From campus protesters to labour organisers

Former #FeesMustFall student activists take on the fight for the ‘total liberation of black workers’. 

Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto came alive on Workers’ Day as a delegation of 300 workers employed in and around Braamfontein gathered to launch the Workers Socialist Union of South Africa (Susaw).  

Susaw, formed by former Wits University student leaders, launched its constitution and announced its national executive committee (NEC) that was elected by an interim structure. Ten additional members were co-opted into the NEC at the launch and are yet to be officially announced.  

Wits 2018 SRC president, Orediretse Masebe*, the second deputy general secretary, told the gathering that “The idea for this union started from the South Point protest of 2018.” This, he told Wits Vuvuzela, was when 86 workers who were being outsourced by the Braamfontein residence were told that they were being retrenched with immediate effect. He was part of a group of student activists who staged a series of protest actions which and eventually won the permanent and secure employment of all 86 workers.  

“We understood that workers issues are our issues as well,” said general secretary of the union, who was the transformation officer in the 2018 Wits SRC, Mmeli Gebashe. “Because of the relationship we formed with workers at Wits and around Braamfontein, they continue to refer to us with their labour related matters.” 

Masebe told the delegation of workers that during the South Point protests, the private security guards that were hired to keep them out, eventually started confiding in them about their own issues with their employer. “This is where our passion for fighting for the labour rights of our parents was born,” he said. 

According to Gebashe, formalising their relationship with workers gives them the capacity to organise representation and education for workers, with the view to protect their right to work in a cut-throat labour economy. He added that Morris Isaacson High School was the perfect location for the birth of an organisation that had its roots in student activism.  

A former chairperson of the Black Consciousness Movement United, Thami Hukwe, set the tone for the day’s proceedings in his address, when he said the establishment of Susaw was “the response to the call for a total liberation of black workers”. 

The delegation was given the opportunity to engage with the union’s interim constitution, give comments, contributions and ask questions. The constitution outlines the operations and reach of the union.  

Newly elected president of Susaw, Phumla Nondoda. Photo: Morongoa Masebe

Susaw president Phumla Nondoda, who works at a South Point residence in Braamfontein, said that the protests of 2018 saved her job and that of many others, and Susaw is committed to making sure that it stays true to the demands of workers. 

Bonginkosi Khanyile, also a former #FeesMustFall activist, attended the launch as a guest speaker, and told the workers that a workers’ union that considers the lived experiences of the worker is long overdue. “If you start sitting at the table with other leaders, and forget the mandate of workers’ rights, we will shun you,” he said and emphasised that the work of representing workers is not about personalities or power politics, because it affects the real lives of workers and their families.

* Related to the reporter

FEATURED IMAGE: A copy of the Susaw constitution. Photo: Morongoa Masebe


A medical student and a waiter – meet Thabani Msiza



WORK SWAGGER: Thabani Msiza works the counter as a customer pays for order. Photo: Percy Matshoba

Thabani Msiza is a 20 year old  first year medical student at Wits University who spends his time reading medical books and serving food at artisan cafe Daleahs.  In light of Workers Day, Wits Vuvuzela sat down with the working student  to ask him how he balances student and work life.

  1. What sets you apart from the rest?

I’ve been told i have a weird accent which doesn’t really match my look. Not really sure if that sets me apart, but i think its just mostly the way I am in general. Not many people can figure me out, which I guess is a good and bad, and i think my sense of humour.

  1. What are the challenges you come across between being a student and a worker? 

Mainly it’s just time management and prioritisation. Maintaining the energy to work, study and socialise 7 days a week.


  1. Why did you decide to work? 

Well I realised I would have a lot of free time this year. I also wanted the freedom and independence that comes from earning your own money.


  1. Do you find it difficult to manage your time as a medical student and as a worker? 

I do to a certain extent. It’s not a huge difficulty in my life, I’m just really lazy.


  1. What will you be doing on Workers Day? 

I will be working on Worker’s Day. The irony, I know. The plus side is that I get to meet really  weird and interesting people on a daily basis, so even working on the day designated for us workers is not that much of an awful thing.


6. Which do you find more interesting, working or being a student? 

Definitely working. Being a student is a lot more fun, but being a waiter you are forced to interact with so many people a day. That just makes the days really interesting especially since I love meeting different characters.


Saluting the workers of Wits University

As the warm Wednesday afternoon on the last day of April progressed and lectures came to an end, Witsies around campus could be seen easing into Thursday’s public holiday.

Workers’ Day, as this public holiday is called, is an international celebration of the working class and their labour.

Wits Vuvuzela took a short trip around campus in pursuit of those who work tirelessly – often behind the scenes – to make a living, serving students and making Wits a better and safer place to be.



