Beauty Ntombizodwa Zibula

Interview conducted in 2009

Beauty Ntombizodwa Zibula, SACTWU second Deputy President at Zenzeleni Clothing, Durban, September 2009

Beauty Ntombizodwa Zibula, SACTWU second Deputy President at Zenzeleni Clothing, Durban, September 2009

I am Beauty Ntombizodwa Zibula. I was born on 9 November 1961 and I am forty-eight years old. I have two children alive today; S’bu and Nombali. Tragically my other child, Ntobeko passed away a few years ago. I am a single mother and a grandmother of four grandchildren. I am also the Deputy President of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU).

I was born in KwaMashu in Kwazulu Natal in 1961. Before I was born, my parents got married at umKumbane, which is now called Chesterville. That was before black African people were made to move out of the area. Afterwards my parents moved to KwaMashu.

My mother’s name was Ida Babekile. She came from the Greytown area in Kwazulu Natal. When I was young, my mother used to tell me stories about her father, my grandfather. His name was Mtutshwa Zakwe. He was a warrior and he led a series of wars in the Greytown area. I remember my mother telling me that he was an excellent dancer, and an excellent fighter. The legend was that he was so good at fighting that no one could defeat him. That is why, when some of his own people decided to challenge him, they stabbed him in the back with a spear! They killed him from behind because they were too scared to fight him face to face.
Before he died, my grandfather had many wives. My grandmother – my mother’s mother – was one of his wives. You know how it can get in those situations: the women become competitive and they fight with each other. The fighting was so bad that my grandmother decided to leave - but she left my mother behind! From then on it was hard for my mother; she had to look after herself.

When I was young and I heard the stories about my grandfather from my mother, I wondered how we could be related to a man like my grandfather. He was violent and he discriminated against women. At that time in my life, that kind of man was new to me. That kind of man seemed strange.

He was untouchable and I had never experienced a man like that in my life before.

You see, my father never treated us badly. He was gentle and he loved his children a lot. He never even raised a lash to us! He didn’t believe in violence. He was a quiet somebody. He didn’t talk a lot. But when he did talk, it was usually short and to the point. It was my mother who talked a lot and it was my mother who hit us when we were young. She could hit us badly! But that is what she knew; that is how she grew up.


As I have said, my father was not violent. He loved me in a way that rejected violence and discrimination. That is why I have always rejected the kind of man that my grandfather was. I suppose that is also why I have always challenged violent and discriminatory people like my grandfather. Even when I became an abused woman later in my life, I eventually found the courage to fight back. I will tell you about that story later.

Maybe you can say that in some way I have been chasing my grandfather my whole life.

My mother raised us at home. She was an illiterate woman and did not have a job. My father worked for a company called Dunlop Tyres. I don’t know what his job involved, but I know that he used to get so black from powder that sometimes if you looked at him, you would not be able to recognize him.

In those days, Dunlop was a progressive company and the workers were treated better than in some of the other companies. But I remember my father complaining sometimes about the work. I remember him coming home and saying that his foreman had been over the top with him and had spoken to him in a bad way. I also remember him complaining about the wages that he earned - about having to work for so little money. In those days I didn’t know what a foreman was, but I suppose I began to understand that the life of workers is not an easy one.

My father finished his work at Dunlop after fifteen years. When he was leaving the company, his management said that he could bring his family to see the factory. My mother, my sister and I were very excited, but in the end on the day of the factory visit, my parents left me sleeping at home! When I woke up, I found out that they had left without me and I was very upset.

As a child, I always had a strong will and strong aspirations.

I remember going to crèche for the first time. I must have been very young then. On that first day I cried all day and I felt sick. But I was not like some other children who cry because they feel scared to be in a new place. I was crying because I wanted to be in primary school and I couldn’t believe that I had to go to crèche instead! After that first day I never went back. I just refused to go.

Eventually when I was six years old, I went to Ngazana Lower Primary School. I enjoyed it. My favourite subject was English! I would listen to people who could speak it and wonder how they had become so good. I knew I had to practise so I used to ask my father if I could read his English newspapers when he got them.

When I was in standard four, I was recruited into the struggle. One day, during a break time, an older girl called Sbongile Khumalo came up to me. She said she wanted to be my friend and she asked me if I would become her friend too. I was excited to be Sbongile’s friend. I had looked up to her in the past. She was a good netball player and she was tall. I didn’t play netball; I was too fat but I really wanted to play. So the fact that Sbongile wanted to be my friend made me feel good.

