Last week Moses Mayekiso was chosen as the general secretary of all MAWU — the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union. So Learn and Teach went down to the MAWU offices to talk to him. We wanted to meet this important man.
When we got to the MAWU offices, we found many people waiting — everyone wanted to talk to Moses, or Moss, as his friends call him. While we were waiting, we spoke to a woman who was busy typing.
We wanted to ask her about Moss. But when she told us her name, we felt shy. She was Khola Mayekiso — Moss’s wife. But Khola was happy to talk to us. She also works at MAWU.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
“I first met Moss in 1982,” Khola says. “We were both at Queenstown station in the Eastern Cape. I was on my way to Burghersdorp. Moss was going home to Joburg.
“I saw that he liked me. When I went to the waiting room, he gave me the seat next to him. Then we began to talk, just about simple things like my work, and his work and so on.
“On the train, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said “Yes”. So we agreed to write to each other. Not long after this, Moss asked me to come to Johannesburg.
“When I came, he asked me to marry him. I loved him very much but I wanted to tell my parents. Moss did not let me go home. We got married that weekend.”
Just then Khola stopped talking. We looked up and there was Moss. We felt we were doing something wrong — talking about him. We were surprised to meet Moss. He is not like an important person at all. In fact, Moss is a very shy person.
“I was born in Cala, in the Transkei on 21 November 1948,” said Moss. “My family was very poor. My father worked in Cape Town for very little money. We needed every cent he got. Then he lost his job.
“We did not know what to do. My mother and I started to help other people in their fields. Then they shared their crops with us. This food had to last us for 3 or 4 months.
WE LOSE OUR GOATS
“Later my mother bought two goats. They had babies and by 1964, we had 120 goats. Life was easier. But then Matanzima said we must move. And we had to sell our goats. Soon we were poor again.
“I was the eldest in the family — I have 7 brothers and 2 sisters. So I left school for two years to work. But I went back to school and I finished my matric.”
Like many young men from the Transkei, Moss went to work on the mines. “I worked on a mine in the Free State,” Moss told us. “I hated it. I saw so many accidents while I was there. But after three months I broke my contract and left the mine.
“In 1976 I got a job at the Toyota Marketing Company in Wynberg. We were not happy there. There was a liason committee. But the workers did not like this committee at all. It did not help us.
THE UNION — A POLITICAL THING
“Someone told us about a union. I did not know anything about unions. I heard doctors and lawyers were helping workers at this union. So we went to the union office. We liked what we heard — the union sounded like a political thing.
“In those days we had to hide from the police and the bosses. We worked in small groups and we had meetings in the bush. In 1978 many Toyota workers joined Mawu.
“The Toyota bosses did not want to talk to the union. We had three strikes at Toyota before they met with MAWU. I lost my job because of the strikes — so did the other shop stewards.
I’M A UNION MAN, NOW!
“While I was looking for another job, I used to help in the union offices. Then Mawu asked me to work for the union fulltime,” Moss said. “MAWU was small when I started. There were only 6 000 members.
“My job was to organise workers on the East Rand. But I did not know how to do this. So I asked all the shopstewards on the East Rand to help.
MAWU HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE
“They helped a lot. Wherever they went, they spoke about the union, at lunch, on the trains, in the shebeens, everywhere. Soon we had a big problem. So many workers came to the union offices, we could not help them. So we started a new office in Katlehong, just for the East Rand workers.
“1980 and 1981 were bad years. I was working in Katlehong. Sometimes we had five strikes a day. Workers were angry about their wages and their working conditions. They were angry that the bosses did not want to talk to the union. The union grew and grew. And I worked day and night.
UNION WORK IS HARD
“Working for a union is not easy. When I was working so hard, my wife started to complain. I was never at home. I did not see my children. Then my wife and I started to fight. In the end, we separated. Now I’m married again. Khola understands because she also works for the union.
“I have also lost some very good friends because of their union work — people like Neil Agget and Andries Raditsela. Their deaths upset me very much. But it also makes you stronger — you feel that you must work even harder so that they did not die for nothing.”
OUR LIVES DO NOT END IN THE FACTORY
If you think that Moss is only a union man, you are wrong. Moss and Khola are both on the Alexandra Action Committee (AAC). Moss says, “There are many problems in Alex. And the young people of Alex wanted to do something. We felt we could help because of our union work.”
“So last year in December, we started the Alexandra Action Committee. We started by having small house meetings. Then we had street meetings. We started a committee in every yard, street, or block we went to. We wanted people to solve their own problems together.
MEN IN BALACLAVAS
“I think the committees helped when the big trouble started in Alex this year. We called people to a big meeting to try and bring peace back to the township,” said Moss. But Moss was not there. He was in detention.
Workers were very angry when Moss was detained. Hundreds of workers stopped working for half an hour to protest about his detention. Moss was in jail for two weeks, together with other people from Alex.
When Moss got out of jail, things in Alex were quiet. But the peace did not last for a long time. In one night ten houses were burnt down and two people were killed.
“We believe the police did this,” says Moss. “The men who attacked the houses wore police clothes and police boots — their faces were covered with balaclavas. People also saw casspirs near the homes that were burnt.
Buyisa Mayekiso – lucky to be with her grandmother when their house was petrol bombed
‘My house was also petrol-bombed. We were lucky. Khola and I were at a union meeting and our baby was with my mother — otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you today. Even now, we never go home — we know there are people that want to kill us. We sleep at friends’ homes — but we don’t like to sleep at the same place too often.”
WHERE TO NOW?
We asked Moss how he sees the future. “I don’t know” said Moss. “When I first joined the union, I thought the struggle was against whites. But I was wrong. Now I think the workers must struggle against their bosses and the government.
“People must come together in organisations. But the leaders must do what their members say. I think everyone must work together, but I think that the workers must lead.”