By Mtutuzeli Tom, national president of Numsa
Vincent Mabuyakhulu, the labour union icon who “lived his life for others” has breathed his last. Former first vice-president of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and member of the national parliament died after short illness in Durban last Friday.
Even now his life is still worth living for many more other workers, in the minds of most labour and political activists, he lived the true life of a brave union cadre.
He was a true reflection of the world renowned and long-time cadres of international communism, including Sam Hunt, “very intense and a self- taught guy with a penchant for efficiency, good things in life and modest lifestyle”.
When addressing workers and political rallies in stadiums and on makeshift podiums, he was often noted for his elegant and dignified stylish figurehead.
But off -duty and when workers lives were threatened his stylish fashion sense often deserted him. That appeared to be the case most often when the workaholic activist was drawn into scuffles between striking workers and bosses, stepping out of his house wearing an over tight red T-shirt and tattered jeans.
Ndiyema (I stand on my own) his clan name as he was affectionately called in the union movement circles was to torment industry bosses in the car manufacturing, metal and engineering sectors every year, claiming victories for the union members, in achieving wage increases and better employment conditions.
He was a very witty political character, maverick negotiator, aggressive but strategically when that was called for. And indeed a unique comrade, very instrumental in achieving most of the union victories and always argued for the collective effort in order to win the challenges in the struggles for workers.
Mabuyakhulu was very assertive, never angry with anybody, but always keep his cool and clear in articulating the positions of the union movement. He hated political controversies and misunderstanding especially for the audiences.
He first showed abilities as a brave fighter when he was elected as a shop steward of the then defunct Metal and Allied workers Union (Mawu), one of the leading forerunners of Numsa. “It was then a matter of life and death” to be a shop steward in the then Kwazulu self-governing state, in the heart of Kwazulu-Natal province.
Blessed with selflessness, vigour and oratory, he showed his mettle in leading most strike actions and defiance campaigns against the old apartheid regime.
He was a hard worker. He once admitted that he became something of a workaholic without realizing it. I would ask him to go to bed and he would say “it is better to sleep in the coaches in uncomfortable position so that I can wake up and complete my work.”
He never slept and he would make you work like him. He did everything anyone asked him to do. And, he has never been able to say no until we forced him to learn to decline with tact and firmness.
Between 1985 and 1988, Mabuyakhlu took factory shop floor struggles by horns when he was elected shop steward at Lennings Manganese. He led many struggles for the workers rights in Isithebe area, before he became a local secretary.
His tireless contribution, before long came to the attention of the national union leadership and Cosatu when he was elected chairperson of the then Northern Natal region and subsequently the central committee elevated him to the position of the second vice- president of Numsa in 1988.
Once elected to the higher union echelons, he participated in the Cosatu central executive until he became a national member of parliament.
In the community, he also took position in the ANC’s Mandeni local branch as a secretary and acted as district chairperson of the South African Communist Party. He held those positions until he was elected into the national parliament in 2003.
Mabuyakhulu, was born 20 November 1958.