October 3, 2007


Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 4:15 pm

Marks & SpencerOn my two recent visits to the UK, and in London specifically, over the last two months and both admittedly combined not longer than one working week, I was astounded by the conditions facing working people. Particularly those working in supermarkets, bookshops and pharmacies. Here my experience was with Marks & Spencer, Boots, and Blackwell bookshops.

The cashiers were all standing. I was astounded. I asked the one Ghanaian origin new slave at Marks & Spencer: “Hey bro, why don’t you sit?” He laughed and said that he sits after work. All the working time – 7 hours I believe – STANDING STILL behind a cashier. I further asked, if they had union representation, he laughed off my question.

At another time we were seeking Ha-Joon Chang‘s Kicking Away the Ladder, as we have on an earlier visit bought his latest book Bad Samaritans. And bookshop after big bookstore they were standing. When visiting the Boots for cosmetics I teased an Asian worker there: “someone stole your chair!” He was cool and replied that “we never had chairs, it was like this when I began working here.” Thus, it was clear that this was a condition of employment and was – I thought – underwritten by a belief by the bosses that commercial and catering workers are more productive when they are standing.

I was concerned that the strong union movement, led by the Trade Union Congress that I had known over the decades, may be fading. But I was equally concerned that this was not an issue for the National Union of Students, Oxfam, and Action Aid, who are seemingly silent on this basic violation of worker and human rights. I was aware of the irony that whilst we are campaigning for the world community to “Stand Up and Speak Out” against poverty in terms of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and supported by the United Nations and other UN agencies, here workers were standing all day whilst their rights were being trampled. Most of the workers were either old or new immigrant communities and almost all I saw wore my skin – dozed with a lot of healthy melanin.

The highlight of the Stand UP Campaign is the 16 and 17 October – the latter being the UN recognized International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Last year over 23 million people stood up and broke into the Guinness World Records for the most number of people standing for such a progressive cause. In part the Stand Up is aimed at creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals – and to create awareness on the powers that be, corporates and governments, to do more to create a justice based society.

I wondered whether the unions could not take this as a dispute to the International Labour Organisation or whether civil society should not join with the union and the TUC. A labour lawyer in South Africa volunteered to do a class case for UK workers – won’t that be a good case of solidarity?! One small way we can help these workers Stand Up for their rights is by offering them a seat…


Obituary: Peter Moonsammy

Filed under: testimonies — newritings @ 9:18 am

Peter MoonsammyPeter represents the best values of the oppressed and the working people.

By the death of husband, Comrade, Toppie, Papa, Brother, and friend Peter Moonsammy – or as the Apartheid authorities erroneously registered him Moonisammy – at the ripe age of seventy-nine after a few months of illness, an era of the last few good men is coming to an end.

I REMEMBER him lamenting the same cry when we visited a sick and dying comrade in hospital – Walter Sisulu. Comrade Walter, many decades ago, hid in their home for close to three weeks, on the run from the police.

When we talk of Peter we will not talk of paper certificates or qualifications but a man who brought out the true humanity and virtues of the working person and the oppressed in practice. He lived the values of love, modesty, tolerance, caring and sharing, and solidarity.

He was a man without malice and characterised by a deep desire to serve others and his community. Some may say that it was his karma that he began serving as a bellboy from the age 14, having to support his mother, children and extended family. Soon he got engulfed in the political life of the time, selling New Age and the various reincarnations of the paper until it was finally banned and going to meetings of Congress. Solidarity – the principle which Marx called that life giving principle and Madiba said is being in the world for the other – was vintage Peter. He would often engage people from all walks of life with equality, respect and human dignity although he had a special place for Nelson – as he called Madiba. The Moonsammy and Mandela family paths were to cross often especially when Madiba was in prison as Ma Winnie kept the home fires burning.

In acknowledging this, Madiba writes in his letter to the family from Robben Island (4 June 1985):”I wonder whether Zindzi ever noticed my embarrassment last year when she told me in passing that you and Doreen had, for several years now, looked after her as her own parents, often driving all the way to Soweto. She had taken it for granted that I knew all about this and, when asked for particulars, she literally glowed with pure joy, as she gave me chapter and verse.”

Madiba then chastises himself for not caring enough of Peter and his family, during the “last 23 years” when Madiba wrote more “than 1 000 letters” to “people from different walks of life” …and “throughout this period, I rarely thought of you and Doreen as I should have.”

Madiba continues to write that “I often talked of your mother’s ever cheerfulness and wonderful sense of humour, about Darley and Pakiry, Violet and Letchmee. Unfortunately, I had forgotten the latter’s actual name [1]. I often remembered your smiling face as we met in Avenue Road or elsewhere in the City. But the grim walls of a prison kept me ignorant o your trips to Soweto. The chance remark by Zindzi completely changed the picture; it gave me an entirely different image of you and Doreen and I was seized by an acute sense of guilt when I became aware of just how greatly indebted we are to you. I sincerely look forward to seeing you and Doreen when I hope to embrace you most warmly for all the good things you have done.”

Peter had the soft courage of a revolutionary – not macho but committed and caring. He played a role in the escape from Marshall Square Police Station of Abdulhay Jassat and Mosie Moola into exile in 1964. (Two other comrades also escaped viz Wolpe and Goldreich but they went via another route). They were all UmKonto we Sizwe members and detained under the General Law Amendment Act 37 of 1963 and enlisted the assistance of a young Afrikaner constable Mr. Greef, in their escape.

Peter told us that the political leadership of the time asked him if he was strong enough to withstand the torture and interrogation of the dreaded Bureau of State Security (BOSS) if he was caught in trying to assist Transvaal Indian Congress leaders Mosie Moola and Abdulhay Jassat escape from prison. He replied NO – he was not strong enough. Yet, whether by design or accident on one fateful night, Peter was stopped by the two escapees as he was on his way home from work. And he drove them to a safe place.

In 1996, as part of the first South African Alex Leguma Brigade, Peter went to Cuba. He was thrilled to visit the various sites of struggle our hosts showed us: the prison where Fidel was kept, the Treasury where Che worked, the José Martí monument and the Casa Africa museum and much more. He loved to hear of the heroic struggles of the resistance from the Bay of Pigs to the “special period” when belts had to be tightened after the fall of the Soviet Union. He adored the music and dance and the revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people so much that he had to break his own vow not to dance again made after the accident which disabled his beloved son Tony.

In his later years, Peter continued to devote time to his movement led by the ANC, the family, the friends. He loved watching and following national and world events. He increasingly became cynical about the culture of greed and conspicuous consumption that was evident and spoke out against the “sharks”, by which he meant crooks who rob the poor.

Peter was a father to many.
He was the father I never had.

He is survived by children, his wife Doreen, his brothers Paul Joseph and Dasoo Iyer, his children Kalie, Tony, Roshnie, Soobs, Rookie, Monty, grandchildren Anjuli, Kamugelo Naidoo, Mellisa, Ian, Deverani, Primithi, Anjeni, Desigan, Joshua, Simeon, Adrienne, Hannah and nieces and nephews Letchmee, Gopal, Kasturi, Rajen, Zoya, Tanya, Nadia, Vanitha and Vijan.

– Hassen Lorgat

[Footnote 1: Madiba wrote Retchmee]

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