“I've been to the mountain top”, Martin Luther King
Fellow mourners, allow me to save time by cutting the traditional greetings reserved for other ordinary meetings. This is an extra ordinary meeting, convened by the former General Secretary of Metal and Allied Workers Union, Cde Thembi Nkuna. We have complied and she has insisted that family and friends join this extra ordinary meeting because this was planned with God, the Almighty.
I had a rare privilege of spending quality time with the family on Sunday. I found the family to be very strong, I had gone home to offer the words of comfort and I found myself receiving the words of comfort as Head of the NUMSA family. Thank you family, you are great, and may you continue to be great.
We are here to lay a perfectionist, a leader, a comrade, a friend, a mother, a consoler, a wise counsel of the metalworkers union. Cde Thembi wore many caps in NUMSA and sitting and attending the service of comfort that was brought by the church to the family on Sunday, it dawned on me that NUMSA and family were not the only beneficiaries of the love from Cde Thembi.
I have chosen to give a title to this eulogy; “I’ve been to the Mountain Top”
When the family recounted the story of Cde Thembi, it dawned on me then she had been to the Mountain Top. The Mountain Top speech that was delivered in Memphis by the fearless Martin Luther King when he went there to support the sanitation workers who had been on a long strike.
Cde Thembi led the metalworkers when death was a real possibility, just for joining a trade union. She led and became a General Secretary at the time when the triple oppression that is refusing to go away in our society was still very rife in society, in our unions and in our country.
As we about to begin our 16 days of activism against abuse of woman and children, can we remember the bravery of Cde Thembi and rise against the abuse of woman and the killing of innocent children that has gone unnoticed by the leadership in our country.
It is a national emergency, in honour of Cde Thembi, as worker organisations, this is not a fight for NGOs alone, let us bring back MAWU teachings that workers are community members and therefore must partake in community struggles.
Cde Thembi leaves us when our NUMSA is going to recharge itself in a Special National Congress. I am tempted to think that Cde Thembi posed a question that Martin Luther posed to people in Memphis when he called them to support the strike of sanitation workers in Memphis.
She said if I do not help South African metalworkers to build their organisation, what will happen to them after she was fired herself from the factory she had joined the union and the factory that fired her for her union activism. She asked the right question, not the wrong but familiar question, what will happen to me.
We have lost a heroine who asked the right question then and stuck with that question all her life as she continued to make sure that General Secretary Moses Mayekiso gets to meetings, President Dube gets to meetings, President Tom gets to meetings, General Secretary Mbuyiselo Ngwenda gets to meetings, General Secretary Enock Godongwane gets to meetings, President Tom gets to meetings, General Secretary Slumko Nondwangu gets to meetings, President Cedric Gina gets to meetings, General Secretary Irvin Jim gets to meetings in this continuous struggle to build this metalworkers union that celebrated 26 years of proud existence this year.
She was part of the generation of leaders that questioned many things, including the Freedom Charter. Their generation took serious frank and open debates about whether the Freedom Charter was a document that can deliver socialism for the working class or not.
Indeed the union finally adopted the Freedom Charter as the shortest route to socialism. As seven different unions that came together, they came from different and opposite cultures.
Their resolve to unite metalworkers, their humility and tolerance has indeed made us to celebrate 26 years of existence this year as a united metalworkers union. We are indebted to Cde Thembi and all the unsung heroes and heroines of her time.
Today, I stand tall as a leader of the biggest union in South Africa and our continent not because of any wisdom on my side but because of the tireless efforts of Cde Thembi. Today, Cde Irvin Jim, stands tall as a General Secretary of NUMSA, also because of the tireless efforts of Cde Thembi.
Cde Thembi will be welcomed with open arms by the following comrades that she knew very well, Cde Mtutuzeli Tom, Cde Vincent Mabuyakhulu, Cde Danny Oliphant, Cde Max Xulu, Cde Neil Agget, Cde John Gomomo, Cde Steven Dlamini, Cde Phil Bokaba, Cde Bheki Msibi, Cde John Zikhali, Cde Phineas Sibiya, Cde Jabu Ndlovu, Cde MaGrapes Hlatshwayo, Cde Mbuyiselo Ngwenda and many others who made the federation what it is today.
They will ask her about the current paralysis in COSATU and remind her they died cherishing an independent and campaigning federation. They will tell her that all concessions that the working class have achieved in history were through struggles, not boardroom deals.
She will inform them that the COSATU Congress will be held very soon because enough affiliates have written the letters to COSATU President to call the Special National Congress of COSATU. She will assure them that COSATU will emerge more vibrant and more united in that Special Congress.
The NUMSA group in the welcoming committee will pull her aside and demand explanation about NUMSA. She will tell them, she had already booked Birchwood Conference Centre for 13 -16 December 2013 Special National Congress of NUMSA.
She had already done flight reservations for more than 1000 delegates. She will inform them that NUMSA is a leading union in our country today, it is the biggest and it still debates and respect democratic centralism. She will tell them that NUMSA continues to fight labour broking, E-tolling and Youth Wage Subsidy by another name and Section 77 is the next route that metalworkers are going take because MAWU teachings that what you cannot win in the boardroom must be won for in the streets lives on.
The struggle goes on against e-tolling, youth wage subsidy and labour brokers. The struggle goes on against unemployment, poverty and inequality.
As metalworkers, we feel humbled and honoured that you have joined the family with us to bid farewell to an unsung heroine, Cde Thembi Nkuna (uMaNabe). Her name will be called when those who brought down apartheid and brought liberation and dignity to our people are called. UMaNabe uyidlalile indima yakhe.
Akafunanga mqhele walapha ezweni, owakhe umqhele umlindele ekhaya laseZulwini ngemisebenzi yakhe emihle yokukhulula isizwe esimnyama ngezithukuthuku nangegazi lakhe.
We are consoled because, just like Martin Luther King Junior, she was strong and because she had been to the Mountaintop, no doubt about that.
We believe that she fully shared the following parting words by Martin Luther King Junior; “I would like to live long life- longevity has it place. But I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.
And he allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I have looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
God Bless the Family, Thank You.