Sbongile was nice to me. We had fun talking and playing together. One day, about a week after we became friends, she asked me if I knew the words ‘communist’ and ‘comrade’. I told her that I did. I told her that a communist was a bad person! I said that because I had heard the word ‘communist’ being used by the apartheid presidents, HF Verwoerd and BJ Vorster. I had heard them on the radio say that South Africa was facing danger from the communists.

I told Sbongile this and she told me something that changed my life.

She told me that the apartheid government was oppressing black African people and that the people who were fighting against the racist apartheid government, like the communists, were not bad people.

They were good people. They were trying to free us from oppression. She told me that the apartheid government was lying when it said that communists were evil. The bad people, she said, were the white people and the apartheid government because they were trying to keep our eyes closed.

When Sbongile said this to me, something inside me clicked. Suddenly the world around me made more sense. It made sense that apartheid was wrong. It made sense that the communists were fighting against apartheid in order to free us.

Beauty Ntombizodwa Zibula, 2009 National Clothing Strike, Prestige Clothing, Durban

Beauty Ntombizodwa Zibula, 2009 National Clothing Strike, Prestige Clothing, Durban

It was exciting to have this knowledge, but it was not easy. I couldn’t tell anyone about it! I couldn’t even tell my sister, or my mother or father. I didn’t know what they would say. Maybe they would get cross with me? Maybe they would be worried about who my friends were and even tell the police about Sbongile? So I carried my secret by myself. It was not easy at all.

Sbongile took me to my first meeting of student activists. It was a secret meeting on the community sports grounds in my area. I remember arriving and being surprised that everyone there knew who I was, even though I had never met them before! Then I realized that Sbongile must have already talked to them about me. They must have known that she had recruited me.

Later that year I tried to talk to one of my friends about the struggle. I tried to tell her what I had learned. I was trying to recruit her in the ame way that Sbongile had recruited me. Her name was Lindiwe Zuma and she was in my class. I asked her, ‘Do you know what a communist is?’ Hyo! There was trouble! Lindiwe got cross with me. She said, ‘You are a bad person if you say that communists are good. Communists are bad!’

I got very scared when Lindiwe got cross. If she had told a teacher or her parents about our conversation, I could have been in serious trouble! Maybe I could even have been arrested! I ran to Sbongile and told her what had happened. I told her I was worried that Lindiwe would tell someone what I had said. I asked Sbongile to help me. Then Sbongile went to Lindiwe and they had a conversation. Sbongile calmed Lindiwe down and got her to understand what I was saying. In the end, Lindiwe even became a comrade!

That was my first experience of organizing people for the struggle. I did badly, but I was lucky to have someone there to mentor me and help me. From that time onwards, I got better.

When I was fourteen years old my father left my mother for another woman. The impact on me was huge.

You see, when he left, he stopped giving my mother any money and so we became very poor. I didn’t think it was right that my mother had to go and look for work. She had never worked before and she was older than me so I wanted to look after her. That’s why I decided to leave school. I left so that I could get a job.

My first job was as an office cleaner and tea- lady at a company called Supervision. I worked for old white people, and I felt lost. They were not bad people, but I had just left school as an activist and I was militant. I missed my friends and comrades around me. And it was hard to balance my militancy with the fact that I had to keep my job in order to feed my family.

I left the job after six months and then started going to night school. I went to Cathedral Night School, and apart from finishing up to my standard eight at the school, I also got more involved in politics while I was there. In fact, it was while I was at Cathedral Night School that I first met Victoria Mxenge. Victoria was a central person in my political development and she inspired me a lot.

I met Victoria through Sbongile. We went into town together one day and she took me to Victoria’s office. We went in and Victoria greeted me. She was warm and welcoming. She offered me coffee. When I said, ‘Yes, please’, she even made it for me! She did not need to make my coffee for me because there was someone at her offices whose job it was to make tea and coffee. But she did it anyway. She took an interest in me. We began talking. She talked to me about the struggle. She talked to me about the fact that we needed to resist the oppression of apartheid.

I met with Victoria a number of different times after that. At one of those meetings, just after I started night school in 1976, Victoria challenged us - the youth. It was just after the Uprising in Soweto and Victoria asked us if we knew what was happening in Johannesburg. We did. Then Victoria said to us, ’It is humming with activity there in Johannesburg. But there is no humming here in Kwazulu Natal. Why is there no humming here? We want to hear it.’


