Lives of Courage
Chris Dlamini was born in Benoni, Transvaal, on 10 October 1944, one of the five children of Anna and Gilbert Dlamini, a worker in an electroplating factory. Dlamini's father came from Swaziland, and was frequently arrested for illegal residence in South Africa. These arrests, together with an incident when South African authorities forced Dlamini's 16-year-old brother to return to Swaziland on his own, had a serious impact on Dlamini's outlook.
Dlamini began school in Benoni, then moved to springs before enrolling at the Ndaleni Training Institute, Natal, where he completed his Junior Certificate in 1962.
He subsequently found employment as a 'storeboy' in a Springs brass foundry, where he remained from 1963-69. Although African workers in the metal industry were not organised at that time, they were able to challenge certain management actions. In one such incident, Dlamini was involved in a dispute with a production manager, who wanted to fire him after he had rejected the stale bread on offer in the company canteen. Although Dlamini was able to defend his views and retain his job, he was disappointed when other workers did not support him. This strengthened his belief in the necessity of worker organisation within factories.
From 1969-71, Dlamini was employed as a store man with a dye-casting company. Fellow workers often asked him to intervene with management on their behalf. In 1972, when he moved to another brass foundry in Springs, Dlamini joined the Engineering and Allied Workers Union. In December of that year workers, dissatisfied with their bonuses, went on strike and demonstrated outside the company offices. Management conceded an extra R3 to those who had participated in the strike; those who had not participated received nothing.
The next year (1973), Dlamini took a job in the Rank Xerox stores in Kempton Park. Workers elected him as a member of the liaison committee, but he soon rejected this purely advisory structure. In 1977 he resigned his job, and found employment with Kellogg in Springs. Thereafter, he joined the Sweet, Food and Allied Workers Union (SFAWU), which began to demand recognition from Kellogg when it had achieved over 50% membership of the workforce.
Management and the union signed a preliminary recognition agreement in 1979, and this was followed by a full agreement in 1981. By that stage, Dlamini had become chairman of the shop stewards committee in the plant, president of SFAWU (elected in 1979) and chairman of the Transvaal region of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu).
After his election as Fosatu president in 1982, Dlamini was involved in a number of major strike actions, including ongoing disputes at Kellogg and Simba-Quix, where a consumer boycott was organised to support workers.
Dlamini was also active in the KwaThema parent-student committee, set up in October 1984 to obtain parents' support for the demands of students struggling against bantu education. When the committee outlined its demands in a memo to the Ministers of Co-operation and Development, Education, and Law and Order - including the release of detained pupils and the removal of police from the township - no response was received. A local work stay away was called on 22 October as result, which was supported by 80% of KwaThema workers.
Subsequently, Dlamini served as a member of the Transvaal Regional Stayaway Committee (TRSC), established to call for a two day stayaway on 5 and 6 November demanding the removal of the army and police from townships the establishment of elected students' representative councils in schools; the release of all detainees and political prisoners; the withdrawal of rent increases the abolition of corporal punishment at schools the scrapping of general sales tax the resignation of community councillors and the re-instatement of workers dismissed in the Simba-Quix dispute. This important initiative signalled the growing co-operation between union and community organisations over a wide range of issues.
The stayaway was successful on the East Rand and the Vaal triangle and in some areas of Pretoria and Soweto, and 400 000 children boycotted schools in support of its demands.
On 9 November 1984 Dlamini was detained and held at John Vorster Square, Johannesburg, in terms of section 29 of the Internal Security Act. The detention was condemned by the Federated Chamber of Industries and the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut, among others. He was released on 11 December. From 1981, Dlamini was active in the trade union unity talks which eventually led to the launch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions in December 1985, where he was elected first vice-president of the new federation.
In June 1986 he was elected president of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), formed after the amalgamation of several unions including the Food and Canning Workers Union, SFAWU and the Retail and Allied Workers Union.
During the late 1980s, Dlamini was active in Cosatu's Living Wage Campaign, the Hands Off Cosatu Campaign which arose out of attacks on Cosatu officials and offices, and the campaign against the Labour Relations Amendment Act.
On 21 September 1988 a planned anti-apartheid conference, aiming to bring together a wide range of extra-parliamentary groupings, was banned and its organisers, including Dlamini, restricted. He was forbid-den to leave his magisterial district of residence for ten days, and prohibited from leaving his home between 6pm and 6am during that period.
In 1989 Dlamini was a member of the union delegation which visited Nelson Mandela in the Victor Verster Prison. In January 1990 he accompanied African National Congress leaders recently released from jail to a meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, with the ANC's national executive committee.
When the South African Communist Party re-launched as a legal body on 29 July 1990, Dlamini was named as one of the party's 22-per-son interim leadership group. He was elected to the SACP central committee in December 1991.
Dlamini is married to Alice and they have four children. They live in KwaThema.
• Cape Times, 3 June 1986.
• Interviewed 12 November 1986, Springs.
• Author\'s research undertaken for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa), 1992.