Margret Ndala

My name is Margaret Ndala. I am married to Sam Ndala and I have two children: Faith Ndlangisa, who is 36, and Samuel Ndala, who is 30 years old. Faith works as a matron in an old age home in Worcester. She is married to Abraham Ndlangisa and he works at Hextex as an electrician. They have twins, a boy and a girl of 15 called Lwandle and Lwandekazi. Samuel, my son, works as a furniture salesman. He has a daughter, Thulisa, who is three years old.

My father’s name was Richard Fenie. He was married to my mother, Nelly. Neither of them was from Cape Town originally. They both moved here later. The Fenie family is originally from the Eastern Cape, from Queenstown. That is where my father grew up. My mother on the other hand is from the Middleburg area, but they knew each other through family connections.

After they were together, they both came to Cape Town because my mother had to come and cook for her father. He had been working in Cape Town since 1940 in the railways.

My parents lived in Eersterivier and had 16 children.

I was born in 1951. We lived in Alexander Homestead, in homestead number 7.

When I was very young, my older sister got married and instead of receiving money as lobola, we received a cow. That cow really made things good for us and gave us 16 calves! My father looked after the animals well and from the milk that the cows produced, we made butter and cheese. It was so nice in those days.

Growing up, I loved to sing. I remember that I used to stand up on top of those big paraffin drums and hold a sheep’s bone in my hand. I pretended it was my microphone and all the other children would gather around me as I sang. I performed concerts.

When I was ten years old, I was affected by the uprisings of the 1960s. At the time students in many parts of the country were protesting against the government, and the police were reacting. I remember waking up one morning and looking outside my house in Eersterivier and seeing police and soldiers running around and shooting at people.

They were kicking in the doors of many houses, not looking for anyone in particular but just wanting to arrest anyone and intimidate us all.

My mother hid my father under one of the mattresses just before the police came to our house and kicked open our door. They started shouting at my mother ‘Where is your husband? Where is he?’ She told them that he was at work but they were determined to find him. They went around the house throwing things around and breaking things. They were picking up the mattresses and looking under them and they also had a spike that they used to stick into the mattresses and cupboards. It was the kind of spike that cleaners use to pick up rubbish from the floor, like a spear.

My mother was sitting on the mattress that my father was under while the police did this to the rest of the house and then they came up to her and started sticking the spike into that mattress many times! When they did that, the spike pierced my father, and the police could hear him make a sound and see the mattress move. They said ‘donder kaffirtjie’ and pulled him out. He had a wound in his chest, in his lung, where the spike had stuck into him. They arrested him and they took him out of the house. I was crying, holding on to him, trying to stop them from taking my father.

The next day was also terrible because my uncle was almost killed by the police. I was walking to school and I remember seeing the bushes near me moving. Then I saw my uncle appear. He was running away from the police. They shouted that they were going to shoot him, and they actually did start shooting, but I ran up to him and hugged him. That made them stop.

My father never had the wound looked at by a doctor, but I know that he had a weak chest after that incident. Two years later, in 1963, he was coughing so badly that he had to go to Brooklyn Hospital. They told us that he had TB. The doctors didn’t allow me into the hospital to see him. They said that because I was only 12 years old, I was too young to deal with the germs in the hospital. So I had to wait at the gates while my mother and some of my siblings went in to visit my father. I remember staring up at his hospital room window and I saw him looking at me and waving. I was crying so hard while I waved back. He never came out of the hospital because he died shortly afterwards.

Life was not very easy after my father died.

For instance, our farm was not as well looked after and it didn’t provide us with the same comfort. We also had less money and because of that fact, I had to drop out out of Gordon High School in Somerset in standard 6.

A few years later, in 1967, my mother remarried. My stepfather’s name was Groom Plaatjies and my mother became Nelly Plaatjies. We moved into Groom’s house which was close by - also in Alexander homestead, number 84.