We started to talk about what we could do. That’s when I realized what I could do: I could organize a strike at my night school! You see, the teachers at Cathedral were telling lies to the students about what had happened in Soweto. They were talking badly about the comrades. I was not prepared to listen to those lies, and I knew that other students also found them wrong.

But the other students were scared to do something, so I decided to make them brave.

I got help in organizing my strike from Victoria and a comrade called Njenga Bantu. He was working with the unions at the time and he knew how to organize well. We didn’t plan to fail. We planned to win, and we did! With their help, I worked hard and organized the students in an effective strike. I made it hum, and I think I also made my mentors proud.

A year later, in 1977, the security police caught Sbongile. I remember travelling to Victoria’s offices and telling her about it face to face. I didn’t phone her in case the police had tapped the phone! Then Victoria started to look for Sbongile. She looked in all the police stations and eventually found her in Central Prison. In the end, Victoria got her out. But we found out that the police had tortured Sbongile! After that I was even angrier at the apartheid regime. They had hurt my friend and mentor.

In 1978 I got a new job at a company called Da Vinci Clothing. It was my first time in the clothing industry. There was a closed shop agreement at the company and so I automatically joined the Garment Workers’ Industrial Union (GWIU). In those days the union was not active and political like it is today. You could say that the union was a quiet union - a sweetheart union. I remember we used to say that the shop stewards were the bosses’ sweethearts!

I was at Da Vinci for seven months and then I left to join MAP Clothing. I stayed there for two years and then joined IM Lokhat. I was there for eighteen years! IM Lokhat was a big company. We had about a thousand workers there when I started in 1982. 

The union at IM Lokhat was the same as the one at Da Vinci. It was the Garment Workers’ Industrial Union. It was not active. Then later, in 1987, the union joined with some other garment workers’ unions around the country to form the Garment and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU). That is when I became a shop steward.

What happened is that one of the other workers at my company knew me from school. They knew that I had been involved with COSAS, the Congress of South African Students. That comrade started to tell the workers that I was a political person. I think that is why they voted for me. I was not sure if I would take up the challenge of being a shop steward. I didn’t think I knew a lot about the workers’ struggle. How could I help change the mind-set of workers if I didn’t have the confidence that I knew what I was doing? But the GAWU organizer at the time, Mervin Naidoo, convinced me that I didn’t have to worry. He told me that I knew more than I thought I knew. He told me that I should believe in myself. He told me that the workers wanted me to be their shop steward and that I should accept their request. So I did.


I will never forget my first meeting at the union offices at Bolton Hall in Gale Street, in Durban! I walked in and I heard comrades singing. They were singing:
Uzongena umkhonto wesizwe
(Umkhonto wesizwe is coming)
(they will beat)
bo shaya mabhunu
(they will beat the boers)
shaya mabhunu
(beat the boers)
Woza! Woza!
(Come! Come!)
Umkhonto wesizwe.... hummmmm...

The comrades were dancing too. They were toyi toying! I could hear the floor of the hall go ‘boom boom’ as the comrades danced from one leg to the other leg, and back again. It sounded like a drum beating. The comrades in the hall were wearing yellow union T-shirts. On the backs of the T-shirts were the words ‘We shall share in the fruits of our labour!’ There was a picture of a woman on the T-shirts. She had a raised fist!

I stood there and I became excited. I was excited because every day, outside, in the factories, or in the streets, or even in our communities and homes, black people had to walk with our heads down. We had to hide the pride that we had in ourselves. We were oppressed people and we had to do what the racists told us to do - or we would be in trouble. We had to act like small people, like scared people.

If a person was politically minded, like I was, you had to pretend you were not. You had to hide your heart from the people around you. You had to be scared about talking to people and trusting people. In a situation like that, your heart gets very heavy. But there in the hall, the comrades were open. They were being people with dignity and respect and power. They were unhappy with the inequality and the discrimination outside in the world, and in the hall they were saying, ‘Enough is enough. We will change the world.’ They were showing off their true colours.

Do you know what it is like to live in a world that oppresses you and then find a place where you can hold your head up high?

It is wonderful. It makes you feel your power. It makes you feel free.

