Emma Mashinini was a legendary trade unionist and pioneer until the very end, the ANC and Cosatu said on Monday, following her death at the age of 87.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said she was an author and leader who remained loyal to the people of South Africa. He called on people to emulate her selflessness, dedication, loyalty and love for the people.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said she was a pioneering trade unionist.
Pamla said she was at the forefront of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), which ensured employees worked a minimum of 40 hours a week and got Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits.
"When you look at her history, she was a woman who fought the system. She was working class from the start. She looked beyond race," Pamla said.
Mashinini was born in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, in 1929. She and her family moved to Prospect township near City Deep when she was six, then to Sophiatown, before finally settling in Orlando West, Soweto.
A school drop-out at the age of 14, she had to work to look after her mother who had no money. She became a union organiser at a garment factory.
She joined the ANC in 1956 and was instrumental in the transition to ANC rule in the 1980s and 1990s.
She got married at the age of 17 and had six children, three of which died.
She served the National Union of Clothing Workers for 12 years and founded Saccawu in 1975.
In 1981 and 1982, Mashinini was arrested and detained for six months without being charged.
She became commissioner for restitution of land rights after serving on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
About the ANC's Congress of the People in Kliptown in 1955, she said: "I was not a card-carrying member, but at that meeting, I was a member in body, spirit and soul. So I think that congress was really an eye-opener for me. That, maybe, is when I started to be politicised. Although there is another thing, which I have always felt, which is that I have always resented being dominated."
Mashinini's autobiography, "Strikes Have Followed Me All My Life", was published in 1989. It was republished in 2012.