Groom was an evangelist in the Ethiopian Church of South Africa. In fact, our house was the local church and we held the services there. That is where I started singing in church. I sang with my mother and my father but my sisters did not want to be part of the church services. They would always run away! Groom would get angry that
they were not participating. He would make sure they did not get to eat Sunday lunch, and he even locked the fridge door on Sundays so that they could not get the food!

In 1975, my family moved out of Eersteriver and  went to stay in Mfuleni. At that time you weren’t allowed to take your cows there so we had to find a place for the cows to live. My uncle suggested that we should take them to another farm. We didn’t have a choice so we said ‘yes’. In the process we lost our ownership of the cows and even though there are lots of cows in Mfuleni nowadays, we have no way get them back.

While I was living in Mfuleni I joined the ANC in the 1970s. I was always going to meetings in the Mfuleni area. I learned such a lot at those meetings. For example, I learned that we had to be united. We had to stick together and speak with one voice. Even when we planned things,we had to plan together and then carry out the campaign together.

In 1968 I started working at a company called Continental China, but I realised that there was no future for me there. Then, in 1969, I started working at a clothing company called IL Back. Between 1969 and 1972, I worked at different premises for IL Back. I worked at their factory in Parow, then spent some time at their factory in Tygerberg and other time in Perth Road, Wynberg. Finally on 10 June 1972 I came back to Parow. I have been working there ever since - for the past 36 years - because IL Back was bought by Pep in 1989! It is now known as Pepclo.

Pepclo is the factory that manufactures many of the products that are sold in Pep Stores around the country. We are a clothing factory.

In fact, since we have about 2000 workers at our factory, we are the largest clothing factory in Southern Africa!

I am a machinist at Pepclo and I work on Line 5A. Mostly I work on men’s pants - but sometimes on women’s too - and I do the overlocking on the side pockets and the back pockets. Occasionally I also work on the panels in between. I earn R594 a week before my deductions. After the deductions it I get about R500 for the week. I am the only person with a stable income in my household and with that money I must support myself, my two grandchildren and my husband.

I became a shop steward in 1989. When I first became a shop steward, I was excited to represent the workers. I was excited to be in a position where I could try and make changes. While I have been a steward, I have had a big impression made upon me by our General Secretary Ebrahim Patel. He is like a lecturer. When he used to train us, he spoke just like a lecturer and he put things in ways that we could understand. The best advice I ever received from him was that a shop steward had to have the following qualities:

We have to be motivated. We have to stand firm for the workers. We have to service the workers at all times. We also have to lead by example. I can remember that he put it in another way. He told us that if we walk like a crab, which walks sideways, then our workers will walk sideways too. You have to walk properly, and do the right thing. That is the best way to be a real leader.

On the 9 August 2000, my company tried to dismiss me. There was a wage freeze that year and I decided that I should make placards for the workers to protest. I arrived at work early and sat down at the canteen to start writing the slogans on the placards.

When work started, I decided that I would keep on writing the placards. After all, my job as a shop steward officially starts when work starts, and since protecting the workers forms part of that job, I decided that writing the placards was part of my job.

In any case, the Labour Relations Act protects my right to carry out my duties as a shop steward.

At 09:58 that morning, a supervisor saw the placards lying next to me at my machine and she went to the manager to complain. When the management called me in, I protested and told them that they had not actually seen me write the placards, and that even if I had, it fell under my duties as a steward.

When I got called in, the workers were cross with the management for trying to get me in trouble. The workers felt I was being treated unfairly and so they got up from their machines and came to fetch me from the office! Just like that! Then I followed them back to my machine and sat there.

At 15:30, there was a call over the intercom that I had to go to the HR’s office and fetch my warning. But the workers would not let me go! They refused and said that the HR would have to bring the warning to me. So I waited. When the HR manager eventually came, she walked angrily towards me and asked me why I didn’t come to collect the envelope with the warning in it.

The workers who sit around me urged me to open the envelope and read the letter in from of them. They wanted me to open it before the HR manager left the factory floor but by the time I opened the letter, the HR had already disappeared.

