Just then Khola stopped talking. We looked up and there was Moss. We felt we were doing something wrong — talking about him. We were surprised to meet Moss. He is not like an important person at all. In fact, Moss is a very shy person.

EARLY LIFE

“I was born in Cala, in the Transkei on 21 November 1948,” said Moss. “My family was very poor. My father worked in Cape Town for very little money. We needed every cent he got. Then he lost his job.

“We did not know what to do. My mother and I started to help other people in their fields. Then they shared their crops with us. This food had to last us for 3 or 4 months.

WE LOSE OUR GOATS

“Later my mother bought two goats. They had babies and by 1964, we had 120 goats. Life was easier. But then Matanzima said we must move. And we had to sell our goats. Soon we were poor again.

“I was the eldest in the family — I have 7 brothers and 2 sisters. So I left school for two years to work. But I went back to school and I finished my matric.”

WORKING

Like many young men from the Transkei, Moss went to work on the mines. “I worked on a mine in the Free State,” Moss told us. “I hated it. I saw so many accidents while I was there. But after three months I broke my contract and left the mine.

“In 1976 I got a job at the Toyota Marketing Company in Wynberg. We were not happy there. There was a liason committee. But the workers did not like this committee at all. It did not help us.

THE UNION — A POLITICAL THING

“Someone told us about a union. I did not know anything about unions. I heard doctors and lawyers were helping workers at this union. So we went to the union office. We liked what we heard — the union sounded like a political thing.

“In those days we had to hide from the police and the bosses. We worked in small groups and we had meetings in the bush. In 1978 many Toyota workers joined Mawu.

“The Toyota bosses did not want to talk to the union. We had three strikes at Toyota before they met with MAWU. I lost my job because of the strikes — so did the other shop stewards.

I’M A UNION MAN, NOW!

“While I was looking for another job, I used to help in the union offices. Then Mawu asked me to work for the union fulltime,” Moss said. “MAWU was small when I started. There were only 6 000 members.

“My job was to organise workers on the East Rand. But I did not know how to do this. So I asked all the shopstewards on the East Rand to help.

MAWU HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE

“They helped a lot. Wherever they went, they spoke about the union, at lunch, on the trains, in the shebeens, everywhere. Soon we had a big problem. So many workers came to the union offices, we could not help them. So we started a new office in Katlehong, just for the East Rand workers.

“1980 and 1981 were bad years. I was working in Katlehong. Sometimes we had five strikes a day. Workers were angry about their wages and their working conditions. They were angry that the bosses did not want to talk to the union. The union grew and grew. And I worked day and night.

UNION WORK IS HARD

“Working for a union is not easy. When I was working so hard, my wife started to complain. I was never at home. I did not see my children. Then my wife and I started to fight. In the end, we separated. Now I’m married again. Khola understands because she also works for the union.

“I have also lost some very good friends because of their union work — people like Neil Agget and Andries Raditsela. Their deaths upset me very much. But it also makes you stronger — you feel that you must work even harder so that they did not die for nothing.”

OUR LIVES DO NOT END IN THE FACTORY

If you think that Moss is only a union man, you are wrong. Moss and Khola are both on the Alexandra Action Committee (AAC). Moss says, “There are many problems in Alex. And the young people of Alex wanted to do something. We felt we could help because of our union work.”

“So last year in December, we started the Alexandra Action Committee. We started by having small house meetings. Then we had street meetings. We started a committee in every yard, street, or block we went to. We wanted people to solve their own problems together.

MEN IN BALACLAVAS

“I think the committees helped when the big trouble started in Alex this year. We called people to a big meeting to try and bring peace back to the township,” said Moss. But Moss was not there. He was in detention.

Workers were very angry when Moss was detained. Hundreds of workers stopped working for half an hour to protest about his detention. Moss was in jail for two weeks, together with other people from Alex.

When Moss got out of jail, things in Alex were quiet. But the peace did not last for a long time. In one night ten houses were burnt down and two people were killed.

“We believe the police did this,” says Moss. “The men who attacked the houses wore police clothes and police boots — their faces were covered with balaclavas. People also saw casspirs near the homes that were burnt.

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Buyisa Mayekiso – lucky to be with her grandmother when their house was petrol bombed

‘My house was also petrol-bombed. We were lucky. Khola and I were at a union meeting and our baby was with my mother — otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you today. Even now, we never go home — we know there are people that want to kill us. We sleep at friends’ homes — but we don’t like to sleep at the same place too often.”

WHERE TO NOW?

We asked Moss how he sees the future. “I don’t know” said Moss. “When I first joined the union, I thought the struggle was against whites. But I was wrong. Now I think the workers must struggle against their bosses and the government.

“People must come together in organisations. But the leaders must do what their members say. I think everyone must work together, but I think that the workers must lead.”