A proud day for workers

“An injury to one is an injury to all”, is the cry of the workers from all over the world. And this cry is heard loud and clear on the first day of May every year. This day is called May Day – a day that belongs to workers everywhere.

On May Day workers celebrate their victories in the struggle for better living and working conditions. And on this day workers come together to carry on the struggle for a better world – a world without rich and poor, a world without hunger and pain, and a world with peace and unity.

May Day will always be an important day for workers. But in South Africa this year, May Day was really special.
Workers came together to show the world their unity and their strength. This country has not seen such unity for a long, long time.

In the Transvaal, workers from 31 trade unions celebrated May Day together. They had meetings in Johannesburg, Soweto, Lenasia, Sebokeng and Tumahole. At these meetings workers gave a list of 18 demands. The first demand was for May Day to be a paid public holiday.

In Cape Town the unions who are coming together in the new big federation celebrated May Day together – and they invited 10 other unions to join them. In Natal workers had meetings in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Estcourt and Ladysmith. And workers also had May Day meetings in Port Elizabeth and East London.

The workers in South Africa and all over the world have paid a high price for their unity. The history of May Day is written in blood and struggle.


Workers first celebrated May Day in Australia over 100 years ago, on the 1st May 1856. On that day workers in Australia went on strike to demand an eight hour working day. The workers in Australia, like in all other countries, worked very long hours – anything up to 16 hours a day. They worked in terrible conditions and for low, low wages.

“We are living to work instead of working to live,” said the workers of Australia. “We cannot go on like this much longer. The bosses are getting fatter and we are getting thinner. Soon there wi II be no workers left.”

So the workers went on strike. They had meetings to talk about their problems. And they had parties so workers could relax and enjoy them­selves. They decided that from that day on, the first of May will be a workers’ day – a day of celebration and struggle.

But the workers in Australia were not the only ones who worked long, hard hours. Workers in other countries had the same problems. And when they heard what the workers in Australia had done, they too demanded an eight hour working day. They too decided that the first of May will be a workers’ holiday.

In America workers demanded an eight hour working day from the 1st May 1886. They decided to force the bosses to give them an eight hour working day. One of their leaders said: “We must organise if we want an eight hour working day. If we want an eight hour day, we must make it ourselves. “

So the workers had meetings to demand an eight hour working day. Some of the workers had already won an eight hour day. They called the goods they made eight hour goods. At the meetings the workers smoked ‘eiqht hour tobacco’ and they wore ‘eiqht hour shoes’. And they sang an eight hour song:

We mean to change things,
we’re tired of working for nothing. Not enough to live on,
never an hour for thought.
We want to feel the sunshine,
we want to smell the flowers. We’re sure that God wanted it,
and we mean to have eight hours. We are calling our forces from shipyard, shop and mill.
Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours to do what we want.

But the bosses were not interested. They did not give the workers an eight hour day. So on 1st May 1886 the workers in America went on strike. The factories came to a standstill and the mills were quiet. But the streets were full of noise – the noise of the workers singing the eight hour song:

“Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours to do what we want.”

The strike was a big success and the bosses gave in. The workers got an eight hour working day. The workers won, but the price was heavy. The police shot and killed six of the striking workers. The police arrested the workers’ leaders – and hanged four of them.

The story of the American workers was carried across the sea to England and the other countries in Europe. These workers were also fighting for better living and ‘working conditions.

In 1889 workers in Europe started the International Workers Congress to unite workers everywhere. The Congress decided to have demonstra­tions in all countries on 1st May 1890 to demand an eight hour day.

And so in 1890 May Day was celebrated by workers in America, Australia, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. May Day became a day of unity for workers all over the world.

Since then workers all over the world have celebrated May Day. In socialist countries like Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe, May Day is a public holiday. In most other countries, workers have won a paid holiday.

In countries like South Africa where workers don’t have many rights, May Day is a day of protest against the apartheid laws. It is a day when workers come together to demand better living and working conditions. It is a day of unity and celebration. And in South Africa, it all started over 80 years ago.


On Sunday May 1 1904, about 2 000 white workers had a meeting in Market Square Johannesburg. This was the first May Day meeting in South Africa. Their cry was: “Workers of the world unite for a white South Africa.” They were blind to the sufferings of their fellow black workers.

