The Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union (HARWU) was a South African trade union whose short but intense history was shaped by many forces, both in the general context of the political struggle to end ‘big and petty apartheid’ and with regard to the organizational challenges of trying to build a dedicated national catering workers union in such a contested environment.

The union’s life spanned a very volatile, violent and yet supremely energizing and creative period (1980’s and early 90’s) when catering workers, together with all sectors within the working class, were afforded the opportunity to play an organised role in the anti-apartheid struggle and in the building of a once-powerful and militant giant federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Having said this, HARWU’s demise, as a result of an initially abortive and then protracted merger process with a much larger and multi-sector union, the Commercial and Catering Workers Union of South Africa (CCAWUSA), while understandable at the time, was in hindsight a serious error of judgement and one which has had disastrous consequences for catering (hospitality) workers in southern Africa.

HARWU’s history spans several phases:

•          The formation of CCAWUSA (the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa) as a non-racial union for both the commercial and catering sectors

•          The transformation of a racial union, Witwatersrand Liquor and Catering Employees Union (based in Johannesburg) into a non-racial union, HARWU; the Kennaway Hotel and Kyalami Ranch strikes

•          The formation of a national catering workers federation (alliance) under HARWU’s leadership; the first national Southern Suns/Holiday Inn wage negotiations

•          HARWU’s membership of COSATU; it’s membership of the IUF (International Union of Foodworkers); issues relating to ITS’s and the ICFTU and WFTU

•          HARWU’s merger with Pretoria Liquor and Catering Employees Union; the de facto merger with Cape Liquor and Catering Employees Union (Cape Liquor); attempted merger with Natal Liquor and Catering Employees Union (Natal Liquor); the Karos Hotel national strike and the Southern Sun/Holiday Inn hotels Johannesburg lockout

•          HARWU’s attempted merger with CCAWUSA and the politically inspired split in CCAWUSA with HARWU initially siding with the ANC/SACP aligned Kganare camp

•          HARWU’s re-establishment as an independent union in defiance of the Kganare camp’s political and financial corruption; the resumption of merger talks under the auspices of COSATU

•          HARWU’s eventual merger with the two wings of CCAWUSA, Cape Liquor and RAWU to form SACCAWU (South African Commercial and Catering Workers Union)



Confronting the apartheid system in the 1980's meant fighting a state-controlled migrant labour system, archaic and racially based collective bargaining structures, racist and super-exploitative bosses as well as a vicious and dying white supremacist political order. A ‘low level’ civil war which was causing hundreds of deaths every week was felt in all parts of the country and the economy was under major pressure because of growing sanctions and other politico/economic disruptions. There was also rising tension in the black-led Bantustans whose alliance with the Afrikaner government expressed itself in suppression of unions and other anti-apartheid forces. And then, in addition to navigating these currents, there were bitter internal conflicts between competing ‘liberation’ political tendencies whose struggle for influence sometimes spilt into violence.

In terms of these internal liberation ideological struggles, the key ‘players’ were the ANC/South African Communist Party nationalist/Stalinist alliance, Black Consciousness parties like AZAPO, the radical nationalist Pan African Congress (PAC) and socialists from a number of vanguard groupings such as the Trotskyist Unity Movement and the Militant Workers Tendency. The mass formations of civil society (unions, civic associations in the townships and other open, ‘above ground’ working class organizations) were ‘sites of struggle’ where these formations tried to recruit members and mobilize for particular programs by mythologizing their leaders and claiming revolutionary credentials.  

This set of circumstances meant that the trade union worker leadership, union organisers and shop stewards were deeply involved in the arenas of class and national struggle and that while their union work was still focussed on 'economistic' demands around wages and conditions of work, the broader demands relating to revolutionary change were no less important. Until apartheid capitalism with its job reservation for whites, differential pay scales, racist management attitudes and general service of only the white minority was defeated, no black worker could in good conscience stand aside from the Struggle. Indeed, the political role of organized labour was greatly magnified by the formation of COSATU in September 1985 when the largest federation in South African labour history was created.

BACKGROUND TO THE CATERING SECTOR (Hotels, restaurants, boarding houses/bed and breakfast accommodation and industrial catering companies)

In terms of its trade union history, the catering sector followed the same dynamic as other sectors. From the 1920's to the mid-1980's, workers, though strictly speaking there was no legal segregation until the mid-1950’s, were, with some exceptions, divided into racial unions. So literally from the start of the union movement, the dominant attitude was racist with the slogan ‘White workers of the world unite” setting the tone and reserving skilled jobs for whites at relatively high rates of pay and consigning black Africans to unskilled/semi-skilled work at starvation wages. Though Coloured and Indian workers were also discriminated against, they were permitted to fill low level clerical positions as well as train as sous chefs and receptionists. Management and 'supervisor' positions were, however, exclusively reserved for whites. State determined minimum pay scales for the peri-urban and rural areas were constructed with a similar bias so that the vast majority of black catering workers earned well below the estimated minimum poverty levels and only marginally more than domestic workers. There was also the same low social status.

In the urban areas, rates for minimum wages and conditions of work were negotiated with employer organizations in regional sector-based ‘industrial councils’. Every major city had separate councils for the different economic sectors, including hotels and restaurants. Based on the British model, the system provided for equal representation of unions and employers; aside from wage negotiations, dispute resolution, administration of pension and sick funds as well collecting levies for each council’s own operation were also part of their scope. However, these unions, representing a white  ‘labour aristocracy’, were practically speaking detached from their membership and did not involve workers in the negotiation process – neither seeking mandates nor mobilizing for the demands they tabled. As such, the councils were never more than a talk-shop for union bureaucrats and select groups of employers to carry out ritualised exchanges – the South African economy has always been built on cheap labour and the hospitality sector expected no less. During these decades the militant black unions that existed (and their membership was quite small – maybe forty to fifty thousand) were outside this system so that their contact with employers was direct. In this way they were able to make some impact but this ended when they were finally crushed in the 1950’s with the banning of SACTU.

Another factor was that a majority of these white (and some Coloured and Indian) ‘closed shop’ unions were members of TUCSA (Trade Union Congress of South Africa), a federation that worked closely with the Afrikaner Nationalist government that needed to satisfy its white working class base. As such, there was no real independent unionism in South Africa from the 1920’s until the 1970’s when black workers began to reorganise. Witwatersrand Liquor and Catering Employees Union (HARWU’s predecessor/foundation), which had been formed in 1926, was one of these segregated, ‘tame’ unions. In the hotel and licensed restaurant sector, the employer representatives were appointed by FEDHASA (the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa), a trade organization that received much government support. In the restaurant sector, there were many small regional and very conservative employer organizations.

