Dockers defence campaign



Vusi Mbeje, a leading shop steward in the National Dock Labour Scheme in Durban was assassinated at 10.30pm on Thursday, 9 March. Vusi was a member of the committee of worker leaders in the labour pool and a leader in the Service Employees Industrial Union representing dock workers in Durban which is the main port of South Africa and the largest container port in the southern hemisphere.

He was killed at the gates of the pool in Maydon Wharf by an assassin who pumped two bullets into his chest while he sat at the steering wheel of the pool's truck.

Together with the other committee members, Vusi has been one of the most active leaders in the battle against the theft of union subscriptions and for workers' democracy in the port.

Vusi's name was the first workers' signature on a list of signatories to a letter to the management of the pool. The letter instructed management to deposit cheques of union subs into the union account and stated that the practice of providing cash cheques to one of the organisers should end. Altogether it is estimated that R357 000 (about $60 000) of the workers subscriptions cannot be accounted for. There has been strong resistance from this organiser to workers' financial control. Vusi was a leader in the campaign to bring union finances under worker management. Since his assassination death threats have been made to the other signatories who are now daily at risk.

Vusi was one of the strongest and most strategic leaders of the dockers. He was young, capable, and confident. He handled relationships with members and officials without fear or favour. Through the respect he has among the workers he resolved a number of disputes on the ships. He dealt with management confidently and firmly. He had a position in the pool involving great responsibility and was entrusted with such tasks as transporting cash to make up shortfalls in weekly wages. He was a stickler for timekeeping, scolding officials and others who were minutes late for meetings. He had a tremendous potential for leadership and was to be nominated to stand as a councilor for the ANC in Umlazi H Section.

Vusi had premonitions of his assassination. Shortly before he was killed he told ANC comrades in H Section in Umlazi that if he died it would be the result of the stand he was taking against union corruption and collusion with employers. His family is demanding that the murderers be exposed and punished.

Unfortunately the South African police have taken no action in the case of the theft of worker subscriptions despite having full knowledge of the issues from 18 February. Appeals have been made for action to the Attorney General of the province and to the Control Prosecutor of Durban magistrates courts but without result. As was often spelt out by supporters of the Campaign, this indifference by the state opened the road to assassination.

Justice for working people in Durban and elsewhere is bounded by a police force which is not only often indifferent to their needs but as recent scandals have demonstrated, at times directly involved in heists, intimidation and murder in the communities they 'serve'. Police investigations are often haphazard and casual: it is not unheard of for dockets to be lost. Crime affecting working people has a low priority. KwaZulu-Natal province also has a history of hit squads and professional killings. Successful prosecutions are 1 in 20 of murders reported.

The workers want the investigation into Vusi's murder to be energetically undertaken. In addition terror against worker leaders is continuing as phone calls have been received at the pool threatening the other signatories of the letter by name. The worker leaders have to be protected.

The Dockers Defence Campaign has been launched to conduct a worker-directed investigation into Vusi's horrific murder. The Campaign is made up of union activists and socialists and is appealing for funds nationally and internationally for legal and other expenses to make this possible.

We urgently need your help! The worker leaders of the Durban dockers are now working under threat of their lives.

Please send message of support to:
P.O. Box 181131

Further information from David Hemson:

Dr David Hemson
Social Policy Program
M Block
University of Durban-Westville
Private Bag X54001

Phone: 27 31 204 4752 or 204 4670
Fax: 27 31 204 4535

LabourNet Germany:
Der virtuelle Treffpunkt der Gewerkschafts- und Betriebslinken
The virtual meeting place of the left in the unions and in the workplace