The man’s body twists and jives like a snake. Sweat shines on his face. He holds his clenched fist high in the air. His shoes go clickety clack all through the dance. And he sings – in time to the tapping of his shoes.
Then the tap dancer stops. He sits down. The workers shout ”Amandla”, Someone gets up to make a speech. And the workers’ meeting goes on.
The man’s name is Baazner Moloi. He is a song and dance man. And he sings and dances for the workers in his trade union.
Baazner also works in a big factory every day. So he knows about the lives and daily struggles of workers.
He knows they need more rights. He knows workers want more freedom. And he knows that after work each day workers need something else. They need a chance to keep their souls alive.
“We need to laugh and be happy,” says Baazner. “Song and dance helps us to forget our troubles for a while. But it also makes us brave. It brings us together and makes us strong.”
So at the meetings of his union Baazner dances. He dances so the workers can laugh and be happy together. And he dances so they will be strong when they stand up and fight for their rights.
Baazner’s union is called the Chemical and Industrial Workers Union. Today it is fighting for a better life for the workers of this country. Baazner is one of the worker leaders in this union.
So Baazner Moloi is many things. He is a factory worker. He is a fighter. He is a worker leader. And he is just an ordinary guy who loves to sing and dance. This is his story.
EYES OF A FIGHTER, EARS OF A DANCER
Nearly 40 years ago, Baazner Moloi was born in Moroka township. People called the place “Emasakeni”. It was a good name for the place. People lived in shacks made of tin and old sacks.
Baazner does not remember Emasakeni. But the young boy’s eyes saw the suffering of the people. And they did not forget.
Baazner’s father was poor. But he loved his son very much. He didn’t want Baazner to live in a place where babies died like flies. So he took the boy to his grandmother’s place. She lived in a place people still call Kofifi – the peoples’ name for Sophiatown.
People were poor in Sophiatown. But it wasn’t as bad as Emasakeni. And the place was always alive with music, song and dance. Some people say South African jazz was born in Kofifi.
Baazner was still too young to remember Sophiatown. But his ears heard the song and music of the people. And they did not forget. The sound of Kofifi stayed in his blood.
Then Baazner’s father got a job in Germiston. So he moved everyone his wife, his kids and the old granny. They moved to a house in the old location near Germiston. That’s where Baazner began to sing and dance. And that’s where he began to fight for his rights.
JIVING ON THE OUTSIDE
Baazner’s mother was a very strict Christian. She sent the boy to Sunday school. The teachers noticed two things about Baazner. He was very naughty. And he loved to sing. He had the best voice in the singing class.
Baazner remembers his first big fight at primary school. The boy knew his parents were poor. And he didn’t know why his father had to pay for the teacher’s wages. So one day he marched into the headmaster’s office and said, “Give me back my school fees.”
Baazner didn’t get the money. And he didn’t stay long at that school. From then on he spent very little time in the classrooms. One day Baazner’s father even sent the blackjacks to find the boy and take him to school.
But Baazner did not listen. He only had ears for the music he loved. At night he went to the township dance halls with his many friends. Together they crept around in the dark outside the halls. They looked in through the windows.
Inside big and famous bands made music for the people – bands like the Inkspots and the Bogart Brothers, And inside the people jumped and jived to the great old sounds – the sounds that made them feel alive.
Outside the small boys sang and danced. They jived like the people in side. And nobody jived like Baazner – inside or outside.
Baazner and his friends had another great love – the movies. They loved the American movies about tap dancers best of all. So they put the caps of beer bottles under their shoes. When they danced they made their own clickety clack music. And nobody could clickety clack like Baazner Moloi.
THE ACE MONKEY JIVER
The people of old Germiston Location were poor. They called the place “Dukathole – a lost sheep”. But they liked their home. The white factories were nearby. Bus fares were not much. And the place was a little like Sophiatown – it had some life in it.
But the whites wanted their town to be white – pure white. So the government moved the people of Dukathole to a new township called Katlehong.
Soon after that Baazner’s father gave up trying to educate his son. He said: “OK, don’t go to school. Go and find a job.” That’s when Baazner decided to go back to school.
His father sent him to a boarding school in Standerton. Baazner hated it. But one thing kept him there the school had a band. They played jazz and called themselves the “Soul Souvenirs” .
The band soon heard about the new boy. “They heard I was from the Reef,” says Baazner. “And they saw I was a top jiver. So they asked me to dance at their shows.
