Tony Ehrenreich was born in Parow in 1961 , but evicted under the group areas act when I was 2 years old . I grew up as a back yarder , living in my grandparents modified garage , with an outside pot toilet. I attended Norwood Primary in Sub A , which I failed . I then went to St Augustine’s Primary until Standard 5 changing between English and Afrikaans classes depending on the class sizes. My first year at High School was at Florida High school , an Afrikaans medium school . I went to Elsies River High school in standard 7 in 1976 , where I took part in my first mass march against the killing of children in Soweto and Apartheid.
In matric I was one of Elsies River High schools representatives to the Committee of 81 , a student organisation in Cape Town , leading struggles . I hardly spoke in the meetings , as the kids from the English schools were just so clever and much more articulate. I am reminded that I failed in Std 8 because I was bunking and not focused on my school work. I got more focused after this and worked in my father’s garage during school holidays . My Father was very hard working and a great artisan mechanic. My Mom started working life in Sweet Orr Lybro, a clothing factory and later did the accounts in my father’s motor repair business
After school I went to work at Safmarine a Shipping Company , as I wanted to see the world , and encounter a system that was not perverted by race discrimination. It was amazing seeing and meeting people in an environment where race did not appear to matter, you could walk and go into anywhere , dance with the white girls at the disco overseas.
When I returned from about 18 months at sea , I did a variety of odd jobs at various companies . Then I did an apprenticeship at Alfa Supreme a motor repair company and became a qualified motor mechanic , like my father . During this time, since my return from sea, I was involved in community politics and youth politics in the Ravensmead area. I was detained for about 2 weeks for my involvement in mobilising for a stay away against apartheid and being involved with other activist who were ANC supporters.
When I worked as a motor mechanic for the McCarthy group I became a Shop Steward , and was active in the union structures, and was part of leading a strike in McCarthy in 1987, one of the first in that company,whilst I was a shop Steward , I was active in the Cosatu local and was delegated to go and speak at a meeting in Gugulethu , at the release of comrades from Robben Island .I spent the whole day preparing as it was my first major public address .During my speech I lost the place I was at, on the page and froze for an eternity , this must have been the worst speech anyone has ever made, but I survived. In 1988 I was encouraged to apply for a full time position in the union , which entailed quite a significant salary cut , but I was commited to playing a more active role in undoing apartheid , and the job spoke to my soul.
The time in the union was an incredible learning curve , with many challenges , that I doubted I would be able to serve well. After 2 years as a local organiser in the Cape Town office at Numsa , I was promoted to the head of the office , which just meant more work and no more pay , but I was so honoured to be elected to play a role in the leadership of our structure. This recognition and confidence that my peers had in me, played a huge role in my political development and confidence . The Trade Union also invested extensively in me and I attended various Local , National and International training sessions and represented the Union across the world. I am working on a masters degree at UWC, which has recognised my prior learning in the field .
In 1995 I was appointed as the National Negotiator for the Motor Industry based in Johanesburg at the Numsa HQ . This job entailed me traveling around the Country and dealing with the entire spectrum of members across the country and the different sectors. This opened my eyes to the country and the immense challenges that existed outside the Cape. This was also a huge learning curve as I was now involved in National Macro economics , negotiating agreements that affected workers across the entire country in this sector.
IN 1996 I was asked by the General Secretary of Numsa and the General Secretary of Cosatu if I would make myself available to stand for elections for Provincial Secretary of Western Cape Cosatu . This was a difficult professional decision, as I was making progress in the sector , but an easy personal decision, as my kids were in Cape Town. I consulted some other Comrades , who deployed me to stand for the elections in Cape Town in November 1996. The Saturday I arrived at the Cosatu Conference and was elected as the Provincial Secretary , I became part of an amazing team of Cosatu staff and leaders that saw us score many victories, in advancing the working class agenda in the Western Cape.
In 1999 I was nominated from the floor to be the Cosatu Deputy General Secretary by my Union Numsa , when Sam Left and Comrade Vavi was elected General Secretary. Again a difficult decision as my kids were getting big in CT , but after consulting my family they offered their support to my kids in my absence , I agreed to stand , I served out the term and told Comrades I wanted to return to CT thereafter, to be closer to my kids and family. When my Western Cape Comrades were advised that I was returning to CT , they nominated me for Western Cape Secretary and I was elected in 2001, a vote of confidence that I cherished.
In 2011 Cosatu in discussion with the ANC and Alliance , deployed me to stand as the ANC Mayoral candidate for the City of Cape Town. The ANC did not win the elections and I served on the City Council as a Councillor and leader of the Opposition [ ANC ] in Council. This is a challenging position and we continue to try and transform the City into a home for all, that undoes the Apartheid generational disadvantage of Black people in the City . The white establishment is very powerful in the City and uses the Council to continue the racial seperation of the City and the advantages of the white Community and old white areas.
The honour and priviledge of being elected into positions by my peers over the years , has been incredibly humbling . I commit to continue serving the working class , rather than lead, as it is the servant leadership that I have been taught by the many incredible workers , from the farms and the factories, who I encountered in my life.
The relatively high salaries perks linked to senior position and senior office is however destroying our movement and weakening the working class struggles. This is why I do not take all the monies that I earn for myself , I share and donate it with worthy causes, I also donate all the funds from public speaking events to charity , some of which is as high as R10 000 for 2 hours work , that is built on a life of preparation. LOL
Writing this made me blush , but it was good recalling some of the blessings I have had , that has enabled me to serve my people, in my own small way .