The restaurant/catering sub-sector (which at that time employed over 450,000 workers compared to roughly 80,000 in the hotel sector) was particularly backward in terms of conditions of work. Like the hotel sector, split shifts, six day work weeks, no payment of overtime, no night shift or transport allowances, were the rule in addition to the ‘dictatorship of the boss’. In general, black workers enjoyed no protection from arbitrary dismissal and employers were exceptionally hostile to unionization so victimization was rife. As a result, fighting unfair dismissals was a key element in our work and became a significant organising tool.

Another important area was the upgrading of the 'compounds' or worker hostels in which the majority of migrant workers were forced to live. Poorly administered pension funds that lost workers records or incorrectly calculated benefits were another major grievance. But, as vital as these issues were, the main focus was to improve the starvation remuneration rates that consisted of ‘subsidized, 'in kind' benefits (food and hostel accommodation) with a pitifully small cash component. 

The formation of CCAWUSA (the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa); the first trade union for African workers in these sectors since the 1950’s

By the 1970’s, pent up black worker anger and determination had rocked the system through a series of strikes that, though illegal, often bore positive results. As a result, the white government began to initiate reforms in labour legislation with the objective of co-opting these emerging black unions and containing any broader political impact. Once this process started, some racialised unions with liberal (and/or old communist) general secretaries began promoting the right of black African workers in their sectors to organise. Morris Kagan, the general secretary of the Witwatersrand Liquor and Catering Employees Union (Wits Liquor), based in Johannesburg, was one such example.

From the late 1970’s, he and his organisers (principally Alan Fine and Dirk Hartford) assisted the veteran garment worker unionist, Emma Mashinini, in consolidating CCAWUSA (Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa), the first ‘new  wave’ independent union for black African workers in these sectors. And by 1984 the fruits of this co-operation became evident when the two unions conducted the first joint though ‘illegal’ wage negotiation with the Johannesburg industrial council hotel bosses. The increase they secured was, in relative terms, substantial for the smaller 1,2 and 3 star hotels but workers in the 4 and 5 star bracket, mainly the national chains, were dissatisfied. CCAWUSA then demanded company level negotiations on top of the industrial council agreement but this was rejected. What followed was a strike by around 600 CCAWUSA members at Southern Sun hotels (the premier hotel chain that also held the Holiday Inn franchise for southern Africa) and a few hundred workers at other 4 and 5 star hotels.

However, these companies refused to enter into wage negotiations and after several weeks Southern Sun dismissed 197 workers. Thereafter another 300 workers were dismissed from other companies. In the following weeks CCAWUSA managed to reinstate the bulk of the Southern Sun workers but those at the other companies remained outside. In addition, there was a continuing standoff regarding union recognition and no further wage increase. And so, as the months dragged on, the earlier militancy which had attracted new membership and made the strike possible, and which was particularly inspired by an Africanist orientated organiser, Oscar Malgas, and Robert Mkhize, a dismissed shop steward who had been charged with intimidation of scabs, came to be seen as reckless. Many catering workers began to shun CCAWUSA and despite the existence of a small Black Consciousness/ NACTU aligned catering union named HOTELICCA (which had also been led by Emma Mashinini) a vacuum opened up. In fact, thereafter, CCAWUSA did not concentrate on the catering sector and became known primarily as a retail sector union.

The transformation of a racial union, Witwatersrand Liquor and Catering Employees Union (based in Johannesburg) into a non-racial union, HARWU; the Kennaway Hotel and Kyalami Ranch strikes

It was in this context that Wits Liquor itself began organising black African workers. It had already changed its constitution to enable non-racial membership, changed its name to Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union (HARWU), joined COSATU and elected a new leadership that included black workers who quickly became a majority and radically changed the character and culture of the union. By this time Alan Fine had left Wits Liquor so when Kagan retired in late 1984 he was replaced as general-secretary by his then senior organiser, Dirk Hartford. Hartford, a Trotskyist militant, deepened these changes and HARWU, in addition to retaining its old closed shop membership, succeeded in winning over the majority of inner city African hotel workers.

The union’s other key organisers at this time were Sidwell Magam (who had been fired from the Carlton Hotel during the CCAWUSA led strike) and Miriam Africa. Miriam played a major role in recruiting women workers who formed the bulk of the industry’s workforce and combined well with Mpho Mjeza (an active ANC activist) who joined as an organiser in 1987. Administration was in the very capable hands of Ivy Yende whose tight financial control was an important factor in keeping HARWU viable.

By the end of 1986, the union was electing shop stewards at all the Greater Johannesburg hotels and had begun organising successfully outside the Industrial Council’s jurisdiction and beyond the borders of what is now Gauteng. Membership in the holiday resort areas of the east (now Mpumalanga), the far north (now Limpopo) and around Rustenburg, a growing centre for the platinum industry, were particularly targeted. It was certainly much easier to organise these ‘big establishments’ but big strides were also made in organising restaurants and ‘bed and breakfast’ type accommodation that employed small numbers of workers. In general, wages in the rural areas were particularly low and combined with the extreme racism of the white employers, workers were doubly oppressed.

It also became clear that in these sub-sectors, because of the great number of workplaces and the limited scope for successful strike action, it made sense to push for industry level bargaining. At that point there were state wage board minimum wage determinations for all types of catering but they were pitifully low and labour inspectors never enforced them. As such, HARWU began to challenge the sweetheart unions that purported to represent workers in the industrial councils for the Tearoom and Restaurant sectors. The objective was to replace them on the councils. However, a certain threshold of membership was required and to achieve this would have taken several years given the high number of workers/workplaces and our limited person power. An alternative was to form alliances with the existing ‘sweethearts’ and by exposing them to the dynamic of worker control completely change their character. On this basis, HARWU began to engage with the Tea Room and Catering Workers Union in Johannesburg (whose general secretary, Al Crick, was another old white unionist who had been corrupted by the easy perks of racial unionism.)    

Membership of COSATU

And then, in addition, to these demanding sector activities, there was regular participation in COSATU structures. The union had applied for membership in 1985 soon after the federation was launched and was admitted early in 1986. This was a crucial decision (as we will see) and one that has to be understood in terms of its historical background for to be active in COSATU at that point was an inspiring experience. The emergence of the federation was seen as a ‘game winning’ development in the long struggle against apartheid.

