The last ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Room 203,
Chancellor House;
25 Fox Street;

Tel: (011) 838-2377


The life of a fighter

img31She lives by herself in a small, tidy house in Johannesburg. She is 77 years old. She has  suffered from cancer. She has suffered a heart attack. Now her eyesight is getting bad. And  er leg gives her trouble. But her spirit is strong. She fights on.

The fighter is Helen Joseph – the old lady of politics in South Africa.

The government banned her for 16 years. She spent nine years under house arrest. Today she is still a “Iisted” person. So we can’t tell you what she says.

People throw rocks through her window. They fire buIlets at her house. They phone her and swear at her. They once placed a bomb at her gate.

She has suffered for a long, long time. But she never complains. She still laughs. And her eyes still shine. She will never give up.

Helen Joseph came to South Africa in 1931. She came here from India. She was on her way home to England.

She came to South Africa to visit a friend in Durban. She only wanted to stay for a year. But she never left. She made South Africa her home.

Helen Joseph got married in 1932. She lived in Durban. When the war started in 1939, she got a job with the air force. She was an information officer.

After the war she got a job as a social worker. She worked in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. In 1950 she went to work with the “coloured” people in the Cape Flats. In the Cape she saw how the people suffered.

In 1952, something happened that changed Helen Joseph’s life. This was the year of the Defiance Campaign. Thousands of people decided not to obey unfair laws. 8 000 people were arrested. Helen Joseph thought those people were brave. She decided to go into politics. She wanted to work for a better South Africa.

Other white people felt the same way as Helen Joseph. In 1953 Helen Joseph and some white people started an orqanization. They called the organization the Congress of Democrats. This organization wanted equal rights for all people in South Africa.

In 1954, Helen Joseph helped start the Federation of South African Women. She worked with people like Fatima Meer, Ray Alexander and Lillian Ngoyi. They wanted all women in South Africa to stand together.

img32In June the next year, 3 000 people met in Kliptown. The meeting was called the Congress of the People. Helen Joseph was there. At the meeting the people wrote the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is a list of things the people want.

When Helen Joseph spoke at the meeting, 300 policemen arrived. But Helen Joseph did not move. She finished her speech.

On the 9th August 1956, Helen Joseph marched with 20 000 women to Pretoria. They marched because the government said black women must carry passes. They marched to the government building. They wanted to speak to the Prime Minister. But he did not come out to speak to the women. The women stood outside for a long time. They did not move.

Later in the year Helen Joseph and 155 other people were arrested. They were charged in court. The court case was called the Treason Trial. The court case only finished in March 1962. The court found nobody guilty.

In 1957 Helen Joseph was banned for the first time. The banning order said she could not leave Johannesburg. And she couId not speak at meetings.

This banning ended in 1962. The next day, Helen Joseph left on a 7 000 mile journey around South Africa. She went to visit people in far away places – people the government sent to far away places.

Under house arrest, she stayed home from 6 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock in the morning. She stayed home on weekends and public holidays. She was only allowed one visitor – a doctor.

House arrest was a lonely time for Helen Joseph. But her friends did not forget about her. They wrote her letters. They phoned her. And at Christmas time, they stood outside her
house and sang Christmas songs.

In 1971 the government stopped her house arrest when she went for a cancer operation. In 1980 the government banned her again for 2 years. Her banning order ended in June this year.

Since June Helen Joseph has spoken at many meetings. She wiII not keep quiet quiet. She will keep fighting for a better South Africa.