IMG_4513 Thabiso Disloane – Coffee BaristaOlives & Plates at the Wits Art Museum (WAM) was the first stop-off on thr trip.Born and raised in Johannesburg, Disoloane has worked at Olives & Plates for a year and says his ultimate dream would be to work in Italy because of its great coffee.

An avid fan of soccer, Disoloane is a Kaizer Chiefs supporter who has tried to play on a professional level.

When asked what makes Thabiso Thabiso, he replied, “I’m a generous guy [who] loves smiling”.

IMG_4503 Nthabiseng Masiteng – Baker/Manager Masiteng, who started off at Olives & Plates in 2010 as a baker, now manages the WAM branch.Currently residing in Katlehong, Masiteng lives for her “two beautiful daughters” and aspires to open her own Olives & Plates one day.
IMG_4461 Pakamisa Ngaba – Security GuardA short walk up the road led to the meeting of Pakamisa Ngaba at the Campus Control office in Central Block.Now 55 years old, Ngaba has been working as a security guard at Wits since 1995.

Born in East London and currently living in Soweto with his 4 children (his eldest son is studying auto-electrical engineering), Ngaba supports Orlando Pirates in soccer and the Stormers in rugby.

He says his favourite memory at Wits was the memorial service held for Nelson Mandela at the Great Hall.

IMG_4471 Florence Makhaba – Gardener The next destination was outside Cullen Library where Florence Makhaba was busy at work in the garden.She has been working as a gardener at Wits for two years.

In her spare time, Makhaba loves to dance and listen to gospel music.

She has three children and wants to work harder and get a better salary so she can help put her eldest son through college.

IMG_4478 Robinah Makoni – Shop Assistant A pit-stop at the Matrix led to an encounter with Robinah Makoni, an employee at Delhi Delicious who moved to Johannesburg from Zimbabwe to look for work.She stays with her husband in Berea and has a 10-year-old boy back home whom she loves and misses so much.

Makoni, who speaks Shona, Ndebele and English, says she would like to go back to school and her ultimate dream job would be to work as a nurse.

IMG_4499 Paul Makama – Car Guard The trip around Wits came full circle and ended back at WAM – only this time outside on Jorissen Street where car guard Paul Makama does his job with an ever-present smile and joy in his heart.He has been a car guard on the streets of Jorissen and de Korte for five years and will be celebrating his 53rd birthday on May 11.

Makama has two grandsons and loves soccer, supporting Orlando Pirates when he can.

He also enjoys cooking and says making chicken is his favourite.




























Working through the night – #TeamNightShift

#TeamNightShift, a hashtag commonly used by Witsies on Twitter, offers a fresh and youthful spin to the age-old phrase of “burning the midnight oil”.

But while many are studying in lecture halls and tutorial rooms or YouTubing their favourite videos at midnight, there are people on campus working to ensure student safety and cleanliness of these study areas in particular.

Today, on Workers’ Day, the Wits Vuvuzela team pays homage to a different #TeamNightShift. The workers at Wits who work through the night long after many have already gone to sleep.

Meet some of these workers:

Mr Vincent Ntanganedzeni

STEERING THE TEAM: Bus driver, Vincent Ntanganedzeni.

STEERING THE TEAM: Bus driver, Vincent Ntanganedzeni.


Mr Vincent Ntanganedzeni is the bus driver responsible for transporting students to their destinations around the various Wits campuses.

Ntanganedzeni, who has been a bus driver since 1993, lives in Germiston with his wife and children.

He sometimes works during the day, but when he does represent #TeamNightShift, he works from 3.30pm to 12am. Ntanganedzeni says he enjoys having the noisy, but sometimes entertaining students on his bus.

“I started to work as a driver a long time ago so I do enjoy this job,” he said.

Ntanganedzeni will be doing his usual  campus routes tonight.


Mr Ezekiel Ramajoana

ALWAYS ON GUARD: Ezekiel Ramajoana at his David Webster Hall post.

ALWAYS ON GUARD: Ezekiel Ramajoana at his David Webster Hall post.

Mr Ezekiel Ramajoana is only one of many security guards responsible for safety on campus.

Born in Soweto, Ramajoana – a security guard at the David Webster Hall residence – spent most of his young life in Lesotho, where he was raised and educated.

He has since returned to Soweto where he lives with his mother and sisters.

His average night begins with him leaving his home in Soweto at 4pm, where he catches a taxi or train to Braamfontein and arrives at Wits at 5.30pm, ready to work his shift from 6pm to 6am.

When asked how he stays awake during these shifts, he laughs loudly as he increases the volume on his small radio to listen attentively to the Orlando Pirates vs. Chippa United broadcast.

“Staying awake? I just have to keep walking around this place and drinking some water because, eish, sleep does become a problem sometimes.”

