NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Happy 25th birthday!

23 May 2012, Posted in NUMSA News

It is a quarter of a century since the birth of Numsa in May 1987.

It was Cosatu (then Fosatu’s) decision to consolidate a number of unions including Mawu and Naawu, to form a single union, Numsa.

In its 25 years, Numsa has become one of the most recognised unions in the country and is now the third biggest union after NUM and Sadtu.

The main objective has always been to improve working conditions and promote workers’ rights.

Leaders come and go. Some comrades who participated in the formation of Numsa have already passed on.

Daniel Dube became the first Numsa president, succeeded by Maxwell Xulu, then the late Mtutuzeli Tom.

The current president is Cedric Gina.
As anticipated, Numsa struggled when it started.


Numsa General Secretaries since 1987:

1987-1993 Moses Mayekiso;
1993-1996 Enoch Godongwana;
1996-1999 Mbuyiselo Ngwenda;
2000-2008 Silumko Nondwangu
2008-2012 Irvin Jim


According to Thoko Rampai the Ekurhuleni regional administrator who was there at the beginning: “People were placed in positions according to the skills they had.

Officials had to collect R5 union subscriptions by hand from every member at the different factories, regardless of what they were earning – there was nothing called 1%, and membership was recorded manually.”

It was difficult to represent a member during the apartheid era before the amendment of legislation (such as the LRA, BCEA and EEA) in 1995.

Numsa used to have a branch executive committee (BEC) instead of the regional executive committee (REC).

Technology was not advanced; the communication used was fax, telephone and post.

Numsa News started as the union was emerging. Officials had to serve workers with passion and be less concerned about salaries.


A shop steward from Fry’s Metal, Eric Mntambo, has memories of union meetings before 1994.

He recalled: “Although meetings before and after 1994 had the same objectives, during pre-1994 meetings there was struggle and momentum with the ‘we will do it ourselves’ mentality.

After 1994 the members looked to Numsa to do on their behalf. Members felt as if they owned the union, but now commitment has gone down drastically.”

Petrus Boy Tom, one of the workers that started with Numsa, wrote in My Life Struggle: “Workers on the shop floor see organisers as the people who will solve their problems, they do not think they must run the union.

They don’t know that the industrial council negotiates with the employers’ association over wages and working conditions.

They do not know how they get their annual increase, they think their increase is from the government.

When they get an increase they say: ‘We’ve got the government money, now where is the company money?’ That is why workers must be educated about their rights, they must have education seminars and workers who are elected must also get training.”

Today Numsa has the reputation of educating and training its members and staff.

In addition, it implements the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS III) to increase access to high-quality and relevant education and training in workplaces and within communities.

Just a year ago Numsa held a graduation ceremony for retrenched workers who attended training workshops in various skills, particularly artisanal skills.

Joseph Nemalegeni is the Deputy Chairperson of Numsa Hlanganani region and he’s serving his sixth or seventh term as a shop steward.

He is proud of his union, saying: “Since 1987, Numsa has been highly competitive in increasing membership.

Since its formation, Numsa has always had quality leadership that challenged employers who were oppressive to members, and it has a reputation of being a strong union in the representation of cases.
I’m one of those whose skills have increased by attending workshops and training.

However before, we used to have strong comradeship at plant level, now there is a problem at plant level with some shop stewards who fear to confront company management despite being trained in aspects of labour law.

We call upon our union to assist to eliminate this monster called fear, while also acknowledging that companies target shop stewards and trap them.

Another challenge concerns gender, where some trained women refuse to become shop stewards due to a lack of confidence, while those who are already shop stewards sometimes regard themselves as inferior.

We want our union to be non-sexist.

I so wish Numsa will remain a vibrant and powerful union with strong leadership nationally, regionally and locally.”

Gender discrimination

Thoko Rampai sees gender issues as a continual challenge among female officials. She says: “Till this day, women officials always have a problem to move up.

Numsa doesn’t care whether you’ve made the effort to earn a diploma in advanced labour law.

If you are a woman, you’ll be used to make more production with positive results and ignored thereafter.

The furthest you can get is being an organiser if you are lucky; and salaries are discriminatory.”

Bibi (not her real name) from Plastic Bubbles talks about her experience as a member since the mid-nineties.

She said: “I can’t see any difference between myself as a member and a non-member.

I cannot recall cases that I can say we have won, but we have lost most cases we fought for.

We have several unresolved issues including that of shift work where we get a very small allowance which is the same amount as the cost of transport. “

Her colleague, Pro, says he benefited by participating in the union as a shop steward.

He said: “I’m worried about job losses through dismissals and retrenchments despite the protection from Numsa.

Unless Numsa moves faster, things may change for workers. Yes, there is training among shop stewards, but it cannot be expected to succeed overnight.”

We should not only focus on the negatives; we should also appreciate our record of cases won at hearings and the successes we achieved.

The union has had its ups and downs and right now, the biggest challenge it is facing is labour brokers.

Numsa also showed its strength by establishing the Numsa Investment Company (NIC) that manages funds of the union and has given bursaries to members’ dependants, depending on them meeting certain criteria.

The NIC bought Doves which handles funeral benefits. If you want to learn more about the NIC visit the website at

Numsa has produced high-profile comrades: Enoch Godongwana is the former Numsa General Secretary who became an MEC in the Eastern Cape and later the deputy minister of economic affairs (has since resigned); Eric Nyekemba, a former Numsa organiser is now a Member of Parliament; Silumko Nondwangu, a former General Secretary is now CEO in the Department of Labour; and Ting-ting Rapodile, a former Ekurhuleni regional education officer is now the strategic adviser to the Executive Mayor in the Ekurhuleni Metro.

Numsa also remembers its comrades who died, some in the struggle: former General Secretary Mbuyiselo Ngwenda, former treasurer Isaac Phaahla, former president Mtutuzeli Tom, former first president Vincent Mabuyakhulu, former Ekurhuleni deputy chairperson Stanford Ndobo, former Ekurhuleni RFC member Richard Nzima, former second deputy president and regional secretary Jack Charles Bezuidenhout; and many more. We say: “Rest in peace!”

Today Numsa’s membership has grown to 288 173 and the future looks bright.

We hope the union focuses on making its members happy and corrects the mistakes of the past.


Numsa News No 1, April 2012