The white workers did not care about the other workers because they got higher wages and they had better working conditions. The bosses used the old trick of “divide and rule”. They did not want the workers to stand together.

But the whiter than white May Day meetings did not last forever. In 1915 a small group of white workers started an organisation called the Interna­tional Socialist League.

This organisation later became the Communist Party. The people in this organisation said: “The workers produce all the wealth in the country. But most of this wealth goes to the bosses. And the government is always on the side of the bosses. We want the workers to share in the wealth of the country. And we want a govern­ ment that will be run by workers.”

They said that if workers want to fight for their rights, they must be united Black and White, African and European, Indian and “Coloured”. And so in 1917, they invited Horatio Mbelle, a member of the African National Congress, to come and speak at their meeting.

But the meeting did not last long. It was broken up by soldiers and white workers. They did not like a black man talking to white workers.

Black workers also began to celebrate May Day every year. But most white workers still did not want to join together with black workers. These white workers had their own meetings.

The Communist Party tried hard to bring black and white workers together. They had a big May Day meeting in Johannesburg in 1931. About 3 000 black workers and 1 500 white workers marched from Market Square to the steps of the City Hall. The speakers praised the unity of the white and black workers.

After the meeting the workers marched to the Rand Club – where the bosses went to relax and enjoy themselves. In the club the bosses were smoking fat cigars, drinking whisky and stuffing their stomachs with food.

And then they heard the workers singing outside. “We want work, we want bread,” sang the workers. The bosses were shocked when they saw lack and white workers standing side by side. The cigars dropped out of their mouths, the whisky choked in their throats and suddenly they didn’t feel so hungry anymore.

Black and white workers only really and truly came together for May Day meetings in 1936 – and they carried on meeting together until the 1940’s. Together workers demanded that May Day should be a paid public holiday. They demanded higher wages and the right to start trade unions. And they demanded the right for black and white workers to do the same jobs for the same pay. At last the workers in South Africa were standing together.

But the unity of black and white workers did not last very long. In 1948 the Nationalist Party took over the government and started passing the apartheid laws. These laws made I ife easier for white workers – and harder for black workers. And so the white workers started celebrating May Day on their own again. Some white workers stopped celebrating May Day altogether.

In 1950 the government passed a new law that banned the Communist Party. Members of the Communist Party, ANC, Transvaal Indian Congress and the African Peoples’ Organisation decided to show their anger with the new law. They called for a stayaway from work on the 1st May 1950.

The government banned all meetings and they sent the army and police into the townships. Vans with loud­ speakers went around the townships telling people to go to work. The police promised to protect people from the “trouble-makers”. The bosses also tried to make the stayaway fail. They told workers that they could sleep in the factories if they came to work.

But the government and the bosses could not stop the stayaway. On 1 May 1950, the factories were quiet. The workers were united in their anger.

In Cape Town workers marched down Adderley Street – the biggest street in the city. “Down with Apartheid!” they shouted. “Down with passes”. We want freedom!”

In Johannesburg the police broke up meetings in the townships. They killed 19 workers and injured 30 more. The stayaway was a big success because the workers were united in their hatred of apartheid. But like the American workers before them, the workers paid for their victory in blood.

A day of mourning and protest was called on 26 June 1950 to remember those who died on May Day. June 26 was called Freedom Day. And since then, every year on June 26 people come together to remember those who have died in the struggle for freedom.

After 1950 there were no big May Day meetings for a long time – because political organisations and trade unions were under heavy attack from the government. There were no meetings. But workers did not forget about May Day.
Workers celebrated May Day in their homes. Trade Unions wrote stories about May Day in their newspapers and printed messages from workers in other countries. The government stopped May Day meetings – but they could not take May Day out of the hearts and souls of workers.

In the 1970’s workers started to join and build up trade unions again. The unions grew bigger and stronger. And once again, workers came together to remember May Day.

“In the past when workers were strong, they celebrated May Day, an organiser for FQSATU told Learn and Teach. “Then after 1950 the workers became weak and they stopped celebrating May Day. But now we celebrate May Day again because we are strong again. And we will get stronger and stronger. Nothing can hold us back now.”


The work and dreams of Austin Hleza

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005In a big farm shed in the quiet countryside of Swaziland, we found a big truck parked on a small, wooden table. A truck on a table? Sounds crazy, but it’s true.

