The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa NUMSA returned to work on Tuesday after a month-long strike. BHEKI SIMELANE spoke to Numsa memberÂ Kenneth Mokoena (24), from Oakley in Mpumalanga in the aftermath of the strike.
Iâ€™m very excited that the strike has finally ended, Iâ€™m elated. It’s been a difficult and terrifying four weeks. You never know what could happen during a strike. As the weeks went by I became seriously worried and financial constraintsÂ started to take over my life. I really began to feel the pinch.
I get paid on a weekly basis. This means I have to spend wisely to be able to sustain my family. I managed to survive in the first week of the strikeÂ butÂ my savings quickly ran out as my domestic expenses mounted. Things became worse in the second week as I tried to grapple with the possibility of a long strike. I worried aboutÂ where I would get transport fare from if the strike were to continue.
The last fewÂ weeks were worse than hell.Â I had to think really hard about howÂ I wouldÂ maintain my girlfriend, who is seven months pregnant, and how I wouldÂ pay my debtsÂ at the end of the month. The thought of providing for myÂ girlfriend drove me crazy. Pregnancy is a delicate process and you need some cash in hand because you never know what might happen and when.Â I knew I was not the only one worker suffering the repercussions of the strike but that didn’t make me feel any better.
There were some terrifying moments. One day during the first week of the strike, I joined a group of colleagues on a tripÂ to work. WeÂ wanted toÂ see if any of our colleagues had betrayed us and and goneÂ back to work, becomingÂ amagundwaneÂ as they say, which is isiZulu for “rats”. I caughtÂ a taxi on my way back but when I got to the Wadeville train station I saw a colored guy who works for one of the neighboring steel companies had been assaulted with a panga by striking workers. His one arm was totally cut off and his other arm barely hung from his shoulder. I think his assailants must have wanted to cut off both his arms, the very tools he uses to putÂ food on the table for his family. I realized how dangerous it was for me to go back to work and stayed home for theÂ rest of the strike.
On my first day back at work on Tuesday I realisedÂ that things mustÂ have been very hard for everyone. Colleagues who usually brought lunch tins to work hadn’t brought any; they looked feeble and were asking around for help. I felt sorryÂ for the breadwinners who had to watch their families starve for a whole month. My older colleagues were hard hit even though they tried to hide it.
It has been a horrible month but Iâ€™m gladÂ our union got something out of it. Iâ€™m really happy with the 10%Â in three years that we got.Â It’sÂ going to go a long way in alleviating my financial burdens.Â I will probably recover from the financial strain in another four weeks time.Â I’d say the strike was worth itÂ despite the financial strain.
– As told to Bheki Simelane