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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Message by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, at the Funeral of Comrade Bheki Mkhize

12 August 2000

On behalf of the 2 million members of COSATU and their families, I bring the message of solidarity, sympathy and condolence to the wife, children and the rest of the comrade Bheki Mkhize’s family.

Like all of our people, COSATU is still reeling from shock of the murder to comrade Bheki Mkhize by the police. This act has tarnished the image of the KwaZulu Natal police. The police have the public duty to protect and serve the communities and their action should be seen as a betrayal to the police ethos of service. This act of brutality belongs to the past and the stone age and have no place in our new found democracy. The perpetrators must be dealt with accordingly. The police must begin to restore the relationship with the communities and this act should be viewed as step backward.

I have known Bheki Mkhize since his days in the General Workers Union and later as the NEHAWU President. I last saw him on the 30 April 2000 when he came to confront COSATU over our failure to allocate busses for the May Day Rally at the FNB for the Deep-sloot informal settlement. As usual he won that fight and even at that late we were forced to hire more busses for his constituency. Comrade Bheki Mkhize was tenacious and did not give in.

This in itself will tell you of Bheki Mkhize’s character. An organiser, mobiliser, disciplinarian and workaholic who did know the meaning of the word "rest" and or hanging on shoulders of other people doing work. He was indeed a man of the people - down to earth to the last minute. He did not let the trapping of power go to his head.

I had come to know Bheki Mkhize more in a period between 1990 and after the 1994 elections. I was the COSATU Western Transvaal Regional Secretary based in the Vaal Triangle when, Bheki Mkhize warned that there were some people engineering a campaign of massive intimidation targeting workers from KwaZulu Natal as well as certain communities in the whole of the then Witwatersrand area. Since then we worked very close with the comrade. He became part of COSATU violence monitoring team together with our lawyers.

I know of no body with more guts than Bheki Mkhize. Throughout that period, he worked as our underground operative in the hostels. He infiltrated cells of these forces bent on using violence for political objectives; he had a network of contacts in every hostel. He knew every element in the hostels. Yet armed with that information we used to sit helpless as those day we could not phone and ask the then ministers and police leaders to intervene. They were part and parcel of the problem in our view. Bheki excelled in this extremely dangerous work. It is not that these forces did not know who he was. Throughout this period he survived countless attempts on his life. His dedication meant many sleepness nights. He never complained even once, he never expressed fear at the fact that his network or himself may be exposed leading to certain death of those involved.

On behalf of COSATU members, I want to express our deeply felt gratitude at his contribution to the workers struggle and the struggle for the freedom and democracy that our people are now enjoying. Bheki was certainly one of those that you could count on workers and progressive movement’s side. No one could doubt his bona fides. Today NEHAWU and COSATU are giants of no comparable proportion. Without people like Bheki Mkhize that could have been impossible. Thank you Bheki for this wonderful contribution.

As Bheki Mkhize leaves the scene, he lives us with a number of challenges. We are facing the local government election weaker without his zeal to work amongst our people; we can only pledge that we shall redouble our efforts to win these elections with even improved margins. Unemployment and poverty is rife in particular in the rural areas. The new enemy of the human kind, the HIV/AIDS is on rampage killing the rich and the poor and the young and old. Without Bheki Mkhize in the forefront, our ability to confront these challenges is weakened. We however draw strength at knowing that even at your grave you shall continue to encourage speeding up the efforts to deal with all the evils we inherited from the apartheid mismanagement and misrule.

This heinous crime by the police should be condemned in strongest terms. In our eyes, comrade Bheki Mkhize was murdered in cold- blooded by trigger-happy policemen, the transformation of the police service must be accelerated to weed out corrupt elements and those elements that do not understand their public duty.

Hamba kahle, mkhonto!