United in defiance

2012-03-10 16:37

We heard them long before we saw them. The sound of their spirited chanting reverberated between the inner city’s high-rises.

In the early morning chill, a crowd of about 100 Cosatu members gathered outside the Library Gardens for Wednesday’s march against labour brokers and e-tolling. But it was the labour brokers that they were here for.

The gogo immediately stood out. Angelina Tanzi and her group were brought in by bus. With her head out the window, her mouth wide open and her firm banging on the side of the bus, it was clear she had an axe to grind.

The Supercare cleaner from Vanderbijlpark in the Vaal says she attends an average of nine strikes a year. The 54-year-old, who has been employed by a labour broker since 2005, has worked at ArcelorMittal for the past 29 years. In a good month, she earns R1 200. Her family’s sole breadwinner since her husband died five years ago, she supports herself and her five children.

Each month she pays R500 to Truworths, Foschini and furniture retailer Lewis; R300 is spent on electricity; and R300 on groceries.

“Sometimes we sleep without eating,” she says. She often borrows money to feed the family. On Wednesday morning she left home without any breakfast.

“My employer is abusing us,” she says of the badly regulated labour broking industry, where bosses can reduce workers’ hours and fire them at will.

She is optimistic that this strike will help her and others.

“I want (Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima) Vavi to take this letter to Zuma,” she says, pointing to a note detailing her hardship that she has just fished from her back pocket. “I need help?.?.?.?I want Zuma to see this.”

By 9.30am the crowd has grown to thousands as more buses enter the city.

Once the march was under way, the imposing figure of Ntshengedzeni Budli walked up Simmonds Street, wearing a Che Guevara-style beret, sunglasses and collared shirt, with his colleagues.

“Who is sucking who? We are not suckers for sure,” read his poster.
He is a clerk employed through a labour broker to work at the department of rural development and land affairs.

“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 says.

His poster features a picture of a monkey with the word “Peanuts” written alongside.

He is the monkey on the poster, he says, because he earns peanuts.

The father of four from Soweto supports two of his four children as well as an extended family of 13 with the R8 000 he earns a month.

He is so passionate about his cause that he is prepared to strike for a month with no pay.

“Remember it’s no work, no pay. They are still going to suck our blood,” he says.

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

He 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 a little, a show of solidarity with the more ardent strikers who are toyi-toying.

Vavi took to the stage as the midday heat rose in a cloud. Budli found himself a spot in the shade of an apartment balcony to listen.

After his speech, the memorandum was handed over and the march was again on the move.

Budli, deep in thought, said: “Vavi is right, this is not a minor thing, we mean business,” reiterating Vavi’s statistic that on average, an ordinary worker supported between five and 12 people on their meagre wages due to rampant unemployment.

“Maybe I’m the worst,” he says.

“This strike is going down in the history of South Africa. I hope they listen.”

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