Gideon du Plessis – General Secretary of Solidarity – is