NEHAWU struggles for union recognition, a living wage and a free and democratic South Africa. NEHAWU members faced brutal repression from the apartheid regime which saw the union as a direct challenge to its control of the public service. In other sectors, bitter struggles were fought against employers with reactionary practices like the Lifecare Group, Clinic Holdings, various old age homes, universities and technikons. The battle cry of NEHAWU’s national strike in 1992 was “Wawutshelwe ubani ukuthi I-NEHAWU ifile?” Who told you that NEHAWU is dead? This slogan highlights the union’s will to survive.
Comrade Pholotho, who was later known as “Timer”, certainly hit the nail on the head when he said: “We involved workers in politics. Ours was the right strategy. We were not confined to the workplace”. The struggle was more than the bread and butter issues. Clements Kadalie’s Industrial Commercial Union (ICU), formed in 1919, was similar. “The ICU reached out to the rural masses, taking up their demand for land and recruiting tens of thousands of peasants, including a number of chiefs.”
Many comrades charted the way for us – EJ Khaile, J La Guma, John Gomas and de Norman built the labour movement through the ICU. Another union was the Industrial Workers of Africa. Stalwarts from the 1940s and 1950s include Selby Msimang, Moses Kotane, JB Marks, Moses Mabida and Joe Slovo.