NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Untimely death of comrade Thembi Nkuna

23 October 2013, Posted in NOBs Blog

Dear Comrades

Numsa is devastated by the sad passing away of a committed Numsa official, stalwart, servant leader and former General Secretary of the Metal & Allied Workers Union (Mawu), Comrade Thembi Nkuna.

Sis Thembi went into retirement in 2010 resisting the thought of no longer being able to service metalworkers which she has been accustomed to all her adult life.

On 22 November 2010, Comrade Thembi wrote a letter to the Secretariat requesting an extension of her retirement date. Her opening note said;

“First of all I would like to thank Numsa for the opportunities and empowerment that I acquired during my service within the organization.”

When the organisation recalled her to assist us once more as Travel and Bookings Administrator, she did not hesitate or spare her energies at the age of 62.

Comrade Thembi Nabe was a Mawu shop steward from 1978, a General Secretary of Mawu; a staff member of Mawu/Numsa from 1982 – 2011 (33 years) and retired from Numsa in 2011.

At the farewell party of Comrade Thembi, Joshua and Kasam, Comrade Jenny Grice, our Secretariat HOD had this to say about Comrade Thembi’s contribution to the workers struggle;

Thembi Nabe

Way back in the 1970s, unions were tiny. Workers were terrified to join for fear that they would be victimized and lose their jobs. But not so Thembi Nabe! As a young worker in one of the engineering factories, she was one of the first woman workers to join the Metal and Allied Workers Union (Mawu).

She soon became a shop steward and a leader in her factory and in her branch structure. As a young woman shop steward she was a keen participant of Mawu’s women’s structures, explaining clearly the triple oppression that faced women workers.

When she was fired by her employer she moved into the Union as a full time staff member. At that time there were two categories of workers – fixed and unfixed hours. Fixed hours workers were administrative staff. They earned R125 per month. Unfixed hours workers worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – they earned R250 per month (and no overtime pay!)

Soon she found herself as the General Secretary of Mawu, in charge of the national union along with the worker office bearers.

Later when Numsa was formed, she became regional administrator and then held positions as different administrators in the region before moving to head office. For many years now she has single-handedly dealt with all the travel arrangements for the entire union.

It sounds like a simple job, but it’s not! Regions and HO make bookings, they change the bookings, they change the names of passengers, they book the day that comrades have to travel and they phone in the middle of the night – “Sis Thembi I am stuck at the airport, where is the transport?”

But the most remarkable thing about sis Thembi, says Cecily Scheepers from the Eastern Cape, is that “she always had a smile in her voice even if we knew that she must be angry when we changed or cancelled flights or names of delegates!”

Just ask Mark and Helen who have been doing the bookings for the past two weeks while sis Thembi has been at a course, how hard it is to remain polite when regions are putting you through this kind of pressure!

Her secret is that she has regarded most of us as her children, always prepared to give us a bit of leeway when we don’t do things as they should be done, and always there to assist us and look after us when we were at the mercy of airports, hotels or experiencing other crises.

She has worked more than 30 years for Mawu and Numsa. Metalworkers owe her and her family an extreme debt of gratitude for sacrificing her life to the betterment of metalworkers and to the workers’ struggle.

Thank you sis Thembi and thank you to your family! We could not have wished for a more dedicated comrade! All the best in your retirement and good health to you and your family!

There can be no doubt that we have lost an unsung heroine in the greater national liberation struggle in general and the struggle of South African workers against Apartheid in particular.

A Giant has fallen.

The Numsa National Office Bearers has deployed a Numsa Head Office delegation to meet with the family and to establish what role Numsa can play in organising a dignified memorial and funeral service for Sis Thembi.

The NOB’s shall in due course advice the national union of our plans with respect to the memorial and funeral service.

As we bid Sis Thembi farewell, we are reminded that death has robbed us this year of other former NOB’s in the persons of Comrade Phil Bokaba and Comrade Bheki Magagula.

May her soul rest in peace

With warm regards

Karl Cloete

Deputy General Secretary

Numsa Head Office – Johannesburg