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.”

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OUKASIE, YES! LETLHABILE NO!

Untitled0-30Just outside Brits, near Pretoria, you will find Oukasie. The houses of Ouksaie suit the name – they are old and rusty. But they are homes to the people who live there. And the people of Oukasie are fighting for the right to live there.

The story of Oukasie started in 1935. The government built a few tin shacks for the people who worked at Brits. Since that time the government has not built another house there.

So people built their own houses. And people who did not have money to build houses, built shacks on other people’s plots.

When you go to Oukasie today, you will still think it is 1935. There are no tarred roads. There are no drains for water. There is no electricity and no street lights. And people still use bucket toilets.

What more can we say than, 'If you're tired of Oukasie, you're tired of life'?

What more can we say than, ‘If you’re tired of Oukasie, you’re tired of life’?

LETLHABILE – A LIVING GRAVEYARD?

25 kilometres away the government has built Letlhabile – a new township. LetlHabile has about 175 houses. Each house costs about R4 000.

People who do not have money to buy a house, can get a site. Each site has a tent, a tap and a flush toilet. If you get a site there, you must build a house within two years.

There are no halls or churches in Letlhabile. But there is a graveyard. The graveyard was built before anyone moved there. In fact, 500 graves were dug before there was one person living in Letlhabile.

The government says they did their duty. They gave the people of Oukasie a new place to live. Then, last year, the government said Oukasie was no longer a ‘black township’. And everyone living there must move.

FIGHTING TOGETHER

But the people of Oukasie did not want to move to Letlhabile. So they came together. They knew if they wanted to stay in Oukasie, they must be united. So they started the Brits Action Committee (BAC).

People in Oukasie were lucky. Many people living there, knew about organising. Many of them belonged to trade unions like NAAWU (National Automobile and Allied Workers Union) and MAWU (Metal and Allied workers Union). But they also asked people from the Transvaal Rural Action Committe (TRAC) to help them.

The Administration Board in Brits said everyone must move. And they refused to give anyone a house or a site. But the Brits Action Committee fought against this.

MOSHE WINS A HOUSE

In May last year, BAC helped Moshe Mahlaela to take the Administration Board to court. Moshe wanted a house in Oukasie. But the Administration Board said no.

Moshe won his case. But the house that the Administration Board gave him only had one room and no windows. But still, to Moshe, it was a house. And to the people of Oukasie, it was a victory.

SAMSON’S STRUGGLE

Samson Nembahe was the next person to ask for a place. He wanted a site to build a house. “I went to the Administration offices,” Samson said. “But the man at the offices said that all the people in Oukasie were moving to Lethlabile.

“So I went to talk to BAC. One person from BAC came with me to see the superintendent. When we got there, the superintendent changed his story. This time he said he would give me a site. He said I must just tell him where I want it.

“I did not hear from him. So I went to see him again and again. First he said an engineer must check the site. Next he wanted the stand number. Then he wanted to see the plans of my house. Then he asked for my lodger’s permit and my rent receipts.

“But, in the end, with the help of BAC, I won. And the people of Oukasie are helping me to build my house. They know that I am not working so I do not have money. But they are pleased that I won the right to build.”

WORKERS JOIN IN THE FIGHT

BAC did not just help people to fight for houses in Oukasie. They used their trade unions to get their bosses to help them. They told their bosses to ask the government not to move them to Letlhabile. They asked Firestone to stop building a creche in Letlhabile. They said they must rather build the creche in Oukasie.

The bosses in Brits tried to speak to the government – but they had no success. They made a public statement against the forced removal of the people of Brits. They also said they would give money to make Oukasie a better place to live in.

OUKASIE – A SLUM!

Learn and Teach spoke to Marshall Buys – the chairperson of BAC. We asked Marshall why the government wants the people of Oukasie to move.

“The government says that there is not enough land in Oukasie,” Marshall told us. “So Oukasie cannot get any bigger than it is right now. They also say that the Oukasie is a ‘slum’. They said it will cost too much money to make Oukasie a better place.

“But we do not think what the government says is true. Just next to the location there is a big farm. If the government wanted to buy it, they could use that land for Oukasie.

“Some parts of the Oukasie do look like a ‘slum’. But whose fault is that? If the government used the money they spent on Letlhabile, Oukasie would not look like a slum.”

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

“But we think the government wants to move the Oukasie because it is very near a white township called Elandsrand. And Letlabile is very near Bophuthatswana. We think that maybe the government plans to give Letlabile to Bophuthatswana. If the government does this, then all the people who belong to trade unions in Brits will have big problems. Bophuthatswana does not allow trade unions from South Africa to work in Bophuthatswana.

HELPING OURSELVES

We asked Marshall what is happening in Brits now. Marshall said, “The government can say what it likes. We will not move. Right now people in Oukasie are very busy. We are cleaning our township.

“We want to show the government that if they cannot help us, then we will help ourselves. The people of Oukasie are very strong. They built a school and they are fixing the roads.”

‘GA GO NA MO RE YANG’

Maybe the T-shirts will help the government to hear what the people of Oukasie say

Maybe the T-shirts will help the government to hear what the people of Oukasie say

Everywhere you look in Brits, you see people wearing T-shirts that say, “Ga go mo re yang, re dula go na mo” (We are not going anywhere, we are here to stay).

The message on the T-shirt is loud and clear. Maybe the T-shirts will help the government to hear what the people of Oukasie say.