Many things to many people
Published: 1st Nov 2019
Obituary: Mark Stephen Bennett, African Cotton, Textiles & Apparel Monitor, (23/07/1960-26/08/2019)
By Simon Reed, Accounting & Financial Services
It is with much sadness that I have been asked to write this.
My friend, Mark Bennett, died in Accra, Ghana on 26 August, totally unexpectedly of a heart attack.
I met Mark way back in 1978, lurking around the Tolkien Society on campus, University of Natal Durban, and we moved in and out of each other’s lives since then. Our relationship was based on mutual insults and dissing the other's taste in music.
Mark did not like Prog Rock! His political and religious views were the antithesis of mine, yet we were the best of mates.
Since he died, I have learnt many things about him I was unaware of.
A textile trade union struggle activist, a South African Customs Union diplomat in Namibia, a textile industry development advisor to the Lesotho government. He had also worked in Tanzania, Mozambique and Botswana. I heard that he was respected as an intellectual and a principled socialist.
Who is this man? My mate, with the big heart and not quite so big other bits?
He left his body to science – so even in death he kept giving to society.
The struggle continues, and I miss him every day.
By Etienne Vlok, SACTWU
I met Mark in 1999 at the Abelarde Sanction, Mark’s favourite bar in Brixton, Johannesburg - over a beer and a pool cue. Mark drinking beer is stating the obvious. He would never ever have been found with a glass of wine in his hand and was happy to insult anyone who drank the stuff.
Yes, Mark enjoyed insults: Prog Rock listeners, Jazz aficionados, wine lovers, raging capitalists, instant coffee drinkers, dog owners and hipsters. But that was only because he was so passionate about the things he loved: punk and rock music, beer, socialism, real coffee, cats and authenticity.
A South African textile trade union struggle activist, a Southern African Customs Union diplomat in Namibia, a textile industry development advisor to the Lesotho government. He had also worked in Tanzania, Mozambique and Botswana.
After a period of anti-apartheid activism, as a journalist and researcher, in the 1980s, Mark joined the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) in 1989 as head of collective bargaining and research. At the union, for the first time, he became involved in industrial and trade policy. He was also responsible for all bargaining that occurred between SACTWU and employers and represented the union on several structures, including the Swart Commission, the newly-established CCMA and Nedlac. In 2001, he was appointed by the President of South Africa to the Board on Tariffs & Trade, the predecessor of ITAC. Mark also helped set up SACTWU’s research and policy unit in the early 2000s.
Following his time in the union, he used his knowledge of the clothing, textile and footwear (CTF) industry to advise other countries on growing their sectors and developing trade and industrial policies, including Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Tanzania. Later, he also advised the SACU and SADC Secretariats on CTF policy and broader trade matters and policy.
In recent years, Mark, with his friends Deidre Harte and William Scalco, conceptualised Source Africa, the intra-African CTF trade show. He also started the African, Cotton, Textiles & Apparel Monitor, a newsletter covering value chain developments in Africa.
Mark was respected as an intellectual and a principled socialist. He had a deep knowledge of the South African and African CTF industries, of industrial policy, of trade matters and WTO and other trade agreements, and of workers’ struggles, all of which he happily shared with everyone around him, in the hope that they would contribute to industrialising Africa, growing CTF jobs and industry and bringing about a fair and just world.
Mark knew more than most, was always at the cutting edge of important events and knowledge, and was known and quoted by many. Ironically while he was naturally anti-establishment, he was himself an institution.
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