I had that feeling before when I used to go to the youth meetings and when I organized the strike. And I felt it again when I walked into the hall. I thought, ‘Wow, these people are serious! They mean business! This is where I want to be!’ From that time on I went to more union meetings and I got more involved in GAWU.

One day later that year, I was called to a secret meeting by two of the leaders of GAWU: Yunus Shaik and AJ Moodley. Yunus was the General Secretary at the time. They wanted to talk to us about the fact that garment workers needed to become more involved in the struggle.

Our meeting happened in 1987. Maybe you can remember that year yourself? If you do, maybe you will remember that resistance to the apartheid regime was growing. All around us in the townships the resistance was growing. In many of the factories, resistance was growing. But it was not like that in the clothing factories. They were quiet. They were not humming.

Shop stewards were bosses’ sweethearts.


This is what Yunus and AJ wanted us, the GAWU shop stewards, to fix. They said we needed to wake the garment workers up from their sleep. They told us that the only people who could change the minds of the garment employers and workers were garment workers themselves! It was up to us to make the workers more militant.

At that meeting we resolved to educate the workers about the struggle and get them excited and motivated. Apart from doing the groundwork in the factories, we as shop stewards felt that it might help the struggle if the union could get a TV and a video player. Then we could screen some of the old important struggle videos, like ‘Cry Freedom’ and ‘Union Unite’. We thought that would help to educate the workers about what we were doing.

At that meeting we also decided on our strategy: we would tackle a few of the bigger companies first, like my company IM Lokhat, as well as SA Clothing, Durban Clothing, Ninian and Lester, Twin Clothing, John Peters and Da Vinci Shirts. If we could target those workers and get them humming, then the other workers at smaller factories would start to follow later.

As you have seen in my story, I had some experience in organizing for the struggle. After all I had started in standard four with Lindiwe Zuma, and then got better with my student strike at Cathedral Night School. So I used those skills, as well as the advice of AJ and Yunus, to make my factory hum.

We started our campaign during our lunch breaks. I remember them well. We, as the shop stewards, would go from one table to another table, talking to the workers about the struggle and educating them. It was important to us that the workers understood that politics and the workers’ struggle went hand in hand. It was hard work because many of the workers were not interested in politics and didn’t want to be militant unionists. But we just kept on talking to the workers, educating them and explaining to them why it was important for garment workers to join the struggle.

Later, we began to teach the workers the struggle songs and how to toyi-toyi. We even taught those songs to the Indian workers. We would all practise in the canteen. Sometimes the bosses used to come down to the canteen to watch us and listen to our songs. They heard the songs from the other side of the factory and they were confused. They had never seen this kind of thing before among the workers. You must remember that this was the beginning of militant unionism among garment workers in Durban and so the bosses didn’t understand what we were doing. Eventually our efforts paid off and the big factories like mine started to hum with protest. From there, it began to spread to other factories. That was the turning point for militant unionism among garment workers in Kwazulu Natal!

Due to my involvement in the union, in 1987 I was elected to be the Chairperson of the Durban North local of GAWU. I held that position until 1989 when GAWU decided to merge with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union of South Africa (ACTWUSA) to form SACTWU.

Before the merger, some of the GAWU members were worried. We had been told that the ACTWUSA members were not very political, and since we had done so much work to build politics among our members, we were worried that we would lose that spirit in the merger. But Yunus Shaik played a very important role in convincing many of the comrades, like myself, that the merger was a good idea. He described to us how having one union for one industry would strengthen our power. He eventually persuaded us that it was the right thing to do. Years later, I must admit that he was right.

After SACTWU was formed, I became the Chairperson of the Durban North branch (1989). Later, I became the Kwazulu Natal Regional Treasurer (2002), then the KZN Regional Deputy Chairperson (2003) and then the KZN Regional Chairperson. I became the Deputy President of the Union in 2007. I have also been the Deputy Chair of the KZN Clothing Bargaining Council.

SACTWU is a strong union. It is a powerful union and when it was formed the workers did not lose their spirit from the merger. We were unified as textile and clothing workers and we became more powerful. We continued to fight for our rights. We fought against the apartheid National Party and helped to get the African National Congress (ANC) and other political organizations unbanned in 1990. We kept fighting and helped bring about South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994!

We have had many victories as SACTWU over the years. But there have also been some sad losses. Like the job losses! You see, the birth of our new democracy brought our economy out into the world and we had to compete with other industries in other countries. Many other countries could make clothing and textiles more cheaply than we could and so our workers began to lose jobs.

