Andrew Mndeni Joyisa

Interview conducted in 2009

Andrew Mndeni Joyisa, awarded ‘Longest Serving Shop Steward’ Award at 10th COSATU Congress, 2009.

Andrew Mndeni Joyisa, awarded ‘Longest Serving Shop Steward’ Award at 10th COSATU Congress, 2009.

My name is Andrew Mndeni Joyisa. I was born on 1 February 1946, so I am sixty-three years old. I worked for Aunde Tap (PTY) LTD, a textile company, for over forty years. Aunde supply the automotive industry and their major customers are Toyota, Nissan and BMW. 

I was a sampling and safety coordinator.

As a sampler, I prepared samples for the sales people. As a safety coordinator I coordinated and ran safety training. I taught people to use the forklift. I also taught first aid and safety awareness. The other parts of my job were to do safety inspections for the whole factory. I consulted with the health and safety representatives and then I compiled reports. When there were accidents at work, I submitted employers’ reports to the Labour Department and the COIDA Workmen’s Compensation Officer. 


My surname ‘Joyisa’ comes from one of my ancestors called Joyisa.

Joyisa originally came from the Mvubu tribe in the northern Tugela River area. Today the Joyisa clan is not yet a big clan, but we are increasing. You will find Joyisas mainly in Kwazulu Natal and the Eastern Cape. 

I am the son of Selina Nomalanga Mnyayi and Peter Nkunzi Joyisa. My mother’s family are originally from Zambia but her parents moved to South Africa - and so she was born in Umlazi. When I was growing up my mother was a subsistence farmer. She ploughed the land and looked after the farm so that we could eat. My father was also born in Umlazi but his grandfather originally came from Umbumbulu. That is a little village in the south of Durban. My father used to work as a general labourer for a white man. Then he started piloting boats and worked in Congella harbour. It was not easy to see my father as he only came home once every two or three months. He stayed in Cato Manor most of the time. 

I grew up in Umlazi Reserves and life was very difficult.

There is really nothing good to remember about those days. My father was earning peanuts; much too little money to support his family of ten children! We couldn’t enjoy getting new clothes because nobody could buy them for us. In those days we were also exposed to different kinds of diseases, but when we got sick there was no money to take us to the hospital or clinic. In those days the clinics were very scarce and they were far away from where we stayed. It cost a lot of money to get to them. 

My father’s low wages forced my mother to seek odd jobs ploughing and cultivating the land of our neighbours. She was trying to get a little bit of money to help buy food for us to eat. My brothers and sisters and I used to help her if we did not have school. In fact my older sister and brother did not go to school at all because of the situation at home. They were too busy helping. Since we grew our own food, we got maize from the fields and we ate mealie meal and samp. But we didn’t always have food. Sometimes we went to sleep without having anything to eat.

We had a herd of cattle and we used to get milk and amasi (sour milk) from them.

There were about twenty-five cattle in total: cows, bulls, oxen and calves. It was one of my jobs to be herd-boy and look after them. A herd-boy must be very brave. He must be prepared to fight people to look after the cattle. He must leave home in the morning and look after the cattle so that they don’t graze on, or destroy, other people’s fields. When I was a herd-boy, sometimes other herd-men or boys would come and disturb me by taking some cattle. They did it to see if I was brave enough to fight them to keep the cattle. But a herd-boy can’t go home without his cattle! So I had to learn to fight to defend them. Sadly, all our cattle died in the 1960s from a cattle disease that they got when we moved to a new area that had different grass. It made them sick. 

We were forced by the apartheid system to move from our land in 1962.

The government told the people to move out of the Reserves because Umlazi was going to be changed into a township. Our fathers were given options: either they could take a house in the township or they had to move out of Umlazi. But the houses in the township only had four rooms and many people didn’t take the houses because a four-roomed house was too small for a family of ten people. That is what happened in my family. The forced removals were a very bad thing. We ended up losing our belongings, our friends and our practices. 

I started school late - when I was about twelve years old - because I had been looking after the cattle for many years. I attended lower primary education at Nwabi Primary from 1958 until 1964. In 1965 I moved to Swelihle High School for my secondary education. I went up to standard nine.

When I was at school I was very sharp at Arithmetic – that is what is now known as Mathematics. In fact, even today I am very good at counting! My dream in those days was to be a teacher. I wanted to be a Maths or Science teacher in particular! I didn’t even think about other jobs – like being an accountant - because in those days there were no subjects like Accounting offered to African students. That was apartheid education. 

In those days I saw the teachers as leaders and mentors.

One of my big mentors was Mr Henry Gumbi, a teacher and the principal at Nwabi Higher Primary. He used to tell me to stand up in class and explain to the other students how I managed to do my homework. Sometimes he asked me to teach Maths to the class. That was in standard four and five. It was because I was given the chance to teach people that I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I must say I enjoyed it! 


In 1967 I had to quit school.