The ability of European colonists to subjugate Africans and force them into slave/indentured labour had been entrenched in our society since the late 1600’s, the early days of settlement, Then, with the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 1860’s, an African proletariat had been hammered into being in order to service the labour intensive mining and allied industries. This was followed by the development of manufacturing and service sectors – also heavily reliant on an abundant, suppliant source of cheap labour. And now finally, three centuries later, this proletariat (organized labour, together with other ‘civil society’ forces like civics, youth organizations and the liberation churches), was rocking the system to its core.

COSATU then was central to working class organization. Its legal status and reach throughout the South African economy gave it the ability to mobilise millions of workers in a way that no other ‘political’ liberation formation was free or able to do. As such, being part of COSATU was viewed as essential for the vast majority of black workers (a minority had joined NACTU – the Africanist/Black Consciousness federation formed in the same year) and for anti-apartheid activists of all colours. It was therefore highly important for HARWU to have been admitted to membership and, in a sign of its confidence and loyalty, the union moved office from Darragh House (an office block in central Johannesburg owned by the Anglican church which had, despite state repression, been available to unions and other Struggle organizations) to the first COSATU House located in Kerk St, in the east of the city.

In addition to the COSATU head office, most affiliates transferred either their head or branch offices to this building and it quickly proved to be a powerful magnet that gave the Johannesburg Central COSATU Local formidable power. However, concentrating so many unions in one building was also a security hazard and after a few months it was bombed by the Special Branch. This was during the very highly charged and violent railway workers strike of 1987. The striking workers had used the main hall as their meeting place and disrupting these meetings was obviously a state priority. As it was, the building was declared unsafe for use and HARWU, together with all other affiliates, was forced to move – this time to Park Chambers, an office block back in the city centre. The office remained there until half way through the abortive merger with CCAWUSA when a final move was made to a large basement at 76 Noord St, in the heart of a major working class kombi-taxi rank.

Membership in the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF)

Apart from involvement in COSATU, another critical area of engagement was with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) and its Southern African forum. Wits Liquor and Catering had joined the IUF in 1981 but it was only with the transformation into HARWU that membership became active.

The intricacies of international trade union politics as played out in rivalry between the ICFTU and the WFTU were not relevant to most South African workers at that point. This was because the South African member federation of the WFTU, SACTU (which had been banned in the 1950’s), was hardly a presence inside the country. That most WFTU affiliates were from the Soviet Union or Soviet supporting countries and were ‘conveyor belts’ for ‘one party’ states whose gross lack of trade union independence made a mockery of working class democracy was hardly attractive for COSATU. As such, the issue of affiliation was largely irrelevant though the SACP continued to try and influence affiliates to switch membership from the ICFTU supporting International Trade Secretariats (ITS’s) like the IUF to the WFTU.

In this context, HARWU’s strong and open relationship with the IUF was clear evidence of its support for trade union independence and advocacy of rank and file control (in South African terminology ‘worker control’). Notwithstanding this common understanding – of the rights and roles of trade unions – with the IUF officials (Dan Gallin, Barbro Budin and Ron Oswald) who visited South Africa many times in the 1980’s, it was noted that the ICFTU itself was hardly a paragon of working class consciousness and militancy. Many of its participating unions were bureaucratic and its solidarity resolutions were often not acted upon so that its global impact was very weak. (I will come back to this issue a little later in talking about relations between the Kganare wing of CCAWUSA and the IUF as the issue of HARWU’s relationship with the IUF became a factor in the CCAWUSA split.)

However, for HARWU, the IUF’s contribution to its education and legal needs over several years was pivotal and greatly assisted in building the union by providing funds as well as sharing valuable input on past and present global labour trends and political currents in and out of the workers movement. At that time, COSATU and the South Korean federation, the KMU, were seen as the most militant federations in the world and European and American unions who had progressive leaderships were eager to assist. Much of this solidarity was channelled via ITS’s so that they played a critical role in supporting COSATU affiliates and, in a non-sectarian spirit, unions in NACTU. Indeed, all non-racial unions, irrespective of their political leanings, were encouraged to join the IUF regional structure and benefit from moral and financial support.

In 1988 the IUF set up a South Africa regional office in Johannesburg and, in addition to servicing individual affiliates, also began organising a national structure for workers employed by the giant Anglo-American conglomerate, SA Breweries and trying to bring in food workers from neighbouring countries. In respect of the catering sector, CCAWUSA, HOTELICA (a NACTU affiliate), HARWU and Cape Liquor were all participants. The office functioned well until the CCAWUSA split introduced some negative dynamics which also affected major affiliates like FAWU who raised the WFTU issue in terms of growing SACP influence over COSATU’s political policy and questioned the need for the IUF to have such a tangible local presence.

Growth outside of Johannesburg; strategies and structures that facilitated this 

In the middle of 1986, Hartford had resigned as HARWU general–secretary to become editor of COSATU NEWS, and was replaced by Sidwell Magam. Soon afterwards I was employed as an organiser and educator. Magam, Miriam Africa and Mpho Mjeza spearheaded organising, dealing with dismissals and building the internal union structures while I dealt with company recognition and wage negotiations and the industrial council processes, including pension funds. We all facilitated education courses for shop stewards. During this period a new worker leadership was elected with Chris Mohulatsi as president and Philip Radebe as vice president. Mohulatsi and Radebe proved to be strong but democratic leaders whose openness and energy greatly contributed to building worker confidence in the union. Together with Mohulatsi, I became the HARWU representatives to the main COSATU structures as well as to the more specialist committees that drew on full-time officials. This included the national Living Wage organizing committee, the campaign to reform the Labour Relations Act and the Economic Trends group that provided much input to the Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) that became official ANC policy before being trashed by President Mbeki in 1997.

By 1987, the union also began to recruit outside of Johannesburg. Offices were opened in Pretoria, Klerksdorp and East London while the head office continued to be in central Johannesburg. The organisers in the ‘outside’ branches were generally shop stewards who had been fired for their union activities and were thus highly motivated. One of them, Veli Mampuru, an ANC cadre who had been detained during the 1986 State of Emergency, was dismissed during a strike at Pretoria’s Manhattan Hotel. Another was William Letlakhu from Klerksdorp’s Picardi Hotel who faced victimization because of his union work.

