The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation would like to extend its condolences to the friends and family of Trade Unionist, Emma Thandi ‘Tiny’ Mashinini (87).
Veteran Trade unionist, Emma Mashinini, affectionately known as ‘Tiny’ passed away on Monday in Johannesburg.
Born in Rosettenville, to a mother who was a domestic worker, Mashinini was witness to a number of forced evictions that led to her family being moved from her place of birth, to Soweto and from Sophia Town back to Soweto after their houses were bulldozed.
‘Tiny’ was flung into the working class at the age of 14 when her parents separated and she had to drop out of school. She began her involvement in trade unions while working at the Henochsberg’s clothing factory where she joined the Garment Workers Union (GWU).
In her early days working as the floor supervisor, she organized strikes for workers and achieved feats like getting working hours reduced from 45 hours to 40 and winning the right to unemployment insurance.
Mashinini was a National Executive Committee member of the National Union of Cloth Workers (NUCW) for just over 12 years, a position which she accepted during difficult times in the liberation struggle in the 1960s, just after the Sharpeville massacre.
It was only in 1975 that she left Henochsberg to form the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (CCAWUSA), which she led as the president. It took only two years for the union to reach a membership of 1000 people.
Mashinini’s involvement in trade unions continued well into the 1980’s and she was arrested in 1981 under section 6 of the terrorism act. She was placed in solitary confinement for 6 months and even this did not deter her. Upon her release, she continued to work for CCAWUSA for four more years.
Already a prominent figure in the liberation struggle, Mashinini was part of the formation of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985. Her involvement in the struggle spawned all through the Apartheid era and at the dawn of democracy she was appointed the commissioner of the Restitution of Land Rights in 1995.
“The textiles industry played a pivotal role in the South African liberation struggle. Union leaders from the textile industry showed commendable activism and bravado. The textile industry is where many female struggle activists emerged from. One thinks back to powerful women like Lillian Ngoyi, Sophie Williams De Bruyn and Emma Mashinini, who made their entrance into the Political landscape via the unions in the textile industry.” Said Neeshan Balton, director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
“I recall times when Kathy (Ahmed Kathrada) would jokingly refer to Emma Mashinini as his twin because they shared the same birth date which is 21 August 1929.” He saidEmma Mashinini was a recipient of the order of Luthuli award that recognised her contribution in building the trade union movement.