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to school anymore. There were other children in our family and my parents wanted them to reach the same standard as me. They couldn’t send all the children to school at one time and so I had to leave. I worked for a short while in different places. Finally, I was employed by my current employer, Aunde SA on 19 March 1968. Aunde SA was formerly known as SA Fabric. 

At Aunde I worked in different departments and at different levels.

At SA Fabric, I started as an operator on 19 March 1968 and I worked as an operator for twenty- five years. The job involved hard and heavy work. In 1993 I was appointed to be a lab assistant and it was a much better job. It involved testing conformance of products against customer specifications. This was more of quality control, and I worked in this department for two years. 

In 1995 I was promoted to the training officer position at Aunde Tap.

The job involved working with people in different places and training and developing staff. I worked as a training officer for twelve years and I enjoyed it. It is like teaching. I succeeded in promoting training within the whole company. Through my involvement, the company managed to produce many technicians, supervisors, drivers, first aid workers and health and safety representatives. We taught all the workers about quality. I also managed to introduce Adult Basic Education. We had a company called Media Works come into the company and teach workers how to use a computer. This gave workers, who didn’t know how to read and write, the chance to learn to do these things on the computer! In the process they learned so many things. 

In 2007 I was appointed to be the safety officer for Aunde Tap. This is the position I held until I retired in September 2009. I was good at my work. I always finished my work on time and met my deadlines. 

I was at Aunde for over forty years. I enjoyed my job but if I could have done something else, I would have trained to be a teacher for the South African people.

I still have that dream: to be a teacher. I have never lost it. 

I have gone through many things in my life and I’ve learned many things. The one thing I have learned is that I’d like to teach other people about trade unions. I want to tell them that it is important to maintain the strength of the union in the factory, in the industry and in the country. Trade unions are important. They help workers fight for their rights. They help workers become strong, because we come together and we give each other support. That is what a trade union is. It is the workers all together. 

I have been involved with the unions since the ‘Living Wage’ strikes of 1973 in Durban.

Do you know about them? They started in January 1973 when workers from Coronation Brick and Tile Works marched and began demanding higher wages. In a few days, workers from many other companies all over Durban joined them and put tools down. In the end there were about 30 000 workers who went on strike in Durban! 

30 000 workers is a lot of workers. To get 30 000 workers out of the factories was not like it is today. Today the union gets the workers out. It organises many of the strikes. But in 1973 there were not many unions for African workers because they were illegal. Instead, 30 000 workers went on the streets by ourselves - without the union organising us! 

I was working as an operator at the time.

I was loading, running, monitoring and off-loading fabric at the winches and Jet machines. It was very hard work, but my wages were only R8.33 per week. At my factory, we heard that the Coronation workers were striking, so we followed their example. Our wages were terrible. Our conditions of work were terrible. We had had enough. We wanted change. 

Every day, we met at the gate of SA Fabric. We would ask the other workers to join us. Then we would toyi-toyi and shout slogans. We would also sing. I remember we sang: 

Kudala sisebela amahala,

(It’s been a long time working for nothing)

basebenzi masihlangane,

(Workers must come together)

lelizwe ngelethu,

(The country is ours)

basebenzi masihlangane

(Workers come together) 


We also sang: 

Siyaya noma kunzima,

(We are going forward even if it is difficult)

Siyaya noma kunzima


It was a big thing for us workers to go on strike in those days.

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. 

After the 1973 strike, workers felt much stronger. We knew we had power and we were motivated to belong to unions. Workers in all different industries began to group themselves according to their industries. In the beginning, the textile workers didn’t make a union but then, in June 1973, some workers were dismissed at the Frame Group. The Frame workers, like Jabu Ngcobo and others, then lead the way for the workers from Frame, SA Fabric and Romatex to form the National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW). 

We held our inaugural meeting at Bolton Hall in Gale Street, Durban Central. The union still has offices there today. At the meeting, we decided to form a union with principled policies. At the top of our agenda was the idea to form a multi-racial union. We also wanted to help change the politics of South Africa but we were worried about being too political; the police’s Special Branch was arresting trade union leaders and we wanted to try and avoid that. In the end though, we couldn’t avoid it and some of our leaders were arrested. 

Eventually the apartheid bull that we had pushed in the 1973 Durban strikes fell down - it became legal for Africans to join a trade union. It was our victory! This happened in 1978 when Professor Wiehahn held a commission and opened the door for all workers to join the unions. 

I became a shop steward in 1973.

My comrades voted for me because I was brave enough to talk to the management. I was not scared to raise the complaints of the workers. I was not scared because the workers were highly motivated and they were mobilised to stand up for their rights. The employer couldn’t simply dismiss leaders because the leaders had the support of the workers. 

It took ten years for my company to recognize the union!

In those days, Aunde was owned by British shareholders. The CEO, Mr Kennedy, refused to acknowledge the union. Aunde tried to subdue us by implementing a Liaison Committee. But it was just a rubber stamp for the bosses and we rejected it. Then they introduced a Workers’ Council and we rejected it again. Eventually, in 1984, we found out that the management intended to retrench some of the workers who had started the union. They thought we were troublemakers. But we demanded to be recognized and went on strike for four weeks. Finally, management agreed to recognise us. 