HARWU’s paid up membership grew to just over 9,500 by the end of 1987 with another 4,000 signed up. The signed up members were mainly in the restaurant sector where employers, citing administration incapacity, often refused to provide subscription facilities. This rapid growth was testimony to the organising ability of a very active layer of shop stewards. These workers, particularly in the national chain companies, would travel to different regions opening up new areas for organizing with the full-time organizers following up and formalizing the contacts. In this way many small towns (where conditions were particularly bad) were reached and the union was able to mount a significant challenge to the worst excesses of ‘baasskap’ (Jim Crow).

In this regard, it was no coincidence that the key enabling factor to this organizing was shop steward training via an education program designed to provide relevant information, build confidence and raise motivation. Weekly sessions were held at the union offices while longer more formal training took place every four to six months. Both were of critical importance for a membership that was largely semi-literate, had never before joined a union and had little knowledge of basic labour processes relating to discipline, grievance and substantive negotiating rights. HARWU’s participation in the different COSATU campaigns, particularly that for a Living Wage, was also a major factor in building militancy and worker consciousness.

In terms of organizing strategy, there was systematic targeting of national hotel/fast food chains, effective use of the strike weapon, strategic legal action to extend workers rights (that benefitted not just catering workers but the working class as a whole) and a determined push for collective bargaining rights. Taken together they often resulted in immediate and often substantial improvements to wages and conditions of work. Back up for each element was secured from local South African NGO's like the Trade Union Library in Cape Town, the Trade Union Research Project in Durban, labour lawyers like Cheadle Thompson and Haysom and Zabi Lacob and Partners and, as already mentioned, a key external solidarity partner, the IUF.

Accountability as a key feature of organizational practice: the Kennaway Hotel debacle

Another key factor in building the union’s cohesion and forward energy was that the worker leadership enforced accountability. A striking example of this took place at the end of 1986 with the disciplining of the general secretary, Sidwell Magam. This was after an internal enquiry found him guilty of negligence in the mishandling of a strike by newly organised members at the Kennaway Hotel in East London.

In September of that year, these workers had staged a work stoppage to force their employer to recognise the union. The employer response was to fire all fifty-four workers and refuse to negotiate. A stale-mate ensued and in December the workers contacted the head office to complain that Magam, who had recruited them and encouraged the strike, had seemingly abandoned them. The union executive committee mandated me to travel to East London and interview the workers. Once I had done so and reported back, the executive decided to convene an enquiry. Three workers from East London were brought to Johannesburg to give evidence and Magam was asked to respond. When it became clear that he had, indeed, failed to properly follow up with legal assistance and other forms of support, Magam felt undermined and resigned his position. Shortly afterwards he left the union and joined CCAWUSA as an organiser.

This incident showed that the worker leadership was not going to tolerate poor performance by officials and it set a healthy standard of accountability. In the aftermath, a replacement was recruited – Edwin Masia had been an organiser in a small general union based in the greater Johannesburg area and soon proved his worth; so much so that he was elected general secretary to replace Magam.     

Kyalami Ranch: HARWU’s first legal strike

Early in 1987, the union’s first protracted and legal strike took place. This was at Kyalami Ranch, a hotel near Pretoria owned by a retired Danish airline pilot, Capt Bill Forsmann, who had constructed an ‘Africa’ themed resort on the banks of the Jukskei, one of Gauteng’s few major rivers. When workers joined HARWU and complained that they were being charged more for their compound accommodation and food than the industrial council maximum allowed, he went all out to break the union – particularly after he lost the legal proceedings the union had instituted to recover the overcharged amounts. Thereafter he refused to abide by this ruling which, needless to say, led to a strong worker response. The resulting strike lasted three months with Forsmann finally ending the stalemate by selling the hotel rather than meeting the worker demand.

As such, the strike reached an unforeseen and unintended conclusion. But as much as the closure was a setback, it was also a signal to the hotel bosses that HARWU was well organised and that catering workers were now well prepared to defend their rights. It also helped organise other workers who realised that, though defiance sometimes comes with a price, subservience is defeatist and only serves to perpetuate a system of extreme exploitation.          

The formation of a national catering workers federation (alliance) under HARWU’s leadership; the first national Southern Suns/Holiday Inn wage negotiations

As previously outlined, regional industrial councils existed in all major urban centres and attached to them were racialised unions and the national hospitality employer association, FEDHASA. Inspired by the principle of ‘one union, one industry’, and seeing the need for consolidation in order to create a national bargaining structure with FEDHASA, HARWU revived a long defunct national ‘federation’ of such catering unions. The constitution was revamped and contact between the unions in Pretoria, Cape Town, East London and Durban proceeded on the understanding that the end result of the process would be to go beyond a loose ‘umbrella’ and actually form a single national union.

A first meeting was held in mid-1985; others followed and by mid-1987 agreement was reached for a merger of HARWU, Cape Liquor and Catering and Natal Liquor and Catering. Cape Liquor was closest to HARWU in ideological terms. This was after a group of shop stewards (led by Clarence Mahamba of the Alphen Hotel in Constantia) and two organisers, Miles Hartford and Willard Nodlela, managed to expose and block the bureaucratic and non-co-operative then general-secretary, Ted Fraser, by facilitating the election of a new and militant worker executive. Fraser, a relic of the British TUC who had lived in South Africa for many years, controlled several TUCSA unions but unlike Morris Kagan of Wits Liquor, refused to embrace the new movement.

At this point, however, COSATU’s policy of creating super-unions via forced mergers, created a new dynamic. Despite HARWU’s best efforts, its arguments in favour of a separate national catering union were rejected and all affiliates in the commercial and catering sectors were instructed to merge by the end of 1987. As a result the national catering union talks were suspended and HARWU entered into a merger process with CCAWUSA and RAWU (the Retail and Allied Workers Union.

Fortunately not all was lost, and unity of action in the catering sector was given practical expression when, at the end of 1987, HARWU, Cape Liquor and Catering, Natal Liquor and Catering and CCAWUSA formed an alliance for the first ever national negotiation with Southern Sun/Holiday Inns. This company was the giant of the hotel industry and the resulting wage settlement created new benchmarks for the industry as well as giving a massive boost to organising catering workers all over the country. It also set a precedent for more joint work at another national hotel chain, Karos Hotels.