On another day you may find a bus on the table. Or a racing car or a tractor or a concrete mixer or a tow­ truck. Austin Hleza makes them all.

We watched Austin put the perfectly round clay wheels on the clay truck. He was nearly finshed the truck and he looked very proud with himself. We could see that he loves his work.

Is it not strange that a man who makes cars and trucks is called Austin? lilt just happened that way,” says Austin, without looking up from his work. At first I thought I was the only Austin, but these days I find many people with same name.”

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005And so we spent the next few hours watching and talking to Austin Hleza. He told us about his life, his work, and his dreams.

I grew up in my grandmother’s house in a place called Mpuluzi in the western part of Swaziland,” says Austin. “Mpuluzi is the name of a very small river – a river of a river. Maybe there was once a man called Mpuluzi, but I don’t know for sure.

“I Iived with my grandmother because my parents split soon after I was born. My mother married another man and went to live in the eastern Transvaal. I saw her only once or twice a year. My father worked for the mines in South Africa. I saw him for the first time when I was in standard five.”

Like many other children who grow up in the countryside, Austin made his own toys. He made all these toys from the clay that he found on the banks of the river.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005“There is a lot of good clay in Swaziland,” says Austin. “You can find clay on the banks of every river and every stream. We made little lay people, little clay animals, and little clay motor cars.

“But most of all, we liked to make bulls out of clay. Then we used to fight the bulls. But the bulls did not last for very long. They always broke because we never fired the clay properly. “

When Austin got a bit older, most of his friends stopped playing with clay. But Austin didn’t. His love for clay was too strong.

“The kids at school teased me,” says Austin. “But after a while they stopped laughing. They saw that I was good with clay. They started coming to my house – and they took everything that I made.”

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005When I got to standard one, my grandmother told me to leave school. She said that there was no money for my schooling. She said that I was educated enough.”

But Austin did not agree. He did not think that he was ready to leave school. He got a job with a white family and stayed in the servants quarters. He went to school in the mornings. In the afternoons and on weekends he worked in the garden. He got R 10 a month.

“Soon after I finished my junior certificate, the white family left Swaziland and went back to South Africa. I was forced to leave school.

“Some of my friends went to work as mechanics or plumbers. But I decided that I wanted to do pottery. My friends and family thought I was playing. They thought that only old women and kids worked with clay.

Austin went to a pottery school near Mbabane. And for three years Austin learnt how to make all kinds of things. “1 made plates, cups and saucers,” says Austin. “And I made pots, pots and more pots. I learnt much about clay at that school.

Austin did not only learn about clay.

After pottery classes, he went to art classes in the evenings. He learnt how to draw and paint. He enjoyed the art. But pottery was his first love.

“1 had a girlfriend at this time,” says Austin. “She was a twin and she was very nice. But she was not very pleased with my pottery. ‘Austin man,’ she always used to say, ‘You are educated. Get a proper job, man’.”

“I loved her very much and so I listened to her. I got a job as a clerk at the post office. But it was no good. I could never balance the books. I left the post office two years later.”

Austin was now without a job – and without a girlfriend. He packed his things and made his way to the mines in South Africa. There was nothing else he could do.

“1 got a job at a gold mine in Kinross in the eastern Transvaal,” says Austin. “1 thought I could get a nice job because I was educated. I did not want to work underground, that’s for sure. I asked for an office job.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005“The man in the office looked at me and asked if this was my first time at the mines. I said ‘ves’ with a big smile. The man smiled back at me and said: ‘Underqround, thank you!’

“Before they send you underground, they give you a special course to get you ready. On the last day of the course, I met an old Xhosa man. The old man saw that I had some education and told me to ask again for an office job. I did what he said and I had some luck. I got an office job.

I was put in charge of level one and level six. I was very happy with myself. But then I got a little surprise. The man in charge of levels has to go down underground to check what’s happening. I couldn’t win.

And so I rushed into the lifts with the other workers. We had to rush because the doors close so quickly. I lost my watch and I couldn’t even bend down to pick it up. The lift was too crowded.

And then I got another surprise. After I finished checking level one, I could not catch the lift to level six. I had to walk there.

