Cultural revival

Cultural revival Jenny Grice

In the mid-1980s, when the oppression of apartheid was at its height, the Metal and Allied Workers Union (Mawu), one of Numsa’s founding unions, became famous for its poets, actors and singers. Dunlop shop stewards and poets Alfred Temba Qabula and Mi Hlatshwayo were top of the speaker list at May Day rallies, strike meetings and general meetings.

During long strikes, striking workers showed their ability to transform themselves into playwrights where they performed their workshopped plays to shop stewards councils and communities.

The worker actors acted out their struggles, mimicking their bosses and showing the lighter side of their daily work lives and won support from non-striking workers and members of the community.

In almost every meeting, worker choirs from different factories would sing songs that carried the pain and sorrow of losing comrades, family and friends in the struggle as well as the joy and happiness of being part of a bigger movement fighting for a new world.Shop stewards easily integrated the creative side of themselves into the union structures and meetings.

They succeeded in mainstreaming culture into union activities in a way that gender has failed to do since then. For a while after 1994 it seemed that the ‘new South Africa’ had almost extinguished this creativity.

But now it seems that the red glow of inventiveness is being fanned by new actors, singers and dancers across Numsa and other affiliates. Read of Sibongiseni Myeza, shop steward and cultural activist and the Autozone choir below.

Write to Numsa News and tell us what you are doing or what you would like to do as well as your contact details. We will try and put you all in touch with each other so that cultural activism is spread across the union and beyond.

Numsa must establish its own arts desk!Mirriam Mochochoko

Shop steward Sibongiseni Myeza is not your ordinary shop steward activist. He also finds time to be an actor, script writer and a director of stage plays south of Durban. Myeza’s other name is Maklabishi, the name he was given because of his involvement in the entertainment industry.

When he talks of this industry his face glows showing the passion in what he is doing.Myeza formed his first stage play group called Sweet Desire in 1989.

Thereafter groups like the Mbongintwini Youth Movement focusing on youth activities such as dancing, gospel singing, acting, crafting of shoes and bags were also formed. His intentions were to search for talent amongst young people with potential and to develop their skills.

These groups are invited to perform in different activities such as HIV and Aids awareness, children’s rights and responsibilities awareness in schools. They have also entered different competitions and won some.

Groups survive through sponsorship and donations, sometimes even from the ANC youth. Through hard work, commitment and passion, some of them have become professionals. Vusi Mhlongo has appeared on national television in a drama called Ithemba Lokuphila.
He is now based in Johannesburg. Press Gwabeni performed in South Africa and in Norway. Gwabeni has opened his own group called Super Press Vision. Sbonelo Mbokazi won a dance competition on a youth television programme called Jika-Majika in 2000.

He is still a member of the Amanzimtoti dance group. Groups are becoming big and the demand from the community is growing.As the founder of these groups, Myeza was elected to participate in the Arts committee.

But this does not solve the problem of funding. Nor does it solve the problem he says, that “big shows take place in the cities and Arts Centres are mostly found in the cities.” He bemoans the fact that these centres do not develop artists.

Instead they are looking for ready made artists developed by community-based projects like Myeza’s. His wish is that Arts centres be built in the townships and rural areas where the talent is. This will also motivate youth to actively participate in youth activities.

And he would like big shows to be shown first in the townships.Myeza also wants Numsa to establish its own Arts desk and “produce our own stage plays by members themselves focusing on issues related to our industry like health and safety, domestic violence, sexual harassment and so forth.

We must create an environment where Numsa locals, Cosatu affiliated unions members will be trained and compete among themselves!”

If you want to contact Myeza, get him at

Motor workers sing like larksJenny Grice

Walking into Autozone in Denver, Johannesburg, shelves stacked with motor parts two-storeys high dwarf us. Concrete floors make the warehouse so cold that workers wear special padded overalls more suited to the North Pole.

But while the working conditions might be frigid, in a little office in a corner of the warehouse, about 20 workers of all ages, male and female, clerical workers and store packers meet regularly at lunchtime to practise their singing.

Full-bodied notes, laughter and smiling faces are in sharp contrast to the cold, ordered warehouse. Not all of the singers are Numsa members. Some are employed by labour brokers including a man young enough to be the son of the eldest singer.

But their love of music erases these divisions. Shop steward Rose Nkgapele hopes to bring in more clerical workers to boost their numbers and in this way bring unity across the shopfloor.Today the group is tackling a new song.

Their normal repertoire is gospel songs and hymns which they perform at funerals. Now they are learning the international workers’ song – The Internationale.

This is to prepare for their performance at a Numsa workshop to celebrate 50 years since the Cuban revolution.Choir leader, Lindi Zulu, is rigorous and inspiring – she takes her team through the words and the tones, stopping them when they are slightly off tune and giving them the correct note to carry on practicing and perfecting.

But all too soon the siren goes and it is time to head back to their work stations. As they walk down the steps from their practice room, cries of “Viva Numsa viva!” ring out from those below but soon the singers become just like other anonymous Autozone workers, their singing voices silenced, their talents hidden as they go back to their work stations to check, sort, pack and send motor parts across the country.

Play review: Brothers in BloodMarket TheatreReviewed by: Kamogelo Masike

The play is about conflicts in South African communities as a result of religious differences, and the self-inflicting pain emanating from these religious intolerances, ranging from personal relationships to workplace religious discrimination.

It shows a modern vibrant world in which a young and hip Indian Woman (Leila) and Fadiel a very conservative disciplined young Muslim man from Somalia, struggle to stay together under stiffening laws and religious regulations.

The relationship has a sad ending when Leila falls pregnant, which is not something she is ready for and she is not even keen to continue with the relationship.

This theoretical masterpiece poses confrontational questions to all religions as to their contribution or non-contribution in the challenges of the country like drugs and abortion.

This question can be equally asked of different political parties in their contribution (or non thereof) in confronting the number one enemy of the working class – ‘capitalism’.

Historically, Numsa as a revolutionary trade union has been one of the custodians of the liberation of South Africa. This can be confirmed by the diverse school of thought that cuts across worker and party politics and enriches the organisation.

Numsa must nurture the flickering spark of the revolution in this country as it continues to galvanise metalworkers’ collective efforts to salvage the pride of our country as one of the revolutionary vehicles of the continent and the entire global community.Forward with the unity of metalworkers forward!


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