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  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU mourns the passing away of former SACCAWU General Secretary, Mama Emma Mashinini

The Congress of South African Trade Unions sends its sincere condolences to the family and friends of the late former SACCAWU General Secretary, Emma Mashinini, who passed away at the age of 87.

Cde Emma Mashinini was a pioneer trade unionist and political leader. Affectionately named "Tiny Giant", she served for 12 years on the executive board of the National Union of Clothing Workers (NUCW) and also founded the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union(SACCAWU) in 1975.

Through her leadership and numerous labour actions, the factory workers gained a 40-hour workweek and unemployment insurance.
She attended the 1955 Congress of the People in Kliptown that adopted the Freedom Charter. She actively participated in the anti apartheid struggles and was subsequently arrested and detained without charges for six months in 1981-82.

She always insisted that union organising should always touch on larger political issues. A turning point for Mashinini came , when she thought about how clothing produced in her factory was being used. "When I realised that I had personally helped to make these uniforms used for the slaughter of my people ... I felt horrified", she wrote.

When COSATU was being formed in 1985, Cde Mashinini was an outspoken advocate for the inclusion of female unionists. After considering a series of images which did not include women, COSATU eventually adopted a logo prominently including a woman with a baby.

We will remember her as a disciplined and dedicated worker leader, who led the workers struggles with integrity and devotion. She was one of the leaders, who was always ready to confront and dismantle the power structures meant to oppress the poor black majority. She led from the front in resolving the workplace challenges facing the workers and the socio-economic challenges facing the working class in general.

We shall honour her memory by working hard to build a united, growing, militant, independent and fighting federation that will continue to be a major factor in the political and economic life of our country. May her soul rest in eternal peace!

Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)