Wendy Pekeur

General Secretary, Sikhula Sonke

Wendy Pekeur, the youngest female general secretary of a trade union in South Africa's history, believes she is who she is today because of her grandparents. "I am a symbol of their courage,� she says simply. Pekeur lived with them on Elsenburg state farm in the Western Cape for the first few years of her life as her own parents were not able to take care of her. At the age of seven, though, her parents took her to live with them in Kraaifontein, an area she describes as a violent, crime ridden disadvantaged community, but the young Pekeur escaped to her grandparents on the farm as often as she could. "Their home was a safe place for many,� she says. "They did so much for the community � what I'm doing is following in their footsteps.� After matriculating in 1996 Pekeur went to work on Timberlea fruit farm in Stellenbosch, where she found that, because she was a seasonal worker, she could not join the workers' union. So, in 2002, she joined Sikhula Sonke ("We grow together�) � then a women-only organisation that educated women and farm workers about their rights and that later became a trade union with a broad coverage of civil rights. Pekeur believes passionately in the power of young people and to this end she and the organisation have been involved in closing shebeens on farms, encouraging young people to get an education and creating awareness around issues of HIV/Aids and foetal alcohol syndrome. Now she has applied for a fellowship from an organisation in Johannesburg and plans to study law at Stellenbosch University so that she can do much more to help the organisation and its members. In addition to her trade union work she writes poetry and music, and has written songs for Sikhula Sonke's farm workers' choir, which has recently released a CD, and has another in the works. Pekeur is planning her own CD as a tribute to her grandmother, who died last year, and she is also writing a book about her grandparents, called In Their Footprints. She still lives on the state farm. � Tarryn Harbour