“The people on the mines are okay. There is food 24 hours a day. And there is plenty of cheap drink. But after only three times underground, I decided that mine work was not for me. I got my money and went straight to the station. I jumped onto the train and went home. I was glad to leave the mine behind me.”

When Austin got back to Swaziland, he got lucky again. His friends were waiting for him. They were starting a crafts workshop with a man from America. And they wanted Austin to work with them. They called the place Mantenga Crafts.

Austin helped to build the place and soon he was doing what he loved best- working with clay. He made all kinds of beautiful things. He worked there for a long time and he loved every minute of it.

At the end of 1982, Austin decided to make a motor car – just like he did when he was still a kid. Maybe he was a little tired of making pots and more pots.

“The first car I made was a funny little car,” says Austin. The car had no steering, no driver and the wheels had no threads. But I knew that I could do better and I kept on trying.”

Austin’s cars got better and better ­ and bigger and bigger. People liked them and soon Austin had a few customers. He left Mantenga Crafts.

Austin began to think about his life. For a long time he has had a dream about the future. If his cars sold well he could maybe make his dreams come true.

At the moment I live on a doctor’s farm,” says Austin. It’s nice there but I’ve I lived there for too long. I want a place of my own.

I know of just the place where I want to live. The place is called Bhunya. There is lots of clay there and lots of water. There is a small stream on the one side. And on the other side is the great Usutu River.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005“There is also a paper mill right there with a mountain of fresh sawdust. I will have as much sawdust as I need for smoking the clay. And it will cost me nothing.

I will build a small house and work with the community. We will make all kinds of things from the clay. And maybe we could do other things too – like making big, beautiful floor mats. You see, I don’t think people should leave their villages when there IS so much to be done in the community.

“I want to take my children with me. Already they are getting used to living near towns. This really worries me. I believe town life is not healthy.”

You can now find Austin hard at work in the farm shed. He works seven days a week. He does not want to waste any time.

A month later, Learn and Teach went to FUBA gallery in Johannesburg. Austin Hleza’s work was on show there.
It was the last day of the show – and nearly all the cars and trucks were already sold. We were very pleased for Austin. He is getting closer to his dream. We look forward to visiting him in his little house next to the Great Usutu River.

Death in the Eastern Cape

On the 21 st March, a group of people made their way down Maduna Avenue in the township of Langa in Uitenhage. They were on their way to a funeral in the nearby township of KwaNobuhle. They never got to the funeral.

At the corner of Maduna Avenue and 15th Street, the police were waiting for them. A few seconds later, people lay dead and injured in the street. The police say they killed 20. But the people say at least 43 were killed that day.

The whole world was shocked and sickened by what happened that day.

They remembered what happened in Sharpeville on the very same day 25 years before. On that day the police shot and killed 67 people. The 21st March is a day that will never be forgotten.

Soon after the shooting in Langa, the Minister of Law and Order told pariliament that the people were carrying stones, sticks, bricks and petrol bombs. He said that when the people started throwing these things at the police, the police were forced to open fire.

The government then asked a judge to find out what happened. And so Justice Kannemeyer listened to the different stories. He listened to the police’s story. And he listened to the peoples’ story. The stories were quite different.

The police said the crowd were on their way to white homes in Uitenhage to kill white people. The police said that the people threw stones at them. But now they said that there were no petrol bombs.

The police showed photographs of stones lying near the dead. When a policeman was asked why there were no stones near the hippos, he said the stones bounced back. He said the stones bounced back 40 metres!

The people told the judge that they were marching peacefully along the road. They were not carrying petrol bombs, stones or anything else.

The people said they walked to the funeral because the police did not let them go in taxis. They said that they were not walking to the white peoples’ homes. They went the same way that children use everyday to go to school in KwaNobuhle.

The people said that the police gave no warning before they started shooting. They said the first bullet hit a young boy on a bicycle. And after the shooting, the police put stones in the hands of the dead and injured. The police also kicked and swore at the dead and injured.

The judge heard how most of the people were shot in the back – just like most of the people killed in Sharpeville 25 years before. And he heard how the police called the fire engines to clean the blood off the streets before they left.

One man told the judge that he heard the police talk about shooting all the injured people – so they could not talk. An ambulance driver said he saw a policeman pointinq to a man lying in the street in terrible pain – and then jokingly say that the man was “breakdancing”.

