BAWU, Black and Allied Workers Union

COSAS, Congress of South African Students

COSATU, Congress of South African Trade Unions

COSAW, Congress of South African Trade Unions

CWIU, Chemical Workers Industrial Union

CWLP, Culture and Working Life Project

DHAC, Durban Housing ction Committee

DTMB, Durban Transport Managemnet Board

DWCL, Durban Workers Cultural Local

FAWU, food and Allied Workers Union

FOSATU, Federation of South African Trade Unions

ICFTU, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions

ICY, Industrial and Commercial Workers Union

MAWU, Metal and Allied Workers’ Union

NUMSA, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa

NUTW, National Union of Textile Workers

SACP, South African Communist Party

SACTU, South African Communist Party

SACTWU, Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union

SACHED, South African Committee of Higher Education

SARMCOL, South African Rubber Manufacturing Company Limited

SAWCO, Sarmcol Workers Cooperative

SAAWU, South African and Allied Workers Union

TGWU, Transpost and General Workers’ Union

TUACC, Trade Union Advisory Coordinating Council

UWUSA, United Workers’ Union of South Africa


Gwala, Mafika

Hlatshwayo, Mi 

Kentridge, William 

Kotze, Astrid

Malange, Nise

Matiwane, Naftal

Mabele, Phumzile

Makhene, Ramolao 

Mnikathi, Flomin

Ngubane, Simon 

Nkabinde, Alpheus

Schreiner, Geoff

Sibiya, Phineas

Sitas, Ari – Initiated the Dunlop Play

Ndlovu, Sipho

Qabula, Alfred



  • In Johannesburg, the Junction Avenue Theatre Company responds to appeals by the Food and Canning Workers Union (FCWU), to assist fired Fattis and Monis strikers. The Catholic Students Society issue a pamphlet calling for a boycott of Fattis and Monis products, and Junction Avenue creates a play Security, which successfully raises funds to support the campaign. This creates grounds for closer ties between unions and cultural activists.


  • Striking workers from the Rely Precision Foundry on the East Rand are dismissed, and the union’s lawyer requests the Junction Avenue Theatre Company activists to make a new play about the workers’ struggle. After three months of nightly meetings, workers and activists together create Ilanga Lizophumela Abasebenzi (The sun rises for the workers).


  • In Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal), the Port Natal Administration Board starts employing women in order to save money. While men had been paid R200 per month, women were paid R52 for the same job. This discrepancy initiates the ‘Kwa Mashu Street-Cleaners Play’ in 1984.


  • Ari Sitas sets up the Culture and Working Life Project (CWLP), in the Sociology department at the University of Natal.
  • Workers at Dunlop, Natal, go on strike against the company’s refusal to recognize their trade union MAWU, and insistence on setting up an ‘in house union’. Four Dunlop workers are dismissed.
  • MAWU organizer Geoff Schreiner approaches Sitas about whether a play might help to organize and focus the strike. Sitas is encouraging of the idea and agrees to try make a play in three months for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of MAWU. Sitas, along with Dunlop shopstewards Alfred Qabula, Fred Kumalo, Kanyile and Msani recruit participants and start workshoping the play.


  • January, the actors of the Dunlop Play perform in Johannesburg.
  • In August the Dunlop strike takes place during which time activists enlist new members to embark on cultural action.
  • The Durban Workers Cultural Local (DWCL) is formed. The main organisers are Nise Malange, Alfred Qabula, Naftal Matiwane and Ari Sitas.
  • The DWCL creates its first play, ‘Why Lord?’


  • The DWCL establishes itself as an organized movement. They create six new plays in one year.
  • 4 March, South African Rubber Manufacturing Company Limited (Sarmcol) workers ballot to go on a legal strike.
  • 30 April, strike begins. Two days later management fires 940 strikers, then hire scab labour.
  • The union begins massive solidarity campaigns to dissuade scabs.
  • MAWU gets legal help against BTR Sarmcol on basis of unfair labour practice.
  • 1 May, May Day staging of worker plays at Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban. The large scale staging is unsuccessful.
  • The DWCL drafts a document on its aims and principles, and the potential role of culture for the liberation struggle. Mi Hlatshwayo is set to deliver it on 14 July at the FOSATU Education Workshop at Milner Park Showgrounds in Johannesberg, with the hope of recruiting new members.
  • 20 July, The Nationalist government declares a State of Emergency. Temp Consequently the FOSATU Education Workshop is cancelled and Hlatshwayo does not deliver the document.
  • August, civil rights lawyer Victoria Mxenge is murdered at her house in Umlazi. Inkatha Freedom Party impis attacked the memorial service and from then on townships in and around Durban erupt into violence and counter violence, resulting in countless deaths.
  • The conflicts between pro and anti-Inkatha groupings create divisions between workers. It becomes impossible to be part of both Inkatha and FOSATU.
  • The violence looked like it might spell the end of the culture movement. The first shop steward’s council in Durban is started, combining shop stewards from all of Durban’s unions.
  • The Gale Street offices, which hosted all union meetings and rehearsals, reaches capacity and so the DWLC, with funding support from the CWLP, rent out a large factory floor in Clairwood. The space is taken over by the Shop Stewards Council, MAWU, FAWU and SACHED, who form the Clairwood Trade Union and Culture Centre.
  • The CWLP undertakes to pay the wages  of a full time DWCL coordinator and manager. Mi Hlatshwayo resigns from Dunlop and takes the position.
  • October, opening of the Clairwood Trade Union and Cultural Centre. It is a great success. One of the performances, ‘Usuku’ (The Day), shows that worker plays do more than just highlight worker disputes with management. As Ari Sitas put it, “It cast ordinary workers’ issues in the shadow of revolution […] workers in the play were rejecting offers of more money in exchange for their day of liberation”. (Sitas in Kotze, 1988:70)
  • Six months after the start of the Sarmcol strike, with the legal route proving ineffective, strikers set up a cooperative in Howick, Natal, called the Sarmcol workers Cooperative (SAWCO), in order to keep workers united and generate some income.
  • SAWCO establishes a culture group, the Sarmcol Players.
  • The Sarmcol Players begin a new play, ‘Bambatha’s Children’, which is never completed but forms the basis of one of the most important plays to come out of workers’ cultural action, ‘The Long March’. The production is assisted by activists from CWLP and DWCL, and spreads awareness of the struggle of the Sarmcol strikers.
  • November, Dunlop workers celebrate their strike victory from the year before. They throw the ‘Dunlop Party’ at Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban, and ‘The Long March’ is performed for the first time.
  • December, the ‘super-federation’, COSATU, is launched in King’s Park Stadium, Durban.


  • 5 December, armed Inkhata vigilantes and men in Kwa Zulu police uniform abduct Simon Ngubane, the leader of the Sarmcol Players, Phineas Sibiya, the chair of the Sarmcol shop stewards, and Flomin Mnikathi, the daughter of a SAWCO striker and activist. The three comrades are tortured and brutally murdered, and an armed raid on the KwaZulu-Natal township of Mpophomeni the following morning results in the death of Alpheus Nkabinde and the injury of at least twenty others.


  • Mi Hlatshwayo is employed as a full-time cultural organizer for COSATU and he spends the year consolidating structures for larger scale performances
  • Members of other unions and youth groups begin making demands of their company management and creating their own plays.

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