He says what he loves most about his job is the respect that students show him, which allows him to learn a lot from them daily.


Ms Thabile Thetele

SWEEPING AHEAD: Supercare cleaner, Thabile Thetele.

SWEEPING AHEAD: Supercare cleaner, Thabile Thetele.

If you’ve ever left a lecture hall at 5pm in a chaotic state and come back in the morning to a spotless room and a clean chalkboard, it’s not by mystery or magic that it’s clean.

It’s thanks to Thabile Thetele and her team, who make sure the only mark of their presence they leave behind is a pristine clean FNB building on West Campus.

This hardworking mother of two works as a cleaner at Wits from 7pm to 3.30am on weekdays.

Travelling home for Thabile and her team is always a matter of concern.

“We walk to Park Station at 3.30am and it’s not easy. We have to travel in groups at all times. Last December two of our colleagues were mugged on their way home.”

When asked about her dream job, her bright smile quickly lifts the mood and lights up the empty and dreary FNB lecture hall as she exclaims:  “Wow! My dream job is a stable job that allows me to get home early and sleep with my children at night.”

After working almost 4 years as a cleaner in the building, she says she appreciates her colleagues, who make her nights more enjoyable in a job that is unappreciated by some, especially students who she says often give them a tough time.


Mr Thabo Raditla

A WELL OILED MACHINE:  Cleaner,Thabo Raditla (left) prepares for another long night at Wits.

A WELL OILED MACHINE: Cleaner,Thabo Raditla (left) prepares for another long night at Wits. Photo: Dineo Bendile

Supercare cleaner and Meadowlands resident, Thabo Raditla, says when his shift ends at 3.30am, he and his team walk to Park Station, where they wait until 5.30am for the first taxis of the day to take them home.

Thabo, like Thabile, works from 7pm to 3.30am. This travel routine is what he endures every weekday, even during the bitterly cold winter mornings.

Even when sharing some details of his long and sometimes cold trips home, he maintains his bubbly and energised personality.

“I keep myself awake by texting people, you know, with Whatsapp. Because if I don’t do that I’ll be sleeping here… and my supervisor won’t like that [laughs].”

The 26 year-old  describes himself as a young man hustling towards something greater.

“I want many things, but one thing is just to have a nice job. Get money. And have a good wife, that’s all!”


#TeamVuvu wishes all the Wits staff a happy Workers’ Day!



White Lightning strikes again

It was with a heavy heart that White Lightning, my closest companion since 2006, was admitted to the car-hospital this week. Unfortunately, this has become a frequent event for me from the time he reached the grand old age of 200 000km, so much so that the car mechanics recognise White’s tender hummm when I roll up to the garage.

My friendship with White Lightning has been incredibly strong. I mean, how many friends do you spend two hours of every day with? This is our bonding time en route to campus from the northern suburbs.
In that time you really get to know someone.

Together we have stamped our place on the Barry Hertzog strip. To date there has not been a single fully-loaded taxi we have not been able to overtake. It’s a tough challenge, I know – White is not the fastest off the mark. He’s proven to be fully dependable so long as you don’t try to go over 55km/h, hence the origin of his rather apt name, White Lightning.
I’ll never forget the day when the mechanics all crowded around the pit and asked me: “How did you manage to drive around for four months with broken CV joints like that?”

Seemingly, White Lightning had been “living beyond death”, as one mechanic put it. Admittedly, White does predate South African democracy and still has a Nokia hands-free kit that fits an old brick, but that simply makes him a bit old-school.

Many of my peers in the newsroom have relationships with similar skedonks and I can completely relate to their gripes about the e-toll and petrol price increases which add to their living costs. In fact, from the beginning of this year I have spent over R3 000 on petrol alone. (Let’s not get into the extra costs of a new set of tyres, battery, lights and boot cable.) I have even made contingency plans to re-route my usual back-routes once everyone starts using them to avoid the e-tolled highways.

I can say with pride that we care enough to prolong the lives of cars like White Lightning across campus, despite not having much spare cash.

While everyone else will be relaxing on Workers’ Day, I know I won’t be the only student spending some quality time with their skedonk, giving him his first wash of the year.

Read more of Jay’s work at

A word from the Workers

They help to run our university, but they are not as well paid or as well known as the members of Wits management. In celebration of Workers Day, Vuvuzela decided to introduce you to some workers employed by Wits contractors. Vuvuzela was unable to get comments from any of the women workers who cited domestic commitments at home or fear of losing their jobs.

Bongani Sibanyoni 

Sibanyoni is a painter with one of the contractors on campus. He has been a painter for one year and three months. He used to be a street performer, juggling sticks in places like Eastgate Mall. He explains why he changed professions.