The ambulance men also said that they could not go to the dead and injured straight away. They were kept waiting outside the township by the police. The three ambulance men were fired after telling their stories to the judge.

The judge heard that the police did not have teargas or rubber bullets with them. They only had rifles and shot­ guns. And the judge heard that not even one policeman was hurt – not even by a little stone.

The shooting and the dying has not stopped. Many more people have died in the Eastern Cape since that terrible day in March. But people are not only dying in the Eastern Cape. They are dying in townships in every corner of this country.

People say that the problems started in Eastern Cape because of the town councils in the townships. Like the people in the Vaal last year, the people in the Eastern Cape have had enough of the councillors. They say that the councillors are “greedy crooks” . They say that the councils are doing the governments dirty work.

But, as most people will tell you, there are other reasons as well. Like the thousands of hungry people without jobs. Like the pass laws. Like the high cost of living and GST. Like the shortage of houses and crowded classrooms. Like detentions and the jailing of the peoples’ real leaders. And of course, because most people have no real say in the government of this country.

We pray and wait for the day when there won’t be all these reasons. We pray for the day when the shooting will stop and when blood will no longer be so cheap. We pray for that day.

A letter to a friend in jail

Dear Lazzie

I do not have enough words to tell you how much I miss you. When I first heard that you were detained by the security police, I did not believe that it was true. I only began to believe it after a week had passed.

I woke up every day and hoped that you would be free. Days passed. Weeks and months passed. But nothing happened. Who knows? Perhaps years will pass.

I have tried to think of the reason why you are in jail. I have thought long and hard. And I came to a conclusion. There is no reason. The police have no business to keep you in detention. I hope they are not hurting you. We all know how they sometimes treat innocent people like you.

I know you as a peaceful person – and I believe that most if not all detainees are peace loving people. This confuses me more. What could a peaceful person like you have done to end up in jail? What could all the peace loving people have done? I think there is only one answer. You people are on the side of good and justice. That is the only reason.

If you are in jail because of the fight against high rents in the Vaal, then you are not in jail for nothing. The people are still refusing to pay the high rents. The threats have not worked. The people have not weakened. We will not pay rent until the rent is fair. We stand behind you and the others who sit in jail.

Is the bullet still in your body? I hope not. I pray to the Gods of Africa that the police have taken you to a doctor. After all, the bullet inside you is a police bullet. They should take care of their bullets.

Yours parents are doing well. They are worried about your health and they miss you very much. But they are being very brave. Your youngest sister misses you terribly. She is always talking about you.

I met your sweetheart a few weeks back. She told me that she had a dream about you and in her dream you were free. She said that you held her tight and kissed her. She is really looking forward to being with you forever.

I must go now. I just want to say that I miss you very much but I cannot feel sorry for you. In Africa we never pity a true soldier. We carry a soldier high on our shoulders and we praise the Gods. May peace be with you, my friend.

With much love

Lazarus “Lazzie” More of Sebokeng was detained by the security police on the 9th October 1984. Seven months have passed and he is still In detention.

Lazzie is our friend and fellow worker at Learn and Teach. He is a co­-ordinator of a learning group in Sebokeng.

We, together with his family and other friends, are very worried about Lazzie. We worry like the family and friends of all other detainees.

But we also worry for another reason. Lassie was shot by the police in Sebokeng on the 4th September last year. And when he was detained, he still had the bullet in his body. The bullet is stuck in his bladder.

Doctors at the Coronationville Hospital were treating Lazzie before he was detained. They could not take the bullet out immediately – because the bullet was too close to his spine. They wanted to wait a while before giving him an operation.

Lazzie’s lawyer has phoned the police and sent them letters asking about Lazzie’s health. The lawyer has asked the police to take him back to the doctors who were treating him.

The police say that Lazzie’s health is “satisfactory” and that there is no need to worry. In their first letter they said he was getting treatment from a district surgeon. In the second letter they said that a specialist was treating him – and that he still had not had an operation.

The police say we should not worry. But we do worry.

Firstly, we do not feel better when we hear that Lazzie is “satisfactory”. What does “satisfactory” mean? Surely Lazzie’s family and friends have the right to know exactly what is happening.

Secondly, we have good reason not to trust police doctors. We believe that the police should take Lazzie back to the doctors who first treated him.

