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Stephen Dlamini (1913 - )

The Order of Luthuli in

Stephen Dlamini (1913 - ) Awarded for:
His exceptional contribution to the struggle for liberation, workers’ rights and a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

Profile of Stephen Dlamini

Stephen Dlamini was born in 1913 in KwaZulu-Natal and rose to become a leading trade unionist and member of the African National Congress (ANC). A factory worker, Dlamini rose through trade union ranks to become chairperson of the African Textile Workers’ Union as early as the 1950s.

A stalwart of the ANC who participated in the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and formed part of the historic drafting of the Freedom Charter, Dlamini also ran trade union classes in and around Durban around the early 1950s, which were critical in empowering workers with trade union rights and much needed political education.

At the inaugural conference of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu), held on 5 March 1955 in Johannesburg, Dlamini was elected to its National Executive Committee (NEC). He was instrumental in building a vibrant trade union steeped in congress traditions. Sactu emerged out of 19 trade unions representing over 20 000 workers. From the beginning, Sactu committed itself to playing a dual role of fighting both economic and political struggles. For him, the exploitation of a worker was intrinsically linked to the oppression of black people.

Dlamini was an accused in the infamous Treason Trial of 1956 until charges against him were withdrawn in late 1958. In 1960, he went into hiding and helped to organise demonstrations against the detention of congress leaders. In 1961, he was an organiser for the All in Africa Conference held in Pietermaritzburg and the May “stay-at-home” campaign called by the ANC.

In the early 1960s, Dlamini was detained under the notorious 90-day detention. Three years later, he was imprisoned on Robben Island and after his release from prison banished to a rural reserve. In 1967, Dlamini was elected honorary president of Sactu, which was in exile at the time. In 1976, Dlamini left South Africa and rejoined Sactu in exile as its last elected president, immediately throwing himself into the work of Sactu abroad.

In exile, he participated in the work of the ANC and became a member of its NEC. Between 1980 and 1983, he served on the Revo­lutionary Council of the ANC that was chaired by the acting president, Oliver Tambo, and included Moses Mabhida and Job Tabane (Cassius Maake).

When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, he returned from exile and was part of processes and meetings which formally decided not to re-establish Sactu inside the country, in the interest of having one country and one federation, since by then the Congress of South African Trade Unions had been formed. He remained a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC till the end.