HARWU’s membership of COSATU; the consequences of COSATU’s merger policy

HARWU had applied for membership to COSATU almost immediately after its launch in September 1985. This was on the basis of the new federation’s principles and militancy and the hope that organised labour together with other civil society organizations would combine to defeat apartheid and usher in a new socialist oriented government. At that time there was no clarity as to how COSATU’s policy of ‘one union, one industry’ would apply: whether CCAWUSA would become its national catering union (as well as service the retail sector) or whether a separate catering union would be endorsed. There were many other multi-sector unions in the federation and keeping their combinations was largely supported. This was on the basis that super-unions would have the advantage of scale and be able to deliver more to their members – and to their political masters.

HARWU accordingly had to overcome considerable support for CCAWUSA’s position that it be recognised as the only union to organise catering and that other unions with such membership should simply be absorbed. This was notwithstanding the fact that, at this point, HARWU’s African membership had grown rapidly because the bulk of Johannesburg hotel workers were mistrustful of CCAWUSA.

HARWU’s president, Chris Mohulatsi and its vice president, Philip Radebe, were both from Southern Sun hotels (the largest company in the union) and the mandate from the shop floor was to try and delay the merger with CCAWUSA until the HARWU merger with Cape Liquor went through. Once this had happened, it was hoped that the new fast growing union could persuade COSATU affiliates to change their decision as, with a combined membership of 18,000 which was likely to double within a few years, there was concrete proof that a dedicated catering union would not only be viable but would serve the sector better than by being the junior partner in CCAWUSA. To this end, in addition to evidence that the hospitality sector was substantially different to the retail sector in its work patterns and would require specialised organisers and negotiators, HARWU representatives to COSATU structures advanced the many examples of militant catering-only unions in different parts of the world.

Discussions went on for several months but by mid-1987 COSATU insisted that the merger with CCAWUSA take place. Notwithstanding this directive, a great deal of debate continued in the HARWU structures though ultimately a consensus was reached that remaining in COSATU was paramount but that, at the very minimum, CCAWUSA should agree to catering workers having their own sub-structures and locals where the day-to-day company issues could be discussed while members from all sectors would attend joint locals that would deal with the broader political questions. In addition, it was felt that having dedicated catering sector organisers was essential to ensure growth of membership and effective service. 

At this point, it is important to set out the political conflict that was raging in COSATU and, by extension, in CCAWUSA. Two broad positions existed regarding the federation’s political program.

One supported the ANC/SACP alliance’s Freedom Charter which, in terms of the SACP doctrine, had a ‘two stage’ approach regarding the building of a socialist society. It envisaged a first step in which a post-apartheid democratic state tolerated bourgeois control (through ‘accumulation friendly’ policies and institutions) but balanced these through nationalization of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy by a developmental state. In this analysis, the need to build multi-class forces to immediately topple apartheid was the more important task than trying to secure long term working class interests. This argument was presented as radical in terms of the existing power relations. It also followed that the Charterist group unambiguously supported a formal alliance between COSATU and the ANC/SACP.

The second camp, though smaller in terms of the numbers of unions that supported it, proposed a Workers Charter. This grouping consisted of many so-called ‘workerists’ (in ANC terms those who put class above the national struggle) and it was no accident that many were Trotskyists or Trotskyist sympathizers. However, a considerable number were Africanists or Black Consciousness/PAC supporters, so there was healthy debate between these different strands but with a unifying agreement on the need for an immediate socialist revolution. The charter, which had still to be drafted (but had an antecedent in the Azanian Manifesto), would contain demands for not only the abolition of formal apartheid, but for the immediate move to collective ownership of the means of production and the creation of revolutionary democratic socialist institutions. It also followed that, to reinforce participatory democracy, trade unions should not enter into formal alliances with political formations but only be bound when there was agreement on specific issues. Thus the political independence of the trade union movement and other non-state working class formations was emphasized.

It should be borne in mind that the anti-apartheid movement had just weathered a second and more comprehensive State of Emergency which had seen the mass detention of thousands of activists but still failed to stop the momentum of stayaways, boycotts and general resistance. The ANC/SACP alliance therefore stepped up its campaign as a ‘government in waiting’ and sought to publicly proclaim its influence by ‘capturing’ the largest mass formation of workers in the country’s history. In other words, the stakes were high as COSATU’s political stance could tip the scales in terms of any resolution to the colonial conflict.

And so in this heated atmosphere, the SACP (in an article published in ISIZWE, Journal of the UDF: Vol 1 No 3. November 1986) attacked the workerists, calling for them to be urgently won over or removed before they could frustrate the ‘national democratic revolution’. Whilst recognising their erstwhile value (in building mass working class formations when there had been none), the call was now to remove them from positions of influence and clear the way for the Charterist takeover of COSATU. As we know, this strategy was highly successful. In union after union, the requirement of SACP membership for election to union office and the senior structures soon became the norm.

But to return to the background that informed what was happening in 1986:- When the workerists of FOSATU (the federation formed in the late 1970’s by the newly emerging black industrial unions that agreed to register and participate in government structures and utilise the existing Labour legislation) united with general unions that were committed to the ANC/SACP to form COSATU, there was no certainty that the nationalist/Stalinist camp would win the battle. Indeed, the ‘workerist’ hope was that independent and/or Africanist socialists could, at the very least, restrain the nationalist juggernaut by preserving trade union independence and steering the bulk of the working class away from Stalinist illusions. Unions like NUMSA, Chemical Workers Industrial Union and the National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW) and at least half the membership of CCAWUSA, had strong, articulate black worker leaders who were not, as the SACP implied, dependent on theory-drunk, Marxist, white intellectuals who were insensitive to the unique African nationalist component of the struggle. And so the political policy of COSATU became a testing ground for the future direction of the working class (or at least its organised labour component) and of utmost importance.  

Now within CCAWUSA both camps were represented by more or less equal numbers. The general secretary, Vivian Mtwa, most of the head office staff and the Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pietersburg branches were in the Workers Charter camp; the Free State, Natal, Pretoria, Pietersburg and Eastern Cape branches were Charterists. But in the build up to the merger congress, only the Charterist camp made contact with HARWU. This was done via the Pretoria branch with Veli Mampuru and a group of shop stewards (who were active ANC cadres in the Pretoria townships) being the receptive elements.

A general meeting of HARWU members was organised in Pretoria in order to gain support for their position. The meeting was addressed by Jayendra Naidoo from the Natal branch. Naidoo was seen as the strategist in his camp and post 1994 was revealed to have been a senior ANC operative. Interestingly, in the late 1990’s,  he became a lead negotiator in South Africa’s infamous arms deal scandal which quickly became known as a key watershed, and  point of no return, with regard to the corruption of the ANC/SACP leadership and the subsequent rot of their organizations. Naidoo is today a prominent and very wealthy businessperson together with his namesake, Jay Naidoo, the ex-COSATU general secretary.