Thirdly, the police should allow Lazzie’s family to visit him They have only seen him once – and that was in November last year after Mrs Helen Suzman made a few phone calls.

Lazarus More, like so many other detainees, has been in detention for a long time already. It’s not decent! It’s not fair!

A mother and a father

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

One evening back in 1963, policemen carrying guns went to the house of Elias and Caroline Motsoaledi in old Mzimhlophe. They took Elias away with them. He has been in prison ever since.

Elias Motsoaledi was charged in the Rivonia Trial – with Mandela, Sisulu and the other leaders of the freedom struggle. He was sentenced to life in prison.

And since the evening all those years ago, Caroline Motsoaledi has been both a mother and a father to their seven children. She has fed them, clothed them and sent them all to school. She has worked in the day and sat up with sick children at night. She has done all this alone.

Caroline Motsoaledi, or Ma Motsoaledi as everyone calls her, is now 57 years old. She works in a clothing factory in the day. And then she goes home to feed the children – and anyone else who may be there. And one thing’s for sure. There are always plenty of visitors there. It was like that even when Elias was still there.

And so the Motsoaledi family and all their visitors, young and old, eat together. And then they talk. They talk about this and that and everything else. But in the end they talk about somebody who they all miss and care for very much. They talk about Elias Motsoaledi.

And when they talk about Elias Ma Motsoaledi keeps quiet for a while. She thinks her own thoughts. Sometimes she will feel a great sadness biting at her heart. But at other times she will laugh quietly to herself ­ when she remembers the good times. Like when she first met Elias.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

The young Caroline Motsoaledi


“I grew up in Doornkop near Middleburg in the Northern Transvaal,” says Caroline. “I grew up working in the fields. We planted mealies, cabbages and lots of other things. I came from a poor family. We worked hard for our food everyday.

Then one day some young men came to Doornkop. Elias was among them. They were in Doornkop to see their relatives. I did not think about these young men. I did not notice Elias.

But when the time came for the men to go home, one of them stayed behind in Doornkop. His name was Elias, of course. And his heart was in Doornkop. He was in love with me.

By the time Elias left Doornkop, I was in love with him. We made promises to each other for the future. We promised to be with each other soon.

We wrote letters to each other all the time. I did not know when I would see Elias again. But I waited for his letters. And when they came, they were worth waiting for.

And then suddenly Elias stopped writing. I still don’t know why he stopped. And so I waited for a letter from Elias. That was a very unhappy time for me. I read the last letter I got from him again and again. I felt very lonely and sad.

Maybe Elias was getting me ready for our life together. If he was, I must say he did a very good job. I learned to live away from the one I love.

Then one day I left Doornkop to visit my mother in Brakpan. I got off the train at Jeppe and waited for the next train to Brakpan. The train came but it didn’t stop. It went straight past.

I sat there for a long time and worried. I did not know when the next train would come. And then, just a few steps away from me, I saw a young man sitting on a bench. He was just sitting and thinking.

I went to the man and asked him when the next train was coming. When he looked up, I got a surprise. I was looking at Elias.

I asked him if he remembered me. He said he did not know who I was. If he was joking or not, I cannot say. But I still believe he was joking. He was that kind of person. He always liked a good joke.

I told him who I was. But I did not tell him where I came from. Then he took out his wallet and pulled out a photo – a photo of me. I gave him the photo when we first met.

Elias looked at the photo and smiled. He looked very happy – even happier than he looked in Doornkop. We did not leave each other again. We got married in 1950.

We did not have a big wedding party. Elias said that there was no time for that. The Nationalists had come into power just a few years before. And Elias was very busy. He had much work to do.”

“I did not see Elias very often. He was always going to political meetings. I did not really understand what was happening. I asked Elias and he explained to me. He was very patient. And then I stopped wondering what was happening. And I joined the people who were making it happen.

I began to go to a lot of ANC meetings. I was not a member but in those days you did not have to carry a membership card to be member.

People came in large numbers to the meetings because the meetings were in big, empty spaces. And we used to say: “As long as you want freedom, you are a member of the ANC”

I then joined the Federation of South African Women. And then the government made a new law. Women now had to carry passes. The women were angry. Very angry. We planned a march. And that was my first real taste of politics.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

I marched with 20 thousand other women to Pretoria. I remember the day very well. It was the 9th August 1956. We marched behind our leaders to the prime minister’s office in Pretoria. We wanted to tell Mr Strydom just what we thought about his law.

