John Ernstzen was the first general secretary of SAMWU. He played a key role in building up SAMWU. At the age of 22 in 1962 John was employed by the Cape Town City Council as a laborer in the Parks and Forest Department. In the same year, he joined the Cape Town Municipal Workers Association (CTMWA).John together with other comrades transformed the CTMWA into active democratic and non-racial union.In 1968 he was elected as the full-time General Secretary of CTMWA. Under his leadership the CTMWA joined UDF and became active in the unity talk that eventually led to the formation of COSATU in 1985. John served in the first COSATU CEC and NEC in 1985.When SAMWU was formed on COSATU instructions in 1987, the CTMWA become a key component of the new union and John was elected as the first General Secretary of SAMWU. After 1994, John became a special Advisor to the Ministry for Public Service and Administration and served on various boards.
The late Richard Spalding, pictured above, was born 06 August 1963. He played a central role in the formation and growth of the SA Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU). Spalding was well-known for standing up for the rights of municipal workers during SAMWU formative years. He was one of the first SAMWU shop stewards in the then Johannesburg City Council (JCC).Spalding worked at the Cas Mia Old age home in Hillbrow. He represented the then Transvaal in national executive committee meetings during SAMWU formative years. At the JCC, Spalding and his fellow comrades had to confront the apartheid municipality whose aim was to smash the union- SAMWU. The JCC security department, now Metro Police Department, spied on union activities by attending SAMWU meeting, disguised as members. The surveillance of union meetings and its key leadership led to attacks on the leaders and their homes by the JCC security department. Spalding and his family survived one of these attacks on his home. However, these attacks never discouraged Spalding. He continued to build SAMWU. Spalding also contributed to the merger of three other unions within the JCC to form the country’s biggest branch of SAMWU. By SAMWU History Project