Mary August

Age: 53, Clothing Worker, Port Elizabeth


“We were really demoralized. We worked harder but the white women were paid more and got better bonuses. It was like that in those days, you know, and the company could also just hire and fire as they liked.”

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Sibongile Buthelezi

Age: 55, Textile Worker, Pinetown

I was born in 1957 in St. Wendolins, near Pinetown. I started school when I was eight because I was so short. At the time, they never checked your age, but if you failed to touch your ear with your opposite hand you were too young and could not go to school. I was very small for my age, and so I had to start later. I was my mother’s fifth child, we were four boys and two girls. My mother, Dorah Buthelezi, was working as a domestic worker three days a week in Durban. I didn’t know my father.

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Margaret Chetty

Age: 58, Clothing Worker, Durban

“I will always thank SACTWU for what they have done for me. SACTWU brought out in us what we didn’t know we had.”

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Phumelele Gubayo

Age: 46, Leather Worker, Port Elizabeth

“I went into standard three in my first year at school but I had never done reading or writing before! I had never been to school before. It was very tough to have to try and catch up all the work.”

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SACTWU
Sicelo Gumede

Age: 49, Textile Worker, Durban

“It was difficult to strike for so long. It is not easy when you don’t earn any money. But we were fighting for a living wage so we had to go on strike!”

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SACTWU
Makhosazana Hlengwa

Age: 46, Clothing Worker, Hammersdale

I take pride in making clothes for the state. If I see a soldier wearing camouflage, or the police wearing their shirts and trousers, I feel proud to know those came from my hands.

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SACTWU
Andrew Mndeni Joyisa

Age: 63, Textile Worker, Durban

“Me and the other workers, we took the apartheid bull by its horns. We put our strength together and started the action that we believed would liberate us as workers. We wanted the right to belong to unions and we knew we had to push and push until the bull fell down.”

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Cornelius Kodisang

Age: 46, Clothing Worker, Gauteng

“SACTWU has made me into the person that I am today; confident, strong and militant. I can handle anything that comes at me.”

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Tselane Adeline Lipali

Age: 37, Textile Worker, Botshabelo

“When I arrived at school the next day, I would suddenly be told, ‘We are going to burn this shop today’, or whatever else we were doing that day.”

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SACTWU
Alvina Phindile Mahlangu

Age: 48, Clothing Worker, Johannesburg

“Workers have wanted me to be a shop steward for a long time. In the past I always refused because I didn’t want to be fired. Shop stewards sometimes get victimized for standing up for the workers.”

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SACTWU
Mandisa Makwayiba

Age: 54, Clothing Worker, Cape Town

"Although he never went to school, he used to tell us how to be a good human being. I do that too. I tell them how my father raised us. I tell them that they don’t need to look at their neighbours and see what they have.” 

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Lunga Mapela

Age: 35, Leather Worker, East London

“I believe it is important to follow good principles in the struggle. I am guided by the words of the famous African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, who said: ‘Tell no lies; claim no easy victories’”

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Nomsa Mashaba

Age: 41, Clothing Worker, Johannesburg

“My family was forced to go and live in Mafikeng. The way she explained the move, I knew that it must have been a very sad time! My family lost many of their belongings. In those days, my grandfather had a lot of cattle, horses, goats and pigs. But he lost them to the Boers.”

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Desmond Mathe

Age: 52, Clothing Worker, Durban

“I believe that if all players in the industry, including the employers, work together, we can build the industry up again. We can do this even though we are facing such intense global competition.”

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SACTWU
Monroe Mkalipi

Textile Worker, Cape Town

“Our struggle, however, taught us that no one is inferior. We needed total liberation.”

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Busisiwe Msimango

Age: 57, Clothing Worker, Gauteng

“…as workers, we had to stand against apartheid in our workplace. That’s why I started to fight for workers - even though I wasn’t yet a shop steward. I made sure that employers respected workers’ rights”.

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Siphiwe Ngidi

Age: 67, Clothing Worker, Durban

“While we were there, the struggle never stopped. They would chase us. In the back of my mind, I was always thinking of escaping. Hiding and escaping. During that difficult time, the only thing that kept me going was the idea that I was working to eradicate the exploitation of workers. So we had to keep on going.”

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Margret Ndala

Age: 57, Clothing Worker, Cape Town

“1991 was the first time I led a march in Cape Town for SACTWU. The march was to parliament. As we walked along the roads, past the businesses, you could see the fear in the eyes of the bosses that we passed. They could see our power”

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Devarani Naidoo

Age 58, Clothing Worker, Durban

“As a strong woman, I stand up and I am still standing. I just turned 58 years old. I am a very strong woman. I can take any amount of stress. Nothing will beat me, nothing”

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SACTWU
Petunia Lorato Ngwato

Age: 39, Clothing Worker, Kimberley

“In those days politics was hard to talk about; we weren’t allowed to talk openly about it. It was a very dangerous thing to be involved in politics because the police and the soldiers did not have a problem shooting students.”

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