At this general meeting of HARWU members and subsequent ones, the Charterists (who came to be known as the Kganare faction – after Papi Kganare, the Free State branch secretary who later became an ANC provincial minister in that province) undertook to change CCAWUSA’s constitution so as to provide for separate catering structures as well as dedicated catering organisers and to generally accommodate catering concerns of being swallowed by the ‘big retail brother’. This stance w as communicated to the HARWU Johannesburg branch which applauded the proposed organizational changes and, in the absence of any other alternative proposal from the opposing camp, decided to support the Charterists. Indeed, the so-called ‘independent socialist faction’ (the Mtwa faction), made no effort at any point to canvass HARWU and displayed considerable arrogance as it imagined it would easily secure a majority at the merger congress. And so, almost by default, HARWU came to support the Charterists – a decision that was to have very negative consequences not only for catering workers but also for the balance of forces in COSATU.

After several tense preliminary meetings, the merger congress finally took place in Johannesburg in September 1987 but was stalled by a battle over credentials which resulted in a walkout by the Mtwa faction although Mtwa himself remained present when the Kganare wing together with HARWU and RAWU continued with the meeting and elected new office bearers and adopted the existing CCAWUSA constitution, name and logo with the resolutions around new catering worker rights.

However, following the ‘congress’, the MTWA group refused to recognise its legality and as neither side was prepared to back down , this led to a de facto split with each faction trying to ‘out organise’ the other in the various workplaces, and particularly the national companies that dominated the union. It also caused the establishment of two rival head offices as well as parallel offices in each branch. There was also unsuccessful legal action to establish which faction had a rightful claim to control the union structures and the national bank account and hence a right to receive subscriptions. Moreover, there was a contest over representation in COSATU with the Kganare wing receiving temporary recognition while COSATU set up a mediation mechanism (led by Sidney Mufamadi, the assistant general secretary) to effect a reconciliation. Mufamadi was a senior ANC operative (who was later appointed Minister of Safety and Security in Mandela’s government) and presented a very smooth and affable face. He was, of course, hopeful that the Kganare faction would come out on top but was careful not to make that too obvious as the Mtwa group had considerable support and many affiliates were uncomfortable with the exposure of this political faultline.

As such, once the split took place and the two wings literally became two separate organizations despite being governed by the same constitution and registration, they had to petition employers in order to secure subscriptions and also jockey for influence in every forum in which the union was represented. At first, shop stewards in the major retail companies buried their differences with regard to presenting a united front in wage negotiations and other substantive matters. But gradually, despite COSATU’s efforts to broker reconciliation, the war became more vicious and the consequences for organising deteriorated as worker fought worker and deals were done with bosses so as to secure subscriptions and gain access to company premises for meetings. In general terms the split received much attention because it was rightly seen as a serious blow to the hard fought unity that COSATU’s establishment had brought and there were fears that similar ruptures could occur in other politically divided unions if reconciliation was not speedily achieved.

The Karos Hotels national strike; the Southern Sun/Holiday Inns Johannesburg lockout  

Ironically, while the CCAWUSA ideological war was being waged, two very significant worker actions took place that consolidated catering unity.

Karos had hotels in seven different regions, most of whom were smaller than Southern Suns with lower wage rates and worse conditions of work. An alliance of HARWU and Cape Liquor members went out on a three month strike over wages and the reinstatement of workers at one hotel who had been dismissed for staying away from work on June 16th (the anniversary of the June 1976 youth strike against the threatened introduction of Afrikaans as the sole language of instruction in black schools). A third issue that united all hotels was the demand that the company withdraw the ‘final written warnings’ it had issued to a majority of its employees who had supported a general strike called by COSATU between 6-8 June earlier in the year.

The Karos strike lasted eleven weeks and was the first legal action at a national chain; moreover, the final settlements in respect of all three disputes were very much in workers favour. Ironically, while the Karos strike was in progress, on Monday 3 October, the Johannesburg Southern Sun/Holiday Inn hotels seized the opportunity to institute a lock out.

The background to this action was a dispute around the right of workers to refuse to work on May Day and on June 16th – both of which had been recognised as paid public holidays in the previous year’s wage agreement. The union position, given the highly politisized climate of the time and the special nature of these days, was that work should be voluntary. The company view was that it was not discretionary and that workers could be required to work. To break the stalemate, the company declared a dispute in June 1988. However, before this process could be finalised, a number of workers in Johannesburg were dismissed for refusing to work on June 16 and, in response, the union decided to conduct a strike ballot. But once again the company took pre-emptive action, and before the ballot could take place, without notice, initiated its own industrial action.

Over 3,000 workers in the Johannesburg area were locked out unless they signed an individual agreement to work on these two days if required. An overwhelming majority of workers refused to sign this undertaking and while the lockout was in place the union applied for an interdict to lift it. Fortunately the legal action was successful, the lockout was lifted and the matter referred to the relevant dispute settling procedure. But the fact that the vast majority of workers had stood firm, and that the bosses were shown to be inept in trying to impose their political intolerance, boosted the union and speeded up organizing in the other major chains like Protea Hotels and City Lodge.    

Overall, the Karos and Southern Sun/Holiday Inn strikes showed that militancy in the sector was achieving steady gains and that ‘management prerogative’ was being eroded. This worker unity and cohesion was related to a number of factors. As indicated, the first was that shop steward training and involvement had greatly increased worker leader confidence. The second was that the insistence on monthly general meetings of members to discuss company level matters as well as issues from COSATU was being respected so that a majority had confidence both in the union stewards and in the organisers. And the third was that the general level of political mobilization in the country had grown to such an extent that the artificial barrier between the ‘township’ and the workplace was being broken down. As a result, catering workers who had perhaps lagged behind politically were now, like workers in other sectors, ready to take political demands to their employers.

Finally, it is worth noting that HARWU during this period was aligned with the Kganare wing of CCAWUSA and that, despite this very distressing and confusing situation, still managed to give coherent leadership and support to its members’ struggles. 

