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The events leading to the Marikana massacre not only shattered South Africa's image of itself as a democracy in which workers had a respected place, but also the image of Cosatu and its largest affiliate at the time. Subsequent events confirm that South Africa's pre-eminent trade union federation has lost its way. To understand why this has happened, Jan Theron argues, it is necessary to understand the choices made by the trade unions that formed it in the 1980s. The Food and Canning Workers' Union (FCWU) was perhaps the most famous of these, and had produced some of the country's most prominent labour leaders - Ray Alexander, Oscar Mpetha and Liz Abrahams, among others.
Jan Theron was born and educated in Cape Town. At the age of 26 he became general secretary of FCWU, a position he occupied until 1986, when he became general secretary of FAWU.