After the 1973 strike, the new unions got together to form TUAC (Trade Union Advisory Council).

TUAC later became the Federation of South African Trade Unions, FOSATU. Although FOSATU was a labour federation, there were other federations around the country too, like the Council of Unions of South Africa, CUSA. Many people in the union movement thought it would be better to make an even bigger federation that included other federations like CUSA. 

I remember that it was my job to talk to workers in the churches about the need to form a bigger federation. I was deployed by the Working Committee to go and speak to the congregation of the Roman Catholic Church in KwaMakhutha under the leadership of Father Dlamini. I was a preacher at the time and I had to ensure that part of the sermon I gave was about the need to form a federation bigger than FOSATU. I told the congregation that this federation had to be non-racial. It had to be governed by the idea of ‘One Union, One Industry’ and ‘One Federation, One Country’. It also had to be democratic. 


Eventually, the CONGRESS OF SOUTH AFRICAN TRADE UNIONS, COSATU was formed in December 1985.

The inaugural Congress took place at Natal University and I was there. Elijah Barayi was elected President of COSATU and Chris Dlamini was elected to be COSATU Deputy President. Jay Naidoo was elected to be the General Secretary. I was very happy that day. 

In the late 1970s and 1980s, there were a number of different unions in the clothing and textile industry. The NUTW was only one union. Another one was the Textile Workers’ Industrial Union, TWIU. I remember that there was conflict between them; the workers from NUTW and TWIU did not get on. But the different unions also supported each other sometimes. For example, we all stood together to demand that June 16 was made into a Public Holiday. 

In 1987, the NUTW, TWIU and the National Union of Garment Workers (NUGW) merged to make one union. We realised it was better to have one union fighting against the bosses than have workers fighting each other. Being together made us stronger. The new union was called the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union of South Africa, ACTWUSA. The first President was Amon Ntuli and the General Secretary was Johnny Copelyn. After the merger, conflicts between workers ended.

We were now united and singing the same song. 

Andrew Mndeni Joyisa amongst protesting clothing workers outside Bolton Hall, Gale Street, Durban.

Andrew Mndeni Joyisa amongst protesting clothing workers outside Bolton Hall, Gale Street, Durban.

Even though we had merged, there was still another union for the clothing industry. It was called the Garment and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (GAWU-SA). At the time ACTWUSA was affiliated to COSATU and COSATU insisted that if ACTWUSA wanted to belong to COSATU, it had to merge with GAWU too. That was how we would really be strong. So, in 1989, ACTWUSA and GAWU merged to form SACTWU. The merger took place in Cape Town. Again Amon Ntuli was elected as the President, but Lionel October was elected as the General Secretary. Johnny Copelyn then became the Deputy General Secretary. The inaugural Congress of SACTWU brought all the workers together. We have managed to keep all the workers together even until this day.


Since SACTWU was formed, it has been a very powerful affiliate of COSATU.

SACTWU has set an example for other unions to follow. In the past, it led other affiliates to register with the Department of Labour. It was the first union to start union investments - which have helped the children of our members to get bursaries to study. Today, it leads other COSATU affiliates because it has international affiliations with international unions. It has been very successful at defending our members from mass dismissals after strikes at factory level. It also leads other clothing and textile unions in Africa today. 

But we must not forget that we face important challenges today in the industry.

Our biggest problems are the closure of factories from all the imports due to globalisation. We also have the challenges of privatisation and labour brokers who pay their workers very, very bad wages. 

Since being in SACTWU, I have attended almost all of SACTWU National Congresses. I have also been part of many of the campaigns. It gives me great pride to remember that I once led the recruitment campaign for Northern Natal, Durban and Pinetown, and Newcastle and Transvaal. These campaigns were successful because we still have strong membership in these branches and regions. I also have a great memory of being seconded to visit a Trade Union Congress in Canada in 1989. And of course, I have good memories of once being SACTWU’s Deputy President. 

For the past thirty-five years I have enjoyed being a shop steward greatly.

I have served SACTWU as a member, an ‘ordinary’ shop steward, a Branch Office Bearer, a Regional Office Bearer and a Deputy President. I like to help workers solve their problems with management. 

It means a lot to me. I like to know that I am making life better for my comrades. 

I am a Christian and I am married with six children.

Their names - in the order that they were born - are Justice, Reginald, Nokukhanya, Mduduzi, Azwile and Sanelisiwe. I live with them and they have all completed grade twelve. Two of my sons also work in the clothing and textile industry. Justice joined the industry in 1994 and worked there for almost ten years (1994 to 2003) as an inspector in the Final Exam Department. Reginald also worked for about ten years from 1995 up until 2004. He worked as an operator in the Finishing Department.

I don’t belong to any political party today, but I am a member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. I’m also a member and leader of Society Stewards. Society Stewards is a group of leaders in the church. It is a group of people elected to lead society. 

Research and Writing: Simon Eppel

Photographer: Andrew Christopher Barker