The winding down of the CCAWUSA split

Over many months and on many fronts, CCAWUSA’s debilitating internal struggle (almost like trench warfare) sputtered on with financial pressures finally becoming paramount. In this regard, a quote from Jeremy Baskin (a leading unionist and ANC supporter), author of a history of COSATU, “Striking Back’(published in 1991) reveals the depth of financial need that made both factions scramble for funds and cause political ructions. In general, the split had reduced both factions to begging and this prompted Baskin’s comment:

“Financially the split was disastrous. Each faction had to ensure that its supporters’ subscriptions were not ‘gobbled’ by the other. Both tried to obtain financial assistance from various sources. Outside funding from FIET, the international trade secretariat covering retail workers dried up. It did not want to get involved in the split. Another ITS, the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), continued to assist first the Kganare faction and then only its HARWU component. This, in turn, became a further source of tension.” (Striking Back - Pg 399)

In fact, a meeting between the Kganare faction and the IUF took place in 1988 at which the Kganare faction proposed that IUF education funds be used for both the catering and retail sectors. When this was rejected by the IUF, on the basis that its mandate was to solely support catering workers, the Kganare group became openly hostile to the IUF. 

And so, a once powerful organization fought itself to a standstill. And while this was happening, catering workers were largely on the sidelines as the commercial sector membership, being six times larger, completely dominated the structures. At this stage, when neither faction could out-organize the other and a sense of general defeatism was overcoming members on both sides, catering workers in Pretoria complained that monies which had been passed on to HARWU following the merger with Pretoria Liquor and Catering in 1987 were being used by the Kganare head office for general legal and other commercial sector purposes. In Johannesburg there was also rising anger regarding Kganare wing ‘loans’ from HARWU for various CCAWUSA matters. In addition, Kganare employed ANC militants who had no trade union experience and who were essentially drafted into the union as political commissars. These included Dan Mofokeng (who later became an ANC provincial minister for housing but was later dismissed for corruption) and Raks Seakoa (who later became the last general secretary of the Congress of South African Writers (COSAW) which dissolved in 1995 after financial irregularities were uncovered but never resolved).

As a result of this pent-up frustration, and particularly when the Kganare officials refused to accept that they had no right to these funds and continued to spend these monies as they saw fit, there was a growing mood to fully revive HARWU. An indication of the level to which relations had degenerated was that Edwin Masia, the HARWU general-secretary was physically attacked and the union’s equipment stolen from the Johannesburg offices shared with the Kganare wing.

A telex sent by Masia to COSATU and to all affiliates on 30 May 1989 following these incidents is instructive:

“In our telex of 26 May we briefly touched on the attack on HARWU members on 24 May at Park Chambers (the address of the shared office) by organisers and workers of the Kganare group. The attack at Park Chambers involved knives and other weapons. Only the calm response of HARWU members who refused to retaliate, prevented bloodshed, especially when Dan Mofokeng (an organiser) incited CCAWUSA members to attack, saying, “Ngiyo vulela amabhubesi manje” (I will now let out the lions). In the past we had experienced death threats made at that Local. These death threats were inspired by slander spread by P. Kganare and other officials. The campaign of lies aimed at HARWU has continued for over six months now. It has disrupted general meetings called to discuss problems in the union, disrupted wage negotiations, setting worker against worker. The lies were that HARWU officials had stolen money from the union, that HARWU is a bosses union, that HARWU wants to leave COSATU, that HARWU is joining NACTU etc. Of course no proof has ever been given to support these charges.

       We requested COSATU’s intervention in this matter but the delay on your part has, in the meantime, led to a serious assault on me which took place on Saturday night (27th May) outside the Mariston Hotel, on Koch t, Joubert Park.

      Reginald Yabo (organiser) and John Nyati (shop steward) assaulted me with a third person. I was knocked unconscious and badly beaten. My watch, shoes and R80 were stolen. I woke up in hospital on Sunday morning and am still suffering the after effects.

      As COSATU head office has refused to act in this matter, we have been left with no alternative but to lay charges of assault against Yabo and Nyati. We will soon be charging others with attempted violence and the theft of HARWU’s assets. We have tried over the past six months to respect the federation’s structures but your inactivity has allowed the violence, lies and slander to continue.

     We wish to state again that we remain committed to COSATU and to assisting to re-unite the two wings of CCAWUSA. We call upon all affiliates to intervene in this problem as clearly violence cannot be an acceptable way to resolve internal problems. We await with interest your response (if any).”

An earlier communication (dated 21 May 1989) from Vivian Mtwa (the leader of the anti-ANC grouping who was still the legally recognised general secretary) to Herbert Mkhize (the legally recognized vice president of CCAWUSA and a key worker leader in the Kganare faction) further reinforces the fact that the Kganare wing had degenerated into lawlessness.

“It has been brought to our attention by the general secretary of HARWU that the Kganare group are refusing to return certain assets owned by HARWU which they want returned by 24 May.

     As general secretary I wish to urge your group to return all assets belonging to HARWU. We believe that resolution of this matter will enhance the chances of building unity with the commercial and catering sector.

    It is most unfortunate that HARWU have publicly distanced themselves from the Kganare group and have made it clear that your group have no right to hold their assets or to represent them.”

This version of events is corroborated in ‘Striking Back’ in which Baskin comments on the relationship between HARWU and the Kganare faction in these short paragraphs:

“The Kganare faction also had serious problems. Tensions had developed between its leadership and HARWU, which had not yet formally dissolved. HARWU had long wanted hotel and catering workers to be regarded as a separate sector. After the merger, they continued to feel that their members were neglected and pressed for ‘sectoral rights’ within the union. This was opposed by a majority of the Kganare faction who argued that HARWU officials wanted to avoid merging properly and retain an ‘empire’ within CCAWUSA.

     These conflicts, like those in the Mtwa faction, were underpinned by political tensions and overlaid by differences in style of work. Politically, there were differences between hardline Congress supporters and those closer to the socialists in the Mtwa camp. Allan Horwitz, a key figure within HARWU was accused of ‘individualism’ and refused to work within CCAWUSA structures. His accusers, in turn, were labelled “stalinists’ and accused of political intolerance. Tensions were most extreme in Johannesburg and revolved around control of resources and assets. HARWU was expelled from the Johannesburg office. One HARWU official has alleged that the Kganare faction’s operation in the area was run by ‘incompetent, incapable and corrupt’ individuals. “They had no union skills and were just activists – township politics at its worst.” By February 1989 HARWU was effectively operating as a separate union. It was joined by the Cape Liquor union, although a number of members of both unions remained supporters of the Kganare faction.”  (Pgs 398-399)


And so HARWU’s membership re-asserted their right to control the union. Because of the merger’s legal vacuum (no binding constitutional merger had taken place), HARWU was still registered as a legal entity with the Department of Labour and had continued to receive subscriptions in its name and operate in terms of its recognition agreements with companies and industrial councils. After several weeks of agitation and ‘underground meetings’, new offices were found and the old structures of HARWU were given authority to represent the union as opposed to the Kganare faction officials. In this way HARWU re-asserted itself and revived contact with Cape Liquor and a formerly ‘Coloureds Only’ union called Hotel and Bar.

