UNI pays tribute to Anti-Apartheid hero Emma Mashinini

The UNI Global Union family is in mourning after the death of one of the true giants of the South African labour movement, ‘Mama Emma’ Mashinini at the age of 87.

UNI Africa Regional Secretary Keith Jacobs said, “It is with a heavy heart that we learnt that Mama Emma had passed away. She was a searing light through the dark days of Apartheid. She was part of the nucleus of Anti-Apartheid brothers and sisters who refused to bend to the evil of Apartheid and eventually won the liberty of a people and the respect of the world. We send our sincere condolences to Mama Emma’s family and keep her close in our hearts.”

Born in Rosettenville in 1929, Mashinini was a key figure in the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) as well as AFRO FIET, the forerunner of UNI Africa.

During an era when political organisations were banned and union leaders were forced to go underground, Mashinini or “Mama Emma” as she is known in South Africa, was elected to the national executive committee of the National Union of Clothing Workers. She was arrested in 1981 under section 6 of the Terrorism Act and spent the next six months in solitary confinement at Pretoria Central Prison.

UNI Global Union General Secretary, Philip Jennings said, “We are deeply saddened at the death of Emma Mashinini. We were honoured to listen and learn from her at our UNI Cape Town Congress in 2014. We marveled at the tenacity and passion she still possessed in her mid-80s. The former General Secretary of CCAWUSA (now SACCAWU) sent a clear message: ‘Always ask yourself every day what am I doing to help working people? We must always struggle for them.’

“Mama Emma was proud to receive the UNI Global Union Freedom from Fear Award for her bravery in building her union and fighting against Apartheid. She reminded us that the very first time she could vote she used a FIET pen to mark her ballot paper as a symbol of her appreciation for the global support in the anti-apartheid struggle.

“She was a tiny figure physically but courageous, imposing and inspiring – a true champion for working people around the world.”

“Mama Emma will be sorely missed, and we will pay tribute to her and her South Africa compatriots Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada at our Liverpool Congress next year in June.”