When I did open the letter, it said that I was being dismissed!

But the workers told me not to worry. They said that I should just come in to work on the Monday and everything would be alright. The next day I was at home and I got a phone call from Aziza Kannemeyer who is now our Regional Secretary. She told me that I had to go back to work immediately. I told her that I was going to go back on Monday but that I didn’t have the money for transport to go back immediately. Then she explained that the workers at Pep were striking in the factory because of my dismissal! They wanted me back and the employers had agreed that I should come back!

I went back the next day. When I arrived I saw that the workers were singing and when they saw me, they shouted ‘Viva Ndlala!’, ‘Viva Fenie!’ As I walked to them, they started dancing around me. I found out that the workers had not been working at all while I was away! They had just been messing up their orders and sitting as though someone had died.

The strike had started on the second floor where I work, and then it had spread throughout the factory- to the third floor, to the first floor and even ground floor.

I was crying from the experience and from the fact that the workers had fought so hard for me.

I didn’t realize they cared so much and that I was so deep in their hearts. They are very deep in mine. I am very committed to fighting for the workers. The company here have offered me to be a supervisor many times but each time I have said no. If I become a supervisor, I wont be able to fight for the changes that we need.

One of the ways that I love to fight for our rights is to sing. 1991, I think, was the first time that I led a march in Cape Town for SACTWU. The march was to parliament. We were protesting an issue to do with the constitution. Ebrahim Patel told me that I should start off with a slow song because we didn’t want people to get too excited before we had arrived at parliament.

We didn’t want the people in the front to get crushed by the people coming from the back. I started with singing ‘Senzenina’ and then we built up from there. 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 and knew that that would have to do what we asked. When we got to the gates of parliament, we started throwing old dirty shoes and clothes and bags in front of parliament and on the walls.

I also remember marching one time to the Minister of Labour, Mr Membathisi Mphumzi Shepherd Mdladlana. We were singing ‘amabulu amnyama’; the song means ‘they make us worry’. When we got to the Minister, he said ‘Comrade, what did I do now to make you so worried?’

I write new songs all the time. I have written two new ones about the problems of the imports and job losses that we have had in our industry in South Africa. I wrote the one song to recognise how hard our General Secretary, Ebrahim Patel, has fought for us against these imports. It is called ‘Animbonanga u- EP edlula ngendlela’’, which means ‘You did not see EP going along the road’. These are the words:

Aminbonanga u-EP ebendlula ngendlela
(You did not see EP going along the road)
Esenza i-Wonders
(making wonders)
Aminbonanga u-EP ebendlula ngendlela
(You did not see EP going along the road)
Nantsi China!
(here is China!)
Aminbonanga u-EP ebendlula ngendlela
(You did not see EP going along the road)
Bavumelana kwaNedlac/ nogovernment/ ne-employers/
(the agreement with Nedlac/ government/ employers/ labour!)
Aminbonanga u-EP ebendlula ngendlela
(You did not see EP going along the road)
Nazi Quotas
(here are the Quotas!)

The other song is one that I wrote in December 2007 after yet another factory closed down from the cheap imports from China! It is called ‘Section 77’ after the part of the Labour Relations Act which allowed us to fight against the imports. With Section 77 we asked the government to make a quota to slow down the number of imports coming into the country. We got the quota eventually and we have called it the China Quota. The problem is we are only allowed to have the China Quota for two years. It ends in 2008! These are the words of the song:

SiApplaya kwiEmployers zeRetailers
(we apply to the employers and retailers)
Ngoba bathenga iimports
(because they buy imports)
From China
Via Bangladesh, Via Taiwan, Via Singapore,

(and from Pakistan)
SiApplaya KwaNedlac
(we apply to Nedlac)
(we apply)
Section 77
To Employers
They are killing our jobs
Through imports

Section 77, SiApplaya kwaNedlac
Ngoba bathenga iimports

(because they buy imports)
From China, Via Lesotho, Via Swaziland,
Via Zimbabwe