The South African Federation of Trade Unions has learnt with great sadness the passing away of the trade union stalwart and leader of the working class Comrade John Nkadimeng.
SAFTU sends its deepest condolences to his wife, children and the entire family.
John Nkadimeng was a former shop steward of the African Tobacco Workers Union. He served in the leadership structures of the then Transvaal Council on Non-European Trade Unions which later founded the South African Congress of Trade Unions at its launch in 1955. Later he joined the Transvaal Iron and Steel Metal Workers Union as a full-time official.
His contribution in the struggle saw him, together with 156 other activists and leaders, arrested and being part of the most extended treason trial in the history of South Africa.
He became the General Secretary of the South African Congress of Trade Unions in 1983, a position he held until the unbanning of the ANC, SACP, PAC and others in 1990. He was at the forefront of calling for unity of workers in South Africa that led to the formation of COSATU in 1985.
When it was imminently clear that the liberation movement and its associated formations would be unbanned, he never sought to cling to his position of General Secretary but instead argued that SACTU must fold, and become part of COSATU. This was typical of his approach. When Comrade John was confronted by a challenge he always started by asking a question, ‘What will best empower the working class?’ Not for him the way of many, who sought to protect their own interests and career before considering meeting the needs of the working class.
It is hoped that this brief history of a gentle giant of the workers struggle will serve to educate the current generation of trade union leaders and members, of the extraordinary role he played. He was a very disciplined comrade, and expected no less from his comrades, but what made him different to many is that he never lost his sense of compassion. He had a soft heart and was always empathetic when crisis faced not just his comrades, but their extended families and the communities they were from. He would not compromise or tolerate those who were ill-disciplined, and tried to show by example what he expected of others. He was always punctual for example, and was scrupulous in dealing with financial matters. He believed that being punctual was to be respectful to others attending meetings and would chastise those who pitched up late, for being disrespectful for behaving as if their time was more precious than anyone else’s!
He was a consummate debater who prepared his arguments and researched the issues, but steadfastly refused to impose his views or denigrate others, and he wasn’t afraid of being persuaded to change his mind. In this sense he was a skilled educator who earned universal respect from his peers, young and old.
Many comrades will remember his appetite for knowledge and pleasure in listening to the struggles of workers in other parts of the world. He was an internationalist in deed and thought. When he left the Union movement to become a diplomat he surprised many of his colleagues with the depth of his understanding of the countries of the world, and how international relations worked.
Ntate Nkadimeng hated all forms of oppression and exploitation and dedicated his entire life to fighting for a socialist South Africa. He was courageous, and unafraid of raising critical issues when he felt they had to be discussed, and he was feistily independent in thought. Comrade JK as he was popularly known, was a militant who led by example.
The South African working class has lost a standard-bearer who set very high moral and ethical standards for those purporting to represent the aspiration of workers.
We especially thank his family and loved ones at this time, for allowing him to play such a pivotal role in our struggle, a struggle he appreciated was far from over, and must continue.
Hamba Kahle Comrade John Ntate Nkadimeng. We thank you for your service to the working class.