“We travelled to all the towns around Standerton. Before the show we put up posters. The posters told people to “Come and see the Soul Souvenirs and Baazner Moloi – the Ace Monkey Jiver from the Reef.”
The people crowded into the shows and Baazner became famous – in those small towns. They were good days for a song and dance man like Baazner Moloi.
So the young Baazner didn’t fight much. He only gave the teachers a headache every now and then. But after he finished standard eight things changed. It was time to go home, to find work – and to begin fighting again.
Baazner and his friends – for them overtime was jive time
THE IMPIMPI GETS A KLAP
Baazner found many jobs after school. But he didn’t stay long in most of them. “I hated bosses. I hated the way they swore at us. I hated the low wages they paid us,” says Baazner. “And in life, I believe in one thing. If someone treats me badly, then I fight back.”
Baazners first job was In a fruit and vegetable shop. He wasn’t in the job for long before he asked for more money. “What?” screamed the owner. “All day you eat my bananas. You eat my tomatoes. Now you want more money. Sukal”
So Baazner went looking for other jobs – mostly in the big metal and chemical factories on the East Rand.
His best friend was a guy with a nice name – Goodman. The two friends always looked for jobs together. Baazner and Goodman didn’t know about trade unions in those days. But if they didn’t like a factory then the two friends stood together. They fought for their rights.
And after work each day they tried to forget their troubles. So they filled their souls with booze. And they jived – late into the night.
“Many shebeens had dancing competitions,” says Baazner. “The winner always got free beers. So I became a boozer. I couldn’t help it.”
One day a boss told Goodman and Baazner to work overtime. The friends didn’t like this. For them overtime was jive time. So they got the other workers together and said “if we all stand together and say no together, then the bosses cannot make us work overtime.”
The workers agreed. They said,” We are brothers in this together.” But one worker was not a brother. His name was Sam. He told the bosses about the plans of Goodman and Baazner.
The next day Baazner told his brothers to watch him. He walked up to Sam’s desk. He jumped over it. And he gave Sam a loud klap. “Sam screamed so loud,” says Baazner. “A supervisor came running to help him. So I klapped the supervisor too.”
Baazner and Goodman didn’t stay long in that job. Baazner found that his style of fighting didn’t help so much. He didn’t win many fights. And most times he just got fired. He had no power behind him when he fought the bosses.
Then something happened that changed Baazner’s life. He got a job at a big glass factory. And at this factory he found two things – a trade union and a friend called Ronald Mofokeng.
THE FIGHTER FINDS HIS GLOVES
Ronald Mofokeng was a fighter of a different kind. He was a worker leader in the trade union at Plate Glass. And he knew a few tricks about making workers strong in their struggle.
Ronald saw that Baazner was a fighter too. But he knew that all fighters need some training. So he spoke to Baazner for many long hours.
Ronald explained the meaning of the word “organize”. He told Baazner that fighters must work hard. He said worker leaders must call many meetings of workers. They must explain how workers can use trade unions to fight their problems.
And above all he told Baazner to listen to the voice of the workers. He told Baazner to fight the way the workers told him to fight. If worker leaders do this, said Ronald, then they will have power behind them – the power of the workers.
Baazner heard these words. And he understood them well. “The union fitted me like a glove,” says Baazner. “It showed me the way to fight for the rights of workers – and win.”
After three months the workers elected Baazner to be a shopsteward – a worker leader in the factory. This time the fighter didn’t get fired. He had the workers behind him. He still works in the same factory today.
“Every day workers crowd into my office to talk about their problems,” says Baazner. “And the bosses can’t do much about it. So they just call my office ‘Soweto’.”
UNION TIME IS DANCE TIME
“The union took up a lot of time,” says Baazner. “After work we had many meetings with workers. Many times we worked until 3 o’clock in the morning.”
“I didn’t do much dancing for a while. But then I saw that workers were beginning to make plays. And some workers came together in choirs to sing worker songs.
Baazner knew that workers were doing these things to keep their souls alive. So he said “Now – its time to dance”. He went out and bought a pair of tap dancing shoes. He began to dance again. And his shoes began to make the old clickety clack music again. Sometimes in the shebeens but mostly at his union meetings.
And when Baazner dances in the meetings he also sings. But he doesn’t use funny songs that mean nothing to workers. He sings about the problems of workers. He sings words that make the workers brave. And he sings about something else, something special – a little bit of freedom.