Magwaza Alfred Maphalala was born on 6 April 1948 in Bergville, Ladysmith in Natal. He was an only son. Maphalala completed his schooling and matriculated in Bergville. He then moved to Durban to look for work.
Maphalala joined the trade union movement in the mid-1970s following the 1973 Durban strikes. As a result he spent a large portion of his working life working for various trade unions in Natal including the Transport and General Workers Union. It was also during the 1970s that Maphalala was recruited into the underground structures of both the African National Congress(ANC) and the South African Communist Party(SACP).
In the middle of 1980, the Black and Allied Workers Union (BAWU) split with the Empangeni and Ladysmith branches, under the leadership of Matthew Oliphant and Maphalala, forming the National Iron, Steel, Metal and Allied Workers Union (NISMAWU). NISMAWU joined forces with Sam Kikine’s South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU). It was Kikine who recruited Maphalala into the underground South African Congress of Trade Unions(SACTU). Under the instruction of Moses Mabhida, General Secretary of the SACP and senior ANC leader, Maphalala attended the underground conference of SACTU. He became an underground operative and reported directly to Mabhida. Maphalala represented SACTU at the International Labour Organisation and other international forums. In 1983 he was elected the General Secretary of the National Federation of Workers. Maphalala was arrested in Durban in September 1985 and held under the detention without trial law for his alleged involvement in the banned ANC and SACP. He was detained for a year without being charged.
After his release, Maphalala became involved in the unity talks which led to the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions(COSATU) in 1985. In 1986 he left South Africa to join his wife Nombuso, who had left in 1985 to work in Lusaka, Zambia. In Zambia he worked for SACTU and was sent to Moscow for an advanced course in trade union leadership. He returned in mid-1987 and served as the SACTU Administrative Secretary until the union was disbanded in the early 1990s.
Maphalala returned to South Africa in mid-1990 after the ANC and SACP were unbanned. On his return he was appointed an educator in the National Education Department of the Postal and Telecommunications’ Association (POTWA). In 1993, Maphalala was appointed an educator by the COSATU Natal Region. Maphalala was elected regional secretary of the SACP in Southern Natal in 1994 and the following year the first SACP Provincial Secretary in KwaZulu Natal, a position he held until 1998. In 1995 the ANC also appointed Maphalala to lead the local government election campaign.
In 1997 Maphalala was elected Provincial Secretary of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union for KwaZulu Natal. He received the highest number of votes as a Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) member in the 1998 SACP Provincial Congress. He remained a member of the SACP PEC until his death. Maphalala was elected as a member of the National Assembly for the ANC in the 1999 general elections. He remained a Member of Parliament until his death.
Maphalala died on 5 February 2003 in Cape Town after a short illness, leaving behind his wife Nombuso and their four daughters and a son (Sibongile, Amandla, Ayanda and Zamansele). Memorial services were held for him in Umlazi and Pietermaritzburg on 12 and 13 February respectively. Maphalala’s funeral service was held on 16 February 2003 at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. Dr. Blade Nzimande (General Secretary of the SACP) delivered the keynote speech with tributes also delivered by Sibusiso Ndebele (ANC KwaZulu Natal Chairperson) and Joe Nkosi (COSATU Vice President).
• Sithole, J. and Ndlovu, S., 2006. “The Revival of the Labour Movement, 1970-1980” in South African Democracy Education Trust The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2: 1970-1980. Pretoria: Unisa Press