Union stalwart John Ernstzen was champion of working class rights

Union stalwart John Ernstzen was champion of working class rights

Ernstzen was at the helm of the Cape Town Municipal Workers’ Association, the largest union in the Western Cape, for more than two decades. He passed away this week.

One of South Africa’s leading trade unionists, John Ernstzen, died on November 22, 2022. Photo: Cosatu

CAPE TOWN – Former finance minister Trevor Manuel will remember union stalwart John Ernstzen as someone who dedicated his life to the plight of the working class.

The 82-year-old Ernstzen passed away this week.

He began his union career at the age of 17 and was arrested for supporting striking workers just before his 21st birthday.

Ernstzen was at the helm of the Cape Town Municipal Workers’ Association, the largest union in the Western Cape, for more than two decades.

Manuel said that Ernstzen lived to serve: “That was what made him so remarkable. The stories that he told were always stories of battles in the interest of workers and I think those stories found resonance in the lives of many people.”

Manuel recalled a story of the unifying role that Ernstzen played during the 1982 formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Manuel said that Ernstzen should live on as an example of public service life.

“I think the more important question right now is whether we are reducing the quality of leadership to be able to take forward that baton,” Manuel said.

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