Elijah Barayi

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Elijah Barayi

Synopsis:

Trade unionist, President of Cosatu.

First name: 
Elijah
Last name: 
Barayi
Date of birth: 
1930
Date of death: 
January 1994

Elijah Barayi was born in Lingelihle, Cradock on 15 April 1930. He was one of eight children of working class parents.  Barayi attended Lwana Primary School and completed his junior certificate at Nuwell High School.  He matriculated at Healdtown Institute in 1951.

Barayi joined the ANC Youth League as a teenager and became an efficient organiser and an able speaker.  He was arrested in the early 1950s for his participation in the Defiance campaign.

Barayi worked briefly for the Department of Native Affairs but resigned as he felt it was in the forefront of administering apartheid.  He held a variety of jobs until 1960 when he left the Eastern Cape to take up employment as a clerk at State Mines, Brakpan.  At that stage, he was an organising secretary for the ANC and was detained during the 1960 State of Emergency and held for six months.

In May 1973, Barayi moved to Carltonville and three years later became a personnel assistant on the mine.  He experienced firsthand the conditions that miners experienced underground.

Following the report of the Wiehahn Commission in 1979, Barayi became active in establishing the trade union movement on the mines.  In 1982, the National Union of Mineworkers was formed with Barayi as the Vice-President.  In May 1984 he led 9000 miners at Blyvooruitzicht on strike in protest against the dismissal of two shaft stewards.

In December 1985 at the launch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Barayi was elected president of the new organisation, a position he held until 1991.  At the launch, Barayi called for the abolition of the pass laws, giving the government six months to comply with this demand before Cosatu embarked on a pass burning campaign. 

He also stated, inter alia, that disinvestment would work towards the dismantling of apartheid if it was fully applied and pressure was brought on South Africa by the United States of America and Great Britain.

During the second state of emergency in 1986, Barayi was detained for two weeks and released with orders restricting him to the district of Carltonville, Transvaal.

Barayi passed away in January 1994. He was married to Nontobeko and they have four children.


References:
• Gastrow, S. (1990). Who\'s Who in South African Politics Vol 3. Johannesburg: Ravan Press (Pty) Ltd.
• Former Leadership: Tribute to the Late Comrade Elijah Barayi, Former NUM Vice President [Online]. Available at: num.org.za [Accessed 26 January 2010]
• Obituaries: Elijah Barayi, African Nationalist, 63. The New York Times [Online]. Available at: nytimes.com [Accessed 10 February 2010]

Last updated : 21-Sep-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011