Mthuthuzeli Tom was born on 7 September 1959, in the village of Mpongo outside East London, and was one of eight children. His mother was a domestic worker and his father was a factory worker at a battery assembling plant in East London.

Tom was exposed to the union movement at a young age through his father, an active member of the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU).While a pupil at Khulani Commercial High he attended union meetings and took part in strategising sessions.

After matriculating in 1980, he trained as a welder and got his first job at Mercedes-Benz. He joined the South African Allied Workers Union (SAWU) and National Allied Workers Union (NAWU), became involved as an organiser on the factory floor and was elected as a shop steward. He also became active in community organisations and the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Tom was involved in talks that led to the creation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in 1985, and led his union in talks with other metal unions to form the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in 1987.

He became deputy chairperson of the COSATU in 1988 and president of NUMSA in 1992. He held this position until his retirement due to ill health in 2008.

Tom died from lung cancer on 27 August 2010 in East London, and is survived by his wife Ntombikayise and two children.

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