Moses Ndlovu was born in KwaSemane which is in the Otto Bluff area near Pietermaritzburg, Natal. His parents were farm tenants. Ndlovu attended primary school in Crammond, Natal. His first experience with the racially oppressive system of the apartheid government came at the tender age of 14 when he began working on the farm on which his parents were tenants. Ndlovu was responsible for looking after the farmer’s livestock. One day Ndlovu drove the cattle onto the railway line in front of an oncoming goods train. Some of the cattle were run over which resulted in the expulsion of his family from the farm. The Ndlovu family relocated to KwaMpande and later to KwaShange, west of Pietermaritzburg. There Ndlovu enrolled at the local school but only studied until standard eight (grade 10 today). He dropped out of school as his father had passed away and he had to find work in order to provide for his mother and younger siblings. His first job was at Meadow Feeds in 1962. A year later, in 1963, he started working in the newly built up industrial area in Hammersdale. He worked there until 1972. It was during this period where he was exposed to trade unionism.

After he was recruited into the African National Congress(ANC) in the mid 1960s, his first assignment was to concentrate on mobilising workers into trade unions. During the 1973 strikes he worked closely with the likes of Barney Dladla and Alec Erwin in the Trade Union Advisory Co-ordinating Council (TUACC). In 1975 the ANC tasked him with underground work. Ndlovu was responsible for identifying suitable young men and women within the trade union structures who could be recruited and sent abroad for military training. In doing this, he worked directly with activists such as Harry Gwala, Mathews Meyiwa, Alpheus Mdlalose and William Khanyile.  

While carrying out his underground work he managed to escape the security police until 1976. His cover was blown when Gwala and Azaria Ndebele ordered him to co-ordinate transport for the families of those on trial in Pietermaritzburg between 1976 and 1977. He was placed under a banning order from 1977 to 1981 and was prohibited from being in the company of more than three people at one time.

In 1981 Ndlovu became involved in establishing the trade union structures in the Natal Midlands Region with Jay Naidoo, Johnstone Makhathini, Kenneth Dladla, Theo Nene and Pat Honn amongst others. Together they began to organise workers in general workers unions. When it was decided that that sector-based affiliates of the Federation of South African Trade Unions(Fosatu) should be established, Ndlovu and Makhathini assisted in forming almost all the Pietermaritzburg-based trade unions which later became affiliates of Congress of South African Trade Unions(Cosatu). This included organising workers in Ladysmith and Cato Ridge.

At the height of violence in Natal during the early 1990s, Ndlovu led the formation and co-ordination of self-defence units (SDUs) in the great Vulindlela area, thus providing much needed leadership. This meant that he was constantly harassed by the security police and vigilantes from the Inkatha Freedom Party(IFP). During the violence of March to April 1990 (so-called Seven Days War) Ndlovu’s daughter was murdered by government inspired vigilantes. He also witnessed the killing of neighbours and friends.

Post-1994 Ndlovu continued to work in the trade union movement. He was involved with the Paper, Wood and Allied Workers Union (PWAWU) as an organiser. He remained with the union when it became the Wood and Allied Workers Union (PPWAWU) and later the South African, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Sappawu).

Ndlovu died on 6 May 2004 at his home in Pietermaritzburg. A funeral service was held at the Holy Trinity Church in Pelham and he was buried at the Mountain Rise Cemetery. 

• Gcabashe, S. 2004. ‘Comrade Moses Ndlovu to be laid to rest tomorrow’ in African National Congress: Press Statements [online]. Available at[25 September 2012]
• 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

Collections in the Archives