When Elijah Barayi was elected as Cosatu president at the federation’s launch in 1985, he brought with him years of
struggle dating back to the 1950s.
At the time he was 55 years old, the vice-president of Num and a personnel assistant at the Blyvooruitzicht mine.
Born in 1930 in the Eastern Cape town of Cradock, Barayi was the youngest of 10 children. His father, a municipal
worker, and his mother, a domestic worker, encouraged his education and he completed his matric at the Healdtown
Institution in 1949. Unable to continue to pay for his studies at Fort Hare University, Barayi went to work as a clerk in
the Department of Native Affairs in Cradock.
In 1952 he joined the ANC, and was “taught politics” by the Rev Calata, a former ANC secretary general. Barayi recalled
in an interview in 1991 how he joined the Defiance Campaign with enthusiasm. He remembered a group of volunteers,
without papers, marching to the local police station, in defiance of curfew regulations barring Africans from being on the
streets at night.
“We were not prepared to carry documents in the land of our forefathers,” Barayi said. He and others were arrested,
refused to pay any fines and spent a month in jail. “I was delighted to go to jail,” he recalled.
When the ANC was banned in 1960, Barayi was one of thousands arrested under state of emergency provisions. He spent
five months in jail. After his release, he still faced police harassment and he decided to leave the Eastern Cape. He even
made plans to cross the border to join Umkhonto we Sizwe, but this failed when his contact was arrested.
But MK’s loss was Num’s gain. Barayi was employed as a time clerk at a gold mine in Brakpan. In 1973 he got a job at
Blyvooruitzicht gold mine in Carltonville. Here he was elected to chair the mine’s liaison committee.
Barayi recalled that he “tried to raise political issues such as racial discrimination and underpayment” in this forum, and
when his term of office expired, the mine management refused to allow him to stand for election again.
In 1981 he met then Num general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa and became one of the first miners to join Num. He was
elected a Num shaft steward and soon after was elected vice-president of the union.
In the unity talks leading to the formation of Cosatu, Barayi played an important part in bringing Num, then affiliated to
Cusa, into the process.
Elijah Barayi, sadly passed away on the 22 January 1994, but his memory lives on.