The Presidency is in preparation for the well-deserved special provincial official funeral of political stalwart Emma Thandi Mashinini.
By Mamodima Ndlovu
President Jacob Zuma declared Mashinini’s funeral as an official event after the respected trade unionist and human rights activists’ death.
The 87-year-old was born on 21 August 1929, a month that is now earmarked as the South African Women’s Month following a march on 9 August 1956 by women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against the apartheid regime.
Born in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, Mashinini’s family was forcibly removed and relocated in Orlando, Soweto but with her parents refusing to settle, the family moved to Sophiatown where their home was bulldozed and residents sent packing back to Soweto.
At age 14, Mashinini dropped out of school and joined the working masses due to her parents’ separation. At 17 she began her marital life and gave birth to six children, three of whom died as infants.
Mashinini’s trade union consciousness was sparked after she joined the Garment Workers’ Union (GWU) while she was employed at the Henochsberg’s clothing factory.
It was not long before her co-workers recognized her strength and elected her as a shop steward then also appointed floor supervisor by management. During her spell, she reduced working hours from 45 to 40 hours. She also led strikes and go-slows that earned workers unemployment insurance which is now referred to as the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
Clouded by the banning of political organisations and the displacement of union leaders into the underground or exile, Mashinini took up a national executive committee role at the National Union of Clothing Workers (NUCW), above the GWU body. The next 12 years came with great responsibility but she still found marital bliss with her second husband, Tom Mashinini.
In 1975, her role at Henochsberg’s was too small a platform for her great leadership and she departed to birth the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) which grew to 1000 members within the first two years. In November 1981, Mashinini was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement at the Pretoria Central Prison for six months under the Section 6 of the Terrorism Act. After serving her time, Mashinini refused to flea but continued on as President of SACCAWU for another four years.
Mashinini relates her experiences in her autobiography, ‘Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life’.
By 1985, Mashinini had settled firmly in the trade union industry and she continued to assist in the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) then appointed as director of the Anglican Church’s Department of Justice and Reconciliation in 1986 after leaving her position within the SACCAWU.
She later led the Mediation and Conciliation Centre in Johannesburg as president before being appointed commissioner for the Restitution of Land Rights in 1995.
Part of accolades Mashinini was the recipient of the National Order of the Baobab and Order of Luthuli in Bronze for her mountainous contribution within the trade union sector in the country.
President Zuma conveyed on behalf of government and all citizens, his heartfelt condolences to the Mashinini family.
He also ordered that the National Flag be flown at half-mast in Gauteng on Saturday, 15 July 2017 when Mashinini’s funeral will be held.