24 October 2023


On this significant day, in 1987, delegates five trade unions; the Cape Town Municipal Workers Association (CTMWA), the General and Allied Workers Union (GAWU), the Municipal Workers Union of South Africa (MWUSA), the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU), and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), convened for a two-day meeting. During this historic gathering, they reached a consensus to merge their unions, giving birth of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU). SAMWU emerged as the first non-racial union in the local government sector in South Africa, symbolising a significant milestone in the country’s labour history.

The decision to merge these unions was guided by the principles of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), particularly the “one industry, one union” principle. The merging unions recognised the importance of consolidating their membership numbers to solidify their collective bargaining power. By coming together, they aimed to establish a worker-controlled union that could effectively advance the rights and interests of workers and the broader working class, both within and outside the workplace. This move was a pivotal step in unifying workers and advancing their common objectives.

As we mark the 36th anniversary of this Union, it is important to reflect on the underlying reasons that led to the merger of those founding unions to create SAMWU. We should take this opportunity to take stock of the accomplishments we’ve achieved over the past 36 years and also acknowledge the areas where we may have encountered challenges as an organisation. In doing so, we honour the legacy of our founding members and the shared vision they held of building a robust local government union that places the welfare and interests of its members above all else. This reflection allows us to continue their legacy and strengthen our commitment to our members.

Over the course of the past 36 years, SAMWU has served as a source of hope for countless workers in the municipal and water sectors. Despite facing numerous challenges, many of our members have demonstrated unwavering loyalty and commitment to the Union, viewing it as their first line of defence. SAMWU has evolved into the organisation it is today thanks to the dedication and resilience of its members. The Union remains relevant and influential today because of its unwavering commitment to fighting against unfair labour practices, mass dismissals, victimisation of workers, while upholding workers’ rights.

Throughout its history, SAMWU has faced numerous challenges, but, just as in the initial years following its formation, workers have remained steadfast in their support of the Union. As we celebrate the 36th anniversary of the Union, it is important to pay tribute to our predecessors who dedicated much of their time to establishing a unified and committed organization. We owe our existence as a Union to the founders of this organization, who tirelessly fought for the betterment of its members, workers in general, and the broader community.

We salute the founding leaders of SAMWU; President, Petrus Mashishi; Vice President Sandile Mqaka; Treasurer, Sydney Adams; General Secretary, John Ernstzen. We owe our existence to the many leaders who came after the founding leaders, their dedication has left an enduring legacy that continues to drive SAMWU’s mission and vision.

The celebration of our 36th anniversary comes at a time when the trade union movement and workers are facing unprecedented challenges in the country. Regrettably, even our own government has played a significant role in undermining collective bargaining and rolling back the hard-fought gains that workers have achieved over the years. In this climate, there has never been a more critical time for workers to unite and stand in solidarity with those who face mass dismissals and even the risk of harm or death for exposing fraud and corruption in municipalities. Our resolve to protect workers’ rights and champion their well-being remains unwavering in the face of these challenges.

The integrity of collective bargaining, a cornerstone of workers’ rights, is under attack. Municipalities and water boards have taken the regrettable path of failing to honour legally binding salary and wage collective agreements, making it a worrying trend. SAMWU remains resolute in its battle against municipalities and water boards that attempt to use workers’ salary increases to subsidise their operational costs. In this year alone, the Union has successfully opposed every exemption application at both the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) and the Amanzi Bargaining Council (ABC). Our commitment to challenging any review applications taken to the Labour Court remains steadfast. We will continue to oppose employers who exploit the justice system to evade their obligations under binding collective agreements and rulings of the Bargaining Councils.

The current state of our country’s municipalities and waterboards requires immediate attention in order for these institutions to fulfil their constitutional mandate of delivering essential services to residents. Many municipalities have been struggling to pay workers their salaries on time, while third parties are months in arrears. Whilst waterboards have continued to operate with serious salary discrepancies and selective implementation of collective agreements.

SAMWU has consistently maintained that workers are best positioned to understand the challenges faced by municipalities and water boards. Workers can contribute meaningful, long lasting solutions to address these issues. As a union, we have a vested interest in seeing municipalities that can effectively deliver quality services to their residents and prioritise the well-being of their employees.

The challenges we face as workers are many and require unity and determination to addressed effectively. As we celebrate the 36th anniversary of this Union, we must reaffirm our commitment to championing the rights and well-being of workers, with a primary focus on our members. Recently, we launched the Petrus Mashishi Campaign, which formally renamed the former Johannesburg Region to the Petrus Mashishi Region, in honour of the founding and longest serving President of the Union who was also an employee at the City of Johannesburg.

This campaign also involves a listening initiative, allowing the Union and its leadership at all levels to engage with members and better understand their needs. The goal of the Petrus Mashishi Campaign is to enhance the quality of service provided to our members, aligning with the union’s founding principles where our members come first in all we do.

As we commemorate our 36th anniversary, it is our responsibility to ensure the enduring existence of the Union, despite the challenges and attacks we face from various quarters. We must remain steadfast in upholding the vision of our union’s founding members, and we must continue to pursue the hopes and aspirations they had for this organisation.

As we look into the future, our mission is to ensure that no worker is excluded. Therefore, we extend an invitation to all workers in the local government and water sectors to join SAMWU and become active participants in the promising path that lies ahead. We express our gratitude to our dedicated members who have journeyed with us through the years.

Here is to another 36 years of progress, unity, solidarity and service to members.

Happy 36th anniversary!

Nelson Mokgotho,
SAMWU President
obo NOBs