SAMWU celebrates 35th anniversary

25 October 2022

SAMWU celebrates 35th anniversary

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) as today marks 35 years of the existence of the union. On the 24th and 25th October 1987, delegates from Cape Town Municipal Workers’ Association (CTMWA), South African Allied Workers’ Union (SAAWU), Municipal Workers’ Union of South Africa (MWSA), the General Workers’ Union of South Africa (GWUSA) and the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) converged to form SAMWU, the first non-racial national union.

Although the history of SAMWU dates back to 1987, many of the founding unions of SAMWU have their roots which can be traced back to the early 20th century wherein they were in the forefront of fighting against the oppressive apartheid regime and fighting for the recognition of local government trade unions which in the main represented the marginalized black South African workers. These are the same unions which played a crucial role in the formation of the Congress of the South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

In celebrating the union’s 35 years of serving the country’s municipal workers, we take stock of the achievements won by the union in favour of workers and increased the bargaining power of workers throughout the country by absorbing other unions into the fold of SAMWU. The union currently boasts a membership of over 160 000 out of a total of almost 260 000 total municipal workers.

In 1993, workers under the banner of SAMWU called for the first national strike which resulted in workers getting a 22% salary increase. This victory for workers drastically reduced the wage gap between municipal workers and workers in other sectors. For many years, municipal workers were the least paid government employees.

Again, from 1997 to 1999, SAMWU was in the forefront of the anti-privatisation campaign in particular the provision of water and municipal services. SAMWU has always maintained that the privatization of public services, especially essential services will drive up the costs for residents while also marginalizing the poor from receiving these services. It is for this reason that the union to this day continues its fight against the tendering system in municipalities as this system is exploitative in nature and does not give workers any form of job security or benefits.

We have as a union negotiated and agreed for a sectoral minimum wage in the municipal sector, ensuring that no employee is paid less than R9000 per month. We have been in the forefront of fighting for the absorption of all EPWP and CWP employees based in municipalities, a matter that is now in the bargaining council. In recent months we have fought and won for reinstatement of more than 800 employees who were victims of mass dismissals throughout the country.

One of the key achievements of the union over the last 35 years has been ensuring that workers from all 257 municipalities and the country’s 8 water boards are able to bargain centrally. SAMWU played a key role in ensuring the establishment of the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) and the Amanzi Bargaining Council (ABC) for workers in municipalities and water sector respectively. The establishment of these bargaining councils have not only strengthened the collective bargaining power for workers, but also ensured that there is uniformity in the conditions of service and salaries of workers, especially those in the municipal sector.

As a union, we have a huge task ahead of us in ensuring that the uniformity that has been achieved for municipal sector employees is also emulated for workers in the water sector. We are working tirelessly to ensure that there is harmonization of conditions of service and salaries for all workers under the auspices of the ABC.

Despite many of the victories won on behalf of members and workers, there is still much work that needs to be done. Employers have of late, amplified their attack on collective bargaining and union bashing. This has resulted in many workers being victimized and dismissed from employment for frivolous charges. For us, this is an indicator that unions remain relevant and will continue to be relevant to challenge these employers and negotiate better conditions of service and salaries for workers.

In acknowledging victories on behalf of workers, we need to also reflect on where we went wrong. As a result of the challenges that the union faced, two splinter unions were formed from SAMWU. As workers and leaders, we need to do a thorough self-introspection, address the issues which led to the formation of these splinter unions. We are however encouraged by the number of workers who are returning to the union. We further need to extend an olive branch to all workers who have since left the union to come back to SAMWU. For us, the divisions within workers serves only the interest of the employer as workers will not be united thus eroding their collective bargaining strength.

As a union, we take this opportunity to thank our members for retaining their membership of the union, particularly during the times where there was great uncertainty over the future of the union. We have worked tirelessly with all structures of the union to ensure that not only does the union survive the threat of deregistration, but also increasing membership numbers from just over 140 000 in 2019 to over 160 000 currently. This has ensured that the union remains the majority union in the sector. Additionally, through the collective leadership, SAMWU is now the third largest affiliate of COSATU.

Our commitment as the leadership of the union to its members is ensuring that the union does not go back to the dark days which it faced. We owe it to the founding members of this union to ensure that the union remain relevant and continues to service its members without fail. When those unions converged to form SAMWU, they knew that the merger would increase the bargaining power of workers in the two sectors which we organise in.

As we celebrate this milestone, we encourage all municipal workers and workers in the water sector to join SAMWU. We want these workers to be part of the exciting journey ahead in championing and defending the interests of municipal workers and water sector employees.

Happy 35th anniversary SAMWU!

Issued by SAMWU Secretariat

Dumisane Magagula
General Secretary
076 580 4029


Papikie Mohale
National Media Officer
073 710 0356