Phumzile Gomomo 2016

Phumzile John Gomomo was born in Adelaide in the Eastern Cape on 16 December 1946. He was educated at Ntlaka Lower Primary School and Marymount High School, but left school in Grade 8 and later completed his matric through correspondence courses. 

In 1963, he joined Volkswagen of South Africa and was assisted by the company to study Labour Relations at the former University of Port Elizabeth.

His early understanding of South African political and social challenges was greatly enhanced through his association with the workers’ struggle. In the early 70’s he emerged as one of the prominent leaders of workers, soliciting support from the MDM to strengthen the workers’ role and the struggles.

Comrade John, as he was affectionately known, served the trade union with distinction. He was elected as Chairperson of the Volkswagen Liaison Committee in the early 70’s at the time when it was illegal for blacks to join unions. He became the first Chairperson of the Eastern Cape Region of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) and took part in the four-year long talks, that in 1985 led to the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). In 1987, a number of metal workers’ unions came together to form the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (NUMSA). Comrade John led these unity talks that produced one of the biggest unions in our country, and the largest metalworkers’ union in Africa.

Comrade John became one of the leaders that persuaded German multinational corporations to adopt the "14 point standards", which made it possible for trade unions to organise without the threat of harassment, arrest and intimidation.

In recognition of his qualities as a leader and a metalworker, COSATU elected him as 2nd Deputy President in 1989 and as President in 1991. He became instrumental in the struggles that workers waged at the time and towards the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), and the negotiated transitions in 1994. Despite these additional responsibilities, he remained in touch with his constituency at VWSA, and remained a pillar for metalworkers and leader of the federation.

In 1999 he was redeployed to serve the people as an ANC Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration, displaying a high level of discipline that was expressed by his commitment and availability to carry out the tasks of the organisation at all times.

Comrade Gomomo was not self-centered, ambitious nor a careerist and always associated himself with the toiling masses as a true servant of the people. Sadly, on 22 January 2008 he met his untimely death at Cuyler Clinic in Uitenhage.

For his dedication and unwavering commitment in addressing the rights of workers, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is honoured to posthumously present Phumzile John Gomomo with the Council Prestige Award.