Faces of the Cosatu march

2012-03-08 14:46

We heard them long before we saw them. The sound of their spirited chanting was tossed about by the walls of the inner city’s high-rise buildings.

Despite the early morning chill, a crowd of about a hundred Cosatu members had gathered outside the Library Gardens on the street corners of President and Simmonds.

It is before the starting time for the march, but men and women are already toy-toying, singing struggle songs.

An old lady stands out immediately. She and her group have just been brought in by a bus and although everyone in the bus is singing, she is one of the few who stick their heads out of the window.

Her wide-open mouth and the firmness with which she bangs the bus’s side suggests she has an axe to grind.

She hugs and greets everyone with a smile.

On average the old lady, a cleaner by employment from Vanderbijlpark in the Vaal, says she attends at least nine strikes in a year.

Angelina Tanzi (54) has worked at Mittal Steel (now ArcelorMittal SA) for 29 years. In a good month, her salary is R1 200. The sole breadwinner since her husband died in 2007, she takes care of herself and her five children.

Each month she pays R500 to Truworths, Foschini (department stores) and Lewis (furniture store), R300 is spent on electricity and another R300 on groceries.

“Sometimes we sleep without eating,” says Tanzi, dropping her head slightly. When this happens, she has to borrow money to feed her family.

Just this morning (yesterday), she left home without breakfast. Tanzi is here to fight for her rights.

“My employer is abusing us,” she says lamenting the lack of regulation in the labour broking industry, where an employer can reduce workers’ hours and fire them at will.

She is optimistic that the strike will help her and many others in her position. “I want (Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima) Vavi to take this letter to (President Jacob) Zuma,” she says pointing to a letter she has just fished from her back pocket. “I need help. I want Zuma to see see this.”

By 9.30am the crowd has grown to thousands and the mass keeps swelling as more and more come in.

Walking up Simmonds Street in the central business district towards the labour department is a gentleman whose placard is more intriguing than his height and his Che Guevara-style beret, shades and shirt. “Who is sucking who? We are not suckers for sure,” reads the poster.

For Ntshengedzeni Budli, the suckers are the labour brokers that he says can take up to seven times an employee’s salary. “I call them suckers because they are draining our blood for what they didn’t work for. It’s impossible that I’ll ever be rich working for an agency.”

He also has a picture of a monkey with the word “peanuts” next to it on the poster. “I am the monkey because I’m getting peanuts,” he says. “That’s why I can’t get weary when I struggle; I’m going for my peanuts.”

The Soweto father of four supports 17 people with his R8 000 salary. He is here hoping to improve the situation for future generations.

Budli is so resolute on the labour broking issue that he is prepared to lose even a month’s salary. “Remember, it’s no work, no pay. They are still going to suck our blood. I know this will do good for somebody.

“The apartheid government thought the strikes (for the liberation of president Nelson Mandela) were a joke, but where is the old man now? He was even a president,” he quips.

Walking in measured steps up the incline to the labour department, he says his wish is for his children to be better educated than he was so they could be empowered with skills to thrive in today’s economy.

Budli walks off into De Korte Street, swaying to the sound of marchers singing “Thina sizoyinyova, asinandaba namaphoyisa” (We will make things ungovernable, we are not afraid of the police).

He lifts his knees slightly in a show of solidarity with the more ardent demonstrators. A while later, Vavi takes to the stage in the middle of the street amid applause. The midday heat is rising like a cloud, but people brave the sun beating on them to hear him.

Budli has found himself a spot in the shade of an apartment block’s balcony and is listening intently to what Vavi has to say. Behind the dark glasses, his expression is unreadable.

After Vavi’s speech, the memorandum is handed over to representatives of the labour department and Eskom. Shortly afterwards, people start moving towards their next destination where the memorandum would be handed over to Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane and Transport MEC Ismail Vadi.

Budli is deep in thought as he walks. “Vavi is right, this is not a minor thing, we mean business."

He quotes Vavi’s statistic that on average, an ordinary worker supported between five and 12 people on their meagre wages due to the rampant unemployment in the country.

“Maybe I’m the worst,” Budli says referring to the number of those depending on him. “This (the strike) is going down in the history of South Africa. I hope they (government) listen.”

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