I remember when the job losses started in the early 1990s. I remember beginning to be worried about this new monster. I don’t think many of the other workers were so worried about the job losses at that time, but I just had a deep fear. I was thinking ‘What will happen now? Something big is coming!’

Soon many workers began to feel the pain of the job losses, and the workers in our industry and in our union began to lose their spirit; that fiery spirit that we worked so hard to build in the 1980s!

You could see workers beginning to live with fear again.


Now companies are closing left and right! It makes me worried. But SACTWU does not give up fighting. We have been fighting the job losses since the beginning. We spearheaded the ‘Buy Local’ campaign.

We put pressure on the government to make policies to protect our jobs. We continue to put a lot of pressure on them today.
Many workers seem to feel that just because we have a government that we fought for, our struggle is over. But the truth is the workers’ struggle will never be over until workers are free from inequality. It is so easy for bosses or governments to forget workers. It is up to us, the workers, to make sure we are not forgotten. No one will look after us if we do not look after ourselves.

In order to fight the problem of the job losses, I think the workers need to unite. It is only when workers are united and together that we can make a difference. I have seen what unity did in the past.

It helped us destroy apartheid. It can help us in our fight against the job losses too.

I know the pain that workers feel when we lose our jobs because a few years ago my company, IM Lokhat closed down because of the cheap imports. It is hard to leave a place where you have worked for so long. So much of my life happened in IM Lokhat and with those workers. It was heartbreaking to leave. We were not even told that the company was going to close. Instead, when it was Easter, the bosses told us that we should go on holiday - and take five extra days holiday. They said it was because they were experiencing short time, but they didn’t say we were going to close.

When the workers arrived for work on Monday we saw that the gates of the company were locked. We couldn’t get inside. Then we saw that there were new security guards inside and on the flagpole we could see a Standard Bank flag flying in the wind. That’s when we realized that IM Lokhat had been liquidated.

That was the beginning of a very, very difficult time in my life. I was extremely upset about losing my job. I stayed at home for a week. But then Friday came, the day I usually got my wages, and I realized that I didn’t have any money to look after myself, my three children and my mother. I realized I had to get up and look for a new job.

I was desperate so I got a job at a CMT (Cut, Make, Trim). That experience was awful! Workers at a CMT often don’t get paid on time – or even at all! Workers at a CMT often live with a lot of financial insecurity. It was so bad that sometimes I wouldn’t even have any money to catch transport to work!

After six months I left the CMT. I decided that I had had enough of being exploited by those bosses. But instead of finding a new job immediately I decided to take out all my Provident Fund money so that I could stay at home for a while. You see, at that time one of my daughters, Ntobeko, began to get very sick. I wanted to stay at home to look after her.

I also wanted some time to look after myself because my emotions were up and down.

I was not at home for very long. There wasn’t enough money in my Provident Fund to stay at home for long - even though I had been saving in my Provident Fund for many years! I had to look for work again so I went to Prestige Clothing and got a job there. That is where I still work today.

In 2002 my daughter Ntobeko admitted to me that she was dying of AIDS. She told me that she had reached the terminal stage of the illness. She told me that she didn’t have very long left to live. That news was very traumatic for me. You can imagine how hard it is for a parent to hear that her child is dying!

What made it worse was that Ntobeko had her own daughter, my granddaughter, and I discovered that my granddaughter also had HIV/AIDS!

My heart was breaking, but I knew that I had to be strong for my daughter. So I decided to look for help from my union, SACTWU. Without them, I don’t think I could have coped as well as I did. They sent me on an HIV/AIDS workshop and while I was there I learned about the disease. I learned how I could play a supportive role for my daughter.

I was lucky because I also got help from my ex-SACTWU organizer, Mervin Naidoo. He was working for Prestige at the time and he organized for me to speak to the company’s counsellors. It was good to have someone who I could talk to and who could give me good advice.

In those last two months of her life, Ntobeko made many changes in her attitude to her disease. She became so brave and dedicated to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS. In the past she had been too scared to admit that she was sick, but in the end she was honest about it with everybody. She wanted them to know what the disease could do to people. She wanted them to see. She wanted them to confront it. I remember that one day she told me that we should invite the children of our relatives to come and see her in bed. The relatives were not sure if they should come, but Ntobeko said, ‘No, I want the children to know what HIV/AIDS can do to a person. Bring them so that they can learn from me.’