We sat quietly on the grounds of the Union Buildings. We were wearing our green uniforms of the Federation and African National Congress. Our uniforms were as green as the green lawn of the Union Buildings. We looked beautiful that day.

And then we spoke. “Strydom wa thinta abafazi wa thint’ imbokodwe uzakufa.”, we said. “Strydom, you touched the women, you have struck a rock.”

And then Lilian Ngoyi and our other leaders went up to the balcony to see the prime minister. But he did not come out to meet them. And then our leaders said: ‘They must know that we we are not going to carry these funny books. The struggle against these passes will always carryon in the townships and in the country side.’ We then sang’ Nkosi sikeleli’ Africa and went back to our homes.

And for Elias and I the struggle did carry on. Our marriage was busy but very happy. And then we were parted. And we have been parted ever since.”

“The morning after Elias was arrested, I went to the Orlando Police Station to find out what was happening. But the police did not tell me anything. They did not tell me where he was. I walked up and down and I always came home very tired. I was pregnant with my last born at that time.

“After three weeks, the lawyers came to my house and told me that Elias was in the Central Prison in Pretoria. They said that I could take clothes to him. But I could not see him.

I saw my husband a year later. I saw him when the trial started. I went to the trial with all the other wives, children and friends. There were always plenty of people in the court room. This made Elias and the other men happy. It gave them hope.

And then soon after the trial started, I was arrested. They kept me for 90 days and asked me a lot of questions about my husband. They said that I carried bombs and other weapons for Elias. I said that it was not true.

When 90 days had passed, they did not let me go. They gave me another 90 days. While I was locked up in prison, the police went to fetch my mother in Doornkop. They brought her to Soweto to look after my children. Nobody asked them to do that.

Then just before they let me free, this young policeman came into my cell. He looked very happy with himself. He told me that Elias and the other leaders were sentenced to life in prison. I got the news from that young, happy policeman.

When I came out of jail, I knew that our friends and comrades would not let us starve. But I did not want to fold my arms and wait for someone to help us. My biggest problem was my children who were all still young at the time. I wanted them to go to school like other children.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

MaMotsoaledi with six of her children

I decided not to go back to work as a domestic worker the work I was doing before I was arrested. I needed to earn more money. But I first had to go back to my old job to get some of my belongings.

When I got there, I found somebody else working there. I did not ask for my job back. I just took all my belongings and quickly left. I did not want anyone to ask where I was for those six months.

But they knew. And when I went looking for a job, the people always phoned that man for a reference. And he always told them that I spent time in jail. And when they put the phone down, they always said: “I don’t employ ANC people. Please try somewhere else.”

I struggled to find a job. After a while, I looked for a job as p domestic worker again. But I had no luck. While I was looking some organisations helped me. Church organisations helped me a lot. Some of the children got bursaries to stay at school.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

At work at the clothing factory

In the end I got this job at the clothing factory. They gave me a job without asking all those silly questions. I have now worked here for nearly 22 years. The owner of the factory is a fine, old man. He knows that Elias is in jail. But he does not say anything about it.

And when the police come to fetch me from work to ask me questions, he does not shout and say that he will fire me. But he will ask me what they wanted with me. The old man cares about me.”

“I always worry when I look at my fatherless children. I always wanted to be near and close to them I wanted to do all I cou Id to make them happy.

But I am not the only one who worries. The children care about me too. Whenever I am sad, they sit down next to me and find out what is wrong. They don’t like to see me looking sad.

The children suffered a lot. They often went to school without food in their lunch tins. And their school uniforms were always old and worn out. But they never complained.

But worst of all, they missed their father – maybe even more than myself. I remember how much my last born, Ngwato, missed his father. But he did not say anything until he shocked everybody in the house. He wrote to his father and asked him why he did not care for us. “Why do you stay in jail and leave us to suffer?” he asked his father.

Elias read that letter and felt very sorry for his son. He sent me Ngwato’s letter and asked me to read it. He blamed me for not telling the children what they must know and hear.

So one winter night I called the whole family together. And I told them their father’s story. The older ones already knew something from books and newspapers. But the young ones knew nothing. Ngwato listened to every word I said. He asked many questions and I had to answer them all.

