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Unionist elected Member of Parliament in South Africa

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3 June, 2019It is rare for garment workers to leave their factory machines and swop work clothes for the formal dressing of a country’s parliament. This is the story of a Durban garment worker who recently got elected to South Africa’s sixth parliament.

After working for more than four decades as a sample machinist, Beauty Zibula rose from being a shop steward to become the first vice president of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union. She is also an executive and women’s committee member of the IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa region, and on 22 May she was sworn in as MP.

The Sub Saharan Africa region welcomes her election as one of the ruling African National Congress’ members of parliament for the KwaZulu-Natal Province.

Like most South African unionists, she became politically active in junior school and got her first job in the sector in 1978. Her history in the labour movement is illustrious. Active in the Garment and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU) in Durban during the 1980s, she is part of a collective that turned the union into a militant organization that fought against apartheid.

She became chairperson of the Durban North local of GAWU from 1987 to 1989 and retained that position when SACTWU was formed. Other positions she has held include: SACTWU’s Kwazulu-Natal (KZN) regional treasurer, the KZN regional deputy chairperson, the KZN regional chairperson and first deputy president of SACTWU.

“We congratulate comrade Beauty Zibula, a trade unionist who has risen through the trenches of working class struggles. Having been a regional executive member, she knows how to fight for workers’ rights against precarious work and is a staunch defender of workers’ rights in the garment and textile and other sectors. We are confident that she will take the fight to the South African parliament as well,” said Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary.

SACTWU has over 100,000 members that make up 85 per cent of the textile and garment sector including shoe and leather. It organizes workers in spinning mills, wool washeries, factory shops, clothing factories, cut make and trim operations, small businesses, footwear factories, cotton gins, laundries, tanneries, weaving sheds, finishing operations, dye-houses, retail outlets, and warehouses.