Even when it came to her funeral, Ntobeko wanted people to confront the reality of HIV/AIDS. I remember helping her organize the funeral program and she said to me, ‘I want you to bring someone to come and talk about HIV/AIDS at my funeral. And I want the person to talk while my coffin is still there in front of the mourners. I don’t want the talk to happen later. It must happen so that people can hear about HIV/AIDS and see my body in front of them. That is how people will learn.’ In the end I asked one of my comrades from the SACTWU Worker Health Program to come and give the talk.

I am now raising my granddaughter. She was five years old when her mother died and she was very sick. Now she is ten years old and she is on ARVs and they have made a big change in her life. She is getting better.

I am not shy to tell people what happened to Ntobeko. Although my heart is still sore, Ntobeko asked me to be honest with people. She wanted people to learn from her experience. Earlier this year I went with SACTWU to a conference in Belgium. It was a conference of the ABVV and FGTB, two overseas unions. I addressed the conference about my experiences of HIV/AIDS. I told them about Ntobeko. I told them about my granddaughter. I showed them pictures of her too. The response from the people was amazing. They were crying when I told them the story. Grown men were crying!

Those two unions help fund SACTWU’s HIV/AIDS program and after the talk they said that they had a stronger passion to help us. I am pleased that I could help them to understand the problem of HIV/AIDS better. I am also pleased that I was able to help my union become better at helping our members who are affected by HIV/AIDS.
Apart from the pain that I have had from retrenchments, and from losing my daughter to HIV/AIDS, I have also experienced the pain of being an abused woman.

I used to be in an abusive relationship and my ex-boyfriend once tried to kill me.

We were engaged but he was an alcoholic and an abusive man. It is hard to leave an abusive relationship, you know. An abusive person has power. They know how to use that power over you and they know when to say sorry and how to make you forgive them. They tell you that they made a mistake. They tell you that they love you.
In my case it was also hard because my boyfriend had more money than me. We clothing workers are not rich. Not at all! But he was rich and each time after he hit me he would buy me expensive jewellery or take me to the top shops. He used his wealth as a way to get me to forgive him. And I did forgive him. In the end though, he went too far and I realized that he was not a loving man who was making mistakes. He was actually a dangerous man.


What happened is that I was at home one evening, sleeping in my bed. My sister’s daughter was staying with me at the time. It was late at night and I woke up when my sister’s daughter started to shout. She was warning me that my boyfriend was coming into the house with a gun! He was coming to shoot me. I jumped off the bed and ran up to him. He was very, very drunk and so when I pushed into him, he dropped the gun. Then I kicked it under the bed and pushed him out the house and locked the door.
He started to shout at me from outside. He said that he would break all the windows of the house and get inside if I didn’t give him back his gun. I didn’t know what to do so I took the gun and threw it out the window.

Then he started shooting! He shot at my house eighteen times!

Luckily I was not hit, and neither was my sister’s daughter. I was in shock, but I knew what I was going to do. I realized that this man did not love me if he could treat me like that. I realized that all the times that he had abused me in the past were not ‘mistakes’, like he used to say.

The problem is that in the past I did not want to recognize that I was being abused. I always wanted to forgive him and pretend that his abuse was a mistake. But when he shot at me, I stopped trying to think of reasons to forgive him. The next day I picked up all the empty bullet cartridges. Then I went to him and told him that our relationship was finished. I told him that if he ever tried to threaten or hurt me again, I would take the cartridges to the police. I told him that I would also take them to his workplace and get him fired.

He tried to get his family to talk to me. He wanted them to convince me to come back to him. But I told them, ‘No!’ I told them what he had done to me and I asked them, ‘Do you not like me? Because you must not like me if you want me to go back to that kind of man!’ That was the end of that.

I think my experiences of pain and suffering have helped me understand the pain and suffering of other people better. It has made me more compassionate. It has also made me more determined to help other people. That is why, since 2003, I have done a counselling course – so that I can assist other workers who are going through difficult times.

I think it is important to share your experiences with other people.

I suppose this is something that the workers’ struggle has taught me: we are only truly strong when we come together and share with each other. Sharing makes us stronger as a group, but it also makes us stronger as individuals because when we share, we can learn from each other’s experiences.

Research and Writing: Simon Eppel

Photographer: Andrew Christopher Barker