TWO well-respected unionists will be laid to rest this weekend with one of them being accorded a special provincial funeral.
Human rights activist and trade unionist Emma Mashinini and National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) Eastern Cape chairman, Makhi Clay, died within days of each others. Clay collapsed at the Nehawu national elective conference in Johannesburg last week.
He died in hospital a few days later. Mashinini, 87, a recipient of the Order of the Baobab and the Order of Luthuli died on Monday. President Jacob Zuma has declared a special provincial funeral for her.
Both activists’ memorial services were held yesterday – Mashinini’s in Johannesburg and Clay’s at City Life Baptist Church in Quigney, East London. Mashinini served in various leadership roles in the National Union of Clothing Workers and in 1975 founded the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union.
Presidency spokesman Dr Bongani Ngqulunga said Mashinini would be remembered for her fearless leadership in advancing the struggle of the working class during the era of the apartheid regime.
“The president has ordered that the national flag be flown at half-mast at every flag station in Gauteng province on Saturday,” Ngqulunga added.
Nehawu provincial secretary Micky Jaceni said they were paying tribute to a man whose memory invokes admiration, respect, love and honour by union and Cosatu members.
“Those who were in the trenches [during the anti-apartheid struggle] will confirm that to serve and be mentored closely by comrade Clay, to work with him and observe him in action, was the dream of any cadre and leader in the broader movement and trade union movement.
“Without leaders like him, we would not be enjoying the democracy, freedom, peace and social progress that has characterised South Africa since 1994,” Jaceni said.
Clay, 55, was born in Sidbury farm in Grahamstown and the eldest among five siblings. He relocated to Alice at the age of 12 following the death of his father and studied at Gqumashe and Jabavu High School in Alice. Clay cut his teeth in the politics in the early 80s. In 1985, he joined the post office as an employee where he immediately aligned himself with the Post Office Telecommunication Worker’s Association.
“This was one of the most militant and progressive trade union organising in the post office sector at the time. He went through the ranks and later became part of the negotiating team to bargain for more wages and improved conditions of employment. His dedication and leadership qualities were noticed by workers and the union as a result he got elected as the chairperson and the secretary at different times,” Jaceni said. All those who took to the podium described Clay as a “unifier” and selfless comrade who stood for what he believed in. Cosatu provincial secretary Xolani Malamlela said Clay died while he was busy unifying’ Nehawu at national level.
Clay will be laid to rest tomorrow and his funeral service will be held at the East London City Hall at 9am.
He is survived by his mother Dina, his wife, Zisiwe, his two brothers and a sister as well as four children. — firstname.lastname@example.org