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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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About  |  Biographies

Bheki NtshalintshaliCOSATU General Secretary - Bheki Ntshalintshali

The name Beki (Bheki) was given to me by a white-man official at Home Affairs when I applied for my identity document. This is the legal name I am using even today while my real name given to me by my parents is Veli. After completing my Junior Certificate I could not receive my symbols to be admitted at High School and I had to wait for my certificate. While waiting I was employed by the school in which I was studying as a Librarian teacher for a year. Eventually my certificate came but there was no money to further my studies as my younger brothers were at secondary school then. My parents decided that I was the one to be compromised. I came to Johannesburg undocumented in that I did not have section 10 (1) (a) and I had running battles with police and used all manner of tricks available to me to remain in Johannesburg. I was deported out of Joburg more than four times (issued with 72 hours special to leave Joburg) and every time I was sent off I would get a new ID and came back. Without proper documentation I was almost unemployable in Johannesburg. I eventually got employed by my uncle who owned taxis at the time. Here again I got two nick names - Mtshana because it was how my uncle called me and everybody followed suit but others called me Mshagaan which I would explain sometime in the future if I get time.

Within a year I graduated in the taxi industry from being a taxi driver to be taxi operator (Owner). My intention was not to stay long in this industry. Due to the nature of the industry, the violence, roughness, greed, rudeness and the fact that I was street wise, life and death were two sides of the same coin. Many people that I knew died of violence while other closer to me were arrested for all sorts of things I decided to leave the sector.
I had enough money to go back to school and look after my young brothers who were at high school by then.

Unfortunately I was arrested near Swaziland for driving a taxi (own car) outside of its operating area without a permit which normally was traffic offence that would render one arrested but issue with a traffic ticket. When appearing in court for a bail the charges were added to include suspicions of being a terrorist. Though I got a bail I ahd to appear in court every month for two years. At the end of the trial I was fined a mere R50 for driving a taxi outside of its operation routes without a permit. I had lost all the interests of going back to school.

I found my self employed at Sasol 3 in Secunda, Mpumalanga. It was there that I was recruited to the Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU), a FOSATU affiliate in 1981 as a member. I was elected as a shopsteward, chairperson of Sasol 3 and Deputy Chairperson of the SASOL Plants (SASOL 2 and 3). In 9184 I together with 6500 workers were dismissed by SASOL who was then a parastatal for participating in a political stay away on 5 & 6 November 1984, which was called by UDF in support of COSAS.

The union called campaign against SASOL to reinstate all workers but eventually conceded that workers were to be reemployed. When other workers were reinstated in 1985 most shop stewards including myself were not reinstated by SASOL on the allegation that shop stewards were the ring leaders of the stay away. Thai matter was challenged by the union but eventually agreed that in the spirit of our struggle let those shop stewards be sacrificed. It was then, that union employed me as an organizer for SASOL and entrusted with the task of re-recruiting those workers back to the union a work which we carried out very well. My union work at SASOL, recruiting, representing workers, training shop stewards etc was an enjoyable one and it was a way of revenging my unfair dismissal by SASOL. It was not smooth sailing though as the security forces were unleashed to deal with trade unionists and arrests, torture and detentions without trials were our daily bread.

In 1986 I was appointed by COSATU leadership to be COSATU convener in the then Eastern Transvaal tasked to establish a COSATU Region. This was one of the difficult tasks that one had to carry due to the state of emergency in 1986 and that no meetings were allowed to take place. But working with Gwede Mantashe (Founding COSATU Regional Chairperson) and JJ Mabhena (Founding Regional Secretary) we managed to launch the COSATU Region and named it, the COSATU Highveld Ridge Region.

In 1988, the union appointed me to co-ordinate National companies in the Glass and Petroleum sectors. This compelled me to move to our Branch offices which were in Germiston. I relocated to Kwa-Thema Township, Springs to be closer to the workplace.

In 1994 I was elected to the position of the Deputy General Secretary of the CWIU. However in 1995 to honour an agreement that I concluded earlier to further my studies I left for Ruskin College in Oxford, UK.

On my return in 1996 I was appointed as a National Collective Bargaining Coordinator tasked to lead the establishment of the Bargaining Council for the Chemical Industry. After the establishment of a Bargaining Council I was appointed to lead the Heavy Industrial Chemicals and the Petroleum Sector collective bargaining processes.

I was recalled by the union to lead the merger between CWIU and PPWAWU which led to the formation of CEPPWAWU in 1999. In May 1999 I was recruited to COSATU as its Organising Secretary. In 2000, at the COSATU National Congress I was elected as COSATU Deputy General Secretary which is a position I still hold.

I am serving on behalf of COSATU on a number of bodies namely, Proudly South African Board, Naledi Management and Executive Board, Employment Conditions Commission, Nedlac Management and Executive Committee, Millennium Labour Council, Labour Presidential Working Group, Sustainlabour Board - Spanish based trade union foundation, International Union Confederation Environment/Climate Change desk, UN Commission on Sustainable Development, ITUC - UN Framework for Climate Change Council, African Union - Economic, Social coordinating Council (ECOSOC); Word Social Forum International Council, African Social Forum, and Chairperson of JIPSA, Organisation of African Union Trade Union Unity (OAUTUU) etc.