When some of them were old enough, I wrote to Pretoria to get permits for them to visit Elias. I wrote first to get a permit for my third son. Before I got a reply, they called my son to security headquarters in Soweto. They asked him all sorts of questions. They asked him why he wanted to visit his father. He told them that he wanted to visit Elias because Elias was his father.

And then they asked him to work for them. My son refused and said: “That will be the time my father tells me not to call myself his son.”

They did not let him visit his father on Robben Island. My son was hurt and angry. He left the country soon after that. Another two of my sons followed him They know the story of their father and they want to follow in his footsteps. They want to walk the same path.

I have not seen my three sons since they left. And I do not think I will see them for a long time to come. I miss them so much – just like I miss my husband. But I must carry on and be strong. There is no other way.

Created by Readiris, Copyright IRIS 2005

Agreement at Sasol

In the last two magazines we told you how 6,000 workers lost their jobs at Sasol, They were fired ‘in November last year because they joined the big stayaway.

After the workers lost their jobs, Sasol would not talk to the Sasol workers’ union the Chemical Workers Industrial Union. They said that the workers were fired and that was that.

The union fought back. Other unions in South Africa and overseas stood with the Sasol workers’ union. And now, five months later, Sasol made an offer to the union.

Sasol said that they will take back most of the old Sasol workers who still want their jobs. They will take 4,200 out of the 6,000 they fired. They will also give the union more rights than they had before. The Sasol bosses will talk to the shop stewards from the union. The shop stewards can take workers’ complaints to them. They can have union meetings during work hours and they can use Sasol phones for union business. Sasol will also give the shop stewards 10 days off a year to learn about union business.

Before the union agreed to Sasol’s offer, they called a big meeting of all their shop stewards. They came from factories all over South Africa. The shop stewards said the union must agree to Sasol’s offer. They said that the union must use the offer to get all the other Sasol workers’ their jobs back .

Dark times for nightwatchmen

Thousands of contract workers work in the security industry in cities and towns all over South Africa. Some of the security companies make big profits by breaking the law and exploiting their workers.

These companies exploit their workers because there are few jobs in the homelands and because of the pass laws. Workers in the “homelands” are promised a living wage, good working conditions, free uniforms, comfortable hostels and free trans­port. If a worker has a family to feed and has not worked for two or three years, they will not say no to such a good offer. And so many workers take jobs with these companies.

When workers start the jobs, many soon find that the companies do not keep their promises. They are treated very badly and their lives are more miserable than before. Here are some examples:

* Workers are dumped in hostels. Many of these hostels have concrete beds, broken windows and doors. Many workers pay up to R35 for a bed every month.

* Some are not registered but the firm still takes money from their wages. They take money for tax and U IF. Workers are also sometimes fined if the company says they were sleeping on the job.

* The uniforms are not free. Workers pay for the uniforms and the firm promises to pay them back when they leave the job. This often does not happen.

* Companies like Springbok Patrols sometimes assault their workers. Other companies also sometimes assault their workers.

* The companies often do not train their workers for the job.

* Workers work very long hours. The law says a security guard must work a 12 hour shift. But the workers sometimes have to work up to 16 hours a shift. It’s worse on weekends – workers some times work a 60 hour shift on weekends.

* The conditions are very bad. There may be no toilets or even a guard room. If there is a guard room, there may be no heater in winter.

* Some workers must pay for their own transport because the trucks do not fetch them in time.

* Only the lucky workers get a day off each week. Some workers work for three months before they get a day off.

* The companies want the workers to be clean and tidy at all times. The workers have to pay to keep their uniforms clean.

The union has many problems when we try to organise the workers in the industry. Some companies don’t like unions and they sometimes fire workers who join unions.

Many workers cannot have meetings in the hostels because there are no halls. And workers can’t plan meetings because they do not know when they will have some free time. This make the union’s work very difficult.

The union also has other problems. When we complain to the Department of Manpower, we get very little help. They make excuses. They say that they do not have enough staff.

There is also no industrial council for security workers. In other industries, unions can sit on the industrial councils to fight for their members. A Wage Board decides how much security workers must get. And these wages never keep up with the cost of living. Workers always lose out to the companies who make big profits by exploiting their workers .