Farewell stalwart of workers’ rights

Farewell stalwart of workers’ rights

MASERU-DANIEL Maraisane stood tall, and smiling, as hundreds of women surrounded him chanting Maraisane tloho re bue (Maraisane, come let’s talk).

That was not a happy moment for the veteran trade unionist.
That was the day when factory workers, the majority of them women, had defected from his Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union (Lecawu) to join a rival union, the Factory Workers Union (FAWU).

As they continued to taunt him, Maraisane stood there with a broad grin.
Comrade Dan, as he was affectionately called by his colleagues, had just seen one of his trusted lieutenants, Macaefa Billy, who is now late, leave Lecawu to form a rival union.

Billy was to drag half of Lecawu’s members with him when he defected in 2003.
As I watched the drama unfold from my office window at Manonyane Centre in Maseru, I could not help but admire the resilience of the man at one of his weakest moments.

As the women continued to encircle him while taunting him, the man kept on smiling, unmoved by the whole drama.
He was to later confess to me how much he had enjoyed that engagement with the women.

Here was a man who would never give up easily.
With half of his members gone, Maraisane worked hard to rebuild the union he had built from scratch.
Born on December 23, 1953, comrades and some of the workers he came to represent say Maraisane was a man for all seasons in defending the rights of workers and the downtrodden.

He was one of the pioneering trade unionists in Lesotho.
Maraisane’s career as a trade unionist began at President Brand Mine in Welkom, a mining town in the Free State in South Africa.

It was in the hard days of the apartheid era but so committed was he to the cause of the workers’ rights that he ended up being banned by the apartheid government from entering South Africa.

A tale by a colleague at Unite, Tanki Sepano goes that he was actually driven by the security police of South Africa all the way to the Lesotho border and that upon reaching the border, he was served with a lifelong ban that ordered him not to enter South Africa under any circumstances because of his trade union activities.

Comrade Dan would however have the lifelong ban to enter South Africa lifted after Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratic president in 1994.
It was upon reaching Lesotho after the expulsion and subsequent ban by the South African government that he formed Lecawu, a textile industry workers’ union with Macaefa Billy and Sello Tšukulu.

It was the beginning of a lifelong career defending the rights of previously marginalised workers in the Kingdom of Lesotho.
The workers he took a calling to defend had previously had to endure appalling work conditions and basically had no rights until Lecawu was formed.

He lived as a trade unionist, serving such trade unions as Fawu (after patching relations with its leadership), the Independent Democratic Unions of Lesotho (Idul), and the United Textile Employees (Unite) which he served from 2016 until his death on September 26, 2020.

As a trade unionist, Maraisane served as one of the advisers that would make it a point to inspect the factories, to assess the working conditions of the employees and to offer advice on improvements to the working conditions.

This relationship between factory owners and union leaders saw the programme strengthen the industry’s health and safety policies, allowing better communication with workers and greater transparency for buyers.
The model Maraisane pioneered has also been introduced in several Asian countries, and could provide a model for the garment industry worldwide, helping prevent disasters like the Bangladesh building collapse.

“It’s made a big difference,” said Maraisane who was then a member of the Factory Workers Union, the biggest union in Lesotho’s garment sector in 2013.
Due to the standards adopted to see to better working conditions Comrade Dan stipulated, “Because of them, we don’t have things like what happened in Bangladesh.”

Ever loving, gentle and firm Maraisane fought for the plight of the marginalised workers to the point where he attended conferences on workers’ rights in several countries overseas that include the United States, Europe, and the ILO headquarters.

No worker was to him better than the other, his main point of focus being better pay and reasonable working conditions for all members of the workforce, from civil servants to security guards, factory workers to migrant miners.
It is said that his death after a stroke at Scott Hospital in Morija came in the midst of a strike action by the health workers.

However ironic his death came on September 26, 2020, it seems a twist of fate that the man for all seasons and stalwart of workers died in the midst of a strike action by workers fighting for their rights and better working conditions as he had fought in his life.

Sad his passing is, but it seems fate granted him the grace of dying in the middle of what he had truly lived for.
Secretary general for Unite, May Rathakane, says Comrade Dan’s death had shocked him.

Rathakane says Maraisane was their spokesman during their hard struggles as he was mature and experienced.
The battles include the M800 salary increment that was later implemented and he later led the unions in fighting for the M2 000 minimum wages.

Rathakane said he once went to the United States with Maraisane to lobby buyers to boycott companies whose factories were sweatshops.
“We won most of our battles,” Rathakane says.
“How can he leave us in this crisis when companies are retrenching our people?”

Comrade Dan will be remembered as a unionist who was not rude and found the fun in transferring his skills to other people.
Rathakane says he will remember him as “a selfless leader”.

Tšepiso Mothibi & Caswell Tlali

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