Tribute to an unforgettable comrade, Fundile Jalile

– from Pat Horn, Senior Advisor, StreetNet International

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the untimely passing of Fundile Johnson Jalile on 29 November 2020.

Even before StreetNet International was formally launched on the 14th November 2002, as Interim Coordinator with Administrator Nozipo Lembethe, we were working with comrade Jalile on building unity between street vendors and informal traders in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

I met Jalile in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, in 2001 or early 2002.  I had heard of the African Hawkers’ Association (AHA) of which he was the chairperson, and drove 5 hours from Durban to Mthatha where I arranged to meet him at the municipal offices.  He was working as a traditional healer, but previously he had served as a member of the police force – and he was very strict, especially about corruption and financial misappropriation for which he had zero tolerance.  When I asked him and his deputy chairperson what about women leaders, they said women were not committed – and we started to fight about this.  I explained that the emerging StreetNet organization would want to work with them, but only if they could accept working with an international organization with a strict policy of strong women leadership.

Frankly, at the time I thought our working relationship would go no further.

But Jalile surprised us.  He was a very committed person, and he kept in contact with StreetNet.  After some months, he informed Mam Nozipo that he had been talking to street vendors’ associations in many towns of the eastern side of the Eastern Cape province (Gompo and Mdantsane in East London, King WilliamsTown, Queenstown, Nqeleni and Mqanduli) and he said that he had thought about our arguments about women leaders, and had looked for associations with strong women leadership.  He said they were now ready to start building a provincial alliance of street vendors and informal traders.  Together with members from ACHIB (African Council of Hawkers & Informal Businesses) from Uitenhage in the western side of the Eastern Cape, the Eastern Cape Street Vendors’ Alliance was established in Mthatha on 1 May 2002. 

This was one of the first May Day celebrations of organized workers in the informal economy in South Africa.

The Eastern Cape Street Vendors’ Alliance thus became one of the founding organizations of StreetNet International in Durban on 14th November 2002.

It was the first South African organization to affiliate to StreetNet International, and Jalile was elected to serve as StreetNet International Treasurer from 2004 – 2007. 

After that he served two terms as StreetNet International Members’ Auditor, from 2007 – 2010 and 2010 – 2013, helping Mam Nozipo to keep a beady eye on StreetNet’s sparse but hard-earned financial resources.

In addition to his strictness with regard to money matters, he was an extremely strict time-keeper.

He would always be the first one at a meeting venue, complaining in a loud voice about people who don’t keep time (which was usually the majority of participants).

Travelling anywhere with Jalile meant that he would knock loudly on your door at 5a.m. to tell you to start getting up so that you would not be late for the morning’s work!

The only way to get any peace was just to get up and do as he insisted.

After getting to know Jalile, we realized that apart from his strict side, he had a very loud and funny and mischievous side.  He had an amazing linguistic ability, in all the 11 official South African languages as well as some of the languages of Mocambique and Botswana.  He generously interpreted in any of these languages on voluntary basis at StreetNet events, including International Congresses where he always interpreted in seSotho for the Lesotho participants, jokingly complaining about being exploited by StreetNet, while slipping mischievous jokes into his translations.  He was also a great musical leader and choirmaster, and often dispelled tensions in Congresses by getting all the participants singing South African liberation songs.  There was one International Congress at which he started up a Xhosa song in unison, very unflattering about men who don’t respect women, during a break after a tough discussion on the Congress floor.  The men he had been arguing with in the Congress debate joined in and clapped, enjoying the song, but blissfully unaware of what the song was saying about them J 

Over the years, Jalile had made a complete about-turn on the topic of women leadership.

At the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil, a small StreetNet delegation attended and organized some activities about the struggles of street vendors and informal traders.  After Jalile and colleague Albertina Simanga from Maputo had made very gripping presentations about the lives of street vendors and informal traders in South Africa and Mocambique, Jalile proceeded to passionately address the audience about the fact that women street vendors and informal traders endure greater suffering than men, but endure this suffering for the sake of the livelihoods of their families, much more than men are capable of doing, but they still get discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens.  When he had finished, there was a hushed silence, and then somebody said “Are all African men so progressive as this comrade?  We really need to learn a lesson from what he told us today!”  He became an instant hero. 

Personally, remembering our first argument about women leaders a few years before, I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

But he remained consistent in this topic going forward, and did not reverse again. 

He remained committed to building unity between street vendors and informal traders at all levels – and developed a habit of consistently making space for women leaders from his organization to attend international, regional and national meetings instead of always promoting himself.

Comrade Jalile and the Eastern Cape Street Vendors’ Alliance went on to be a founding member of SAITA (South African Informal Traders’ Alliance) which was launched in the Northern Cape town of Kimberley after 10 years’ hard work by StreetNet, in May 2013.  He served on the NEC (National Executive Committee) from 2013 until his untimely passing, when he was serving as the national Vice-President of SAITA.

Hamba kahle (R.I.P) comrade Jalile

Join the memorial service on December 13, 3pm South African time.