“Sometimes when I was performing at the malls, security chased me away. I was also short of money to buy food sometimes. I miss the work I was doing, because I wanted to take it to another level. I dreamt of doing big shows and teaching children. What I like about painting is that when the room is dirty, you come and fix it and it looks nice.”


Victor Maluleke 

Victor Maluleke passed Grade 10 in 2004 but was unemployed until he found work as a gardener with a landscaping company which is contracted to Wits.

“I was just sitting at home. My younger brother and my younger sister were looking at me. I don’t have a parent now. I started [working for the landscaping company] in 2007, 13 January. I am looking for a better job. There is no money to buy some clothes and we can’t pay lobola. It’s too little. I have a girlfriend and two children and I want to get married. Some people who are older than me, 28, they are married.”


Sello Malatsi 

Sello Malatsi works as a landscaper for a Wits contractor. Vuvuzela spoke to him while he was sweeping leaves outside Sunnyside. It is his second year on the job.

“I used to be a packer at Pick’n’Pay, but it was temporary. What I do [now] is simple, easy. I enjoy my work, but I’m not getting paid well. My mother passed away. She left us three – me, my brother, and my sister. And also I’ve got a child, a 6-year-old boy. And my girlfriend also stays with me. She doesn’t work. It’s difficult for me. Eish, it’s very hard. I’m trying my best.”


Sabatha Mothupi 

Mothupi works as a general worker for a construction company working on Wits Main Campus. He started work three months ago.

“Before, I worked underground in a big coal mine in Witbank. I left my job in 2009. I was retrenched because we finished the coal underground. In 2010 and 2011, I was at home in Ficksburg. I was going to a golf course. I carried bags for the guys who played golf, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For nine holes I got R50. For 18 holes I got R100. I was feeling sad, because I had a lot of problems. I used to say ‘One day I’ll be like them.’ I’ve got that dream. I’ve got that dream to pick myself up and live just like others. I didn’t feel angry. That’s the way life is. I would say ‘Maybe next time I’ll get what I want.’ ”

“I don’t want to be a general worker forever. I want to be an operator, operating a front loader. That’s what I love. You get a lot of money as an operator. As a general worker, you get small money and I can’t solve all my problems. I’ve got a family and a lot of nephews. My brother, mother and father are not working. If I get money, I’ll go to a school for machine operating. I need R2500 for the operating course. I don’t have a chance to budget that money. My nephew is already going to school, so he needs something.”


Zac Tshangela 

Zac Tshangela is a security guard at Men’s Res. He has been in this field for four years.

“Before that, I was working for an insurance company. I did short-term underwriting. The company that I was working for closed down. You knock on all doors; no work, no work. Seeing that I am responsible, looking after my children at school, instead of sitting down I decided to be seen at least to be doing something. I’ve got four children and two are still living at home.”

“My interactions with students are very, very good. I am more than happy with the students. Except here and there. The problems are minor. They’ve got to listen to the rules and regulations. Signing in and out is a problem, especially when they bring visitors. To my dismay, some of them tend ‘not to know’ the rules. They are still children. They pretend not to know. They all say they forget their cards when they go out. They can’t all forget their cards! You’ve got to be firm but considerate.”


Wellington Ganya 

Wellington Ganya is an electrician and has been with his current employer, a Wits contractor, since 2008. Vuvuzela talked to him while he was fixing lights in the men’s staff toilet in Umthombo Building.

“What I don’t like about my job is when you are working at construction sites, grinding and chasing the walls to put the conduit which has the electrical wires. It’s bad for our lungs. You get the dust, even if you use a dust mask. The dust is dangerous. I was working with my friend Mdu from Mozambique. We worked at Hyde Park for three years, doing ceiling installation, which had fiberglass. He suffered with lungs. They say he got lung cancer. He probably died. They call it electrical construction.”

“What I like about being an electrician is that it combines guys with different cultures, like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi. You are developing your mind. You create a friendship. You know that even though he is coming from somewhere else, he is your brother.”

Wellington Ganya (right) with colleagues Patrick Matshaba (middle) and Ben Lebese (left).

“Working with electricity, you need to be calm. That’s why you need to make friends at your workplace. Because you are working with a dangerous thing, power. You need to leave your frustrations at home.”


Samuel Ngwasheng

Vuvuzela met Ngwasheng and his colleague Nkululeko Mkwanazi as they were fixing a leaking fire hydrant outside the building which houses the South African Institute of International Affairs. They are plumbers for a Wits contractor.

“I have been working as a plumber for three years. I used to be in building and plastering. But sometimes there are no jobs in construction. I wanted a permanent job, to work every day. Now I can pay my children’s school fees and rent. It’s still hard. The money we get is too small.”