Certainly after HARWU’s revival, the Charterists lost ground and became more amenable to finding a broad resolution to the split rather than persisting with the old ‘winner takes all’ attitude. Of course, as previously pointed out, the indifference and arrogance of the Mtwa faction’s commercial sector workers to the justifiable requests of catering workers for fair and adequate allocation of organizers and financial resources and separate organizing structures was still galling but at least there was not the same level of degenerate behaviour.

It was now two years since the aborted merger congress. All parties were suffering from fatigue and workers were expressing their frustration with the political logjam. In this atmosphere HARWU played a major role in pressurising COSATU to reopen merger talks. It also established cooperative links with the Mtwa faction in order to counter the political and financial corruption experienced with the Kganare group and drew in Cape Liquor so that catering workers were united. As a result COSATU again intervened and HARWU was granted equal representation in a reconstituted merger committee. Talks continued for some time and HARWU managed to achieve positive modifications of both factions’ original positions.

The overall result was that a new union, the South African Commercial and Catering Workers Union (SACCAWU) was launched in July 1990 with the position of president going to the Kganare faction and that of general secretary going to the Mtwa group. The name of the union was changed, the president of HARWU, Chris Mohulatsi became second vice president and a new position, that of national catering organiser, was created. In addition, it was agreed that there be dedicated catering organisers in each branch and that, from time to time, special catering shop steward councils could be held to discuss company/industry matters.  

Regarding ITS affiliation, the Kganare resentment at the IUF’s support for HARWU, led to a compromise position in that it was decided to have fraternal links with both the IUF and FIET but not to join either of them. 


The attempt to build a dedicated national catering sector union failed because the political current at the time saw the bulk of the HARWU and Cape Liquor membership remain committed to COSATU and therefore obliged to follow through with the revived CCAWUSA merger. Despite outrage at the Charterist ‘wheelings and dealings’, ‘technical’ issues around union organizing and organizational forms became secondary to the imminent toppling of a hated system like apartheid. As such, all empirical evidence in support of keeping catering separate from other sectors was swept aside and the ‘big picture’ prevailed.

There was also the belief that once the ANC/SACP took power after a non-racial election, in terms of the jointly agreed Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) which had largely been articulated by COSATU and took many of its policies from the social democratic aspects of the Freedom Charter, that the working class would be the main beneficiary of change – with workers enjoying a far higher social wage and higher employment through a reformed and redistributive state and with strong collective bargaining rights which would bring higher wages and better working conditions.

Having said this, COSATU’s fixation with ‘gigantism’ (ultra big unions) was terribly mistaken. The SACP/Stalinist tradition of ‘delivering’ political support and its disdain for grassroots internal democracy was exposed as the ANC/SACP  government consolidated its grip, threw out the RDP, adopted a slew of neo-liberal policies and within ten years of its founding reduced COSATU to a classic ‘transmission belt’ for the new ruling party. Moreover, the massive reversals South African workers have endured over the past two decades have also resulted in the splitting of COSATU with the 2013 expulsion of NUMSA (because of its opposition to the federation’s unholy alliance with the ANC/SACP) and the subsequent withdrawal of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU).

In addition, the history of SACCAWU has been a tragic one. Though the first two years saw revived worker militancy (there was a massive strike wave in both sectors in 1990), the subsequent resignation of many socialist inclined worker leaders and officials meant that the old Kganare group effectively controlled the union. Their previous habits resurfaced and SACCAWU fell prey to political compromise and corruption.

In 1994 the union attempted to gain control of the Hospitality Industry Pension and Provident Fund (HIPPF) which HARWU had originally set up, but was repulsed by the fund’s membership. This attack on worker democracy (which again saw Kganare-style violence and disinformation) undermined catering worker confidence in the union and led to a major slowdown in catering sector recruitment. In addition, SACCAWU reneged on the undertaking to allow catering sector councils and did not provide sufficient catering organizers so that service was haphazard. This was at a time when, in the mid-1990’s, the ANC’s policy of liberalizing the labour market and joining the WTO allowed casualization and sub-contracting to become major plagues in both the catering and retail sectors. In line with COSATU’s limp opposition to this gross betrayal of worker rights, SACCAWU offered no resistance.

Another blow was when the union-controlled SACCAWU National Provident Fund was placed under state administration. This followed the discovery of the theft of R80m and the misuse of monies by Abie Mosioa, the union appointed principal officer (Mosioa had been a key figure in the Kganare group). Kganare himself obtained an MBA and left the union to become a provincial minister in the Free State where he was identified with the Mbeki faction of the ANC but was forced to step down when Jacob Zuma became president. The general secretary position was taken by Bones Skulu who has retained this position for over twenty years and overseen a decline in union membership. This is extraordinary given that catering sector employment has grown massively due to a tripling in the number of foreign tourists reaching South Africa as well as a similar growth explosion in the retail sector.        

Regrettably no other catering union has managed to fill the gap and today the industry has no major trade union presence. Restaurants in particular have little unionization and with the influx of Zimbabwean economic refugees, competition for jobs has accelerated with a majority of employers preferring to employ ‘illegal migrants’ who will work for whatever they are offered and fear joining unions. In any event, SACCAWU has made little effort to recruit these workers so employers enjoy little resistance to their exploitative practices.    

Is there hope for the future? With the formation of a new politically independent trade union federation (SAFTU – South African Federation of Trade Unions) it is possible that a new catering sector union may emerge but there is currently no sign of this. However, there are clusters of activists who see the need and with some support it may well be that the proverbial phoenix can rise from the ashes. HARWU’s example of worker-led organizing and genuine member control may yet inspire a new generation to challenge the high levels of exploitation and corruption that the new comprador class and its trade union allies have ushered in.   


Personal archives relating to HARWU and COSATU|“Militant trade unionism threatens hotel bosses” – Jabu Matiko (South African Labour Bulletin; Feb 1989)|Striking Back (A History of COSATU) – Jeremy Baskin (1991)|UF archives|South African History Online – various articles on SACTU, South African Workerism, History of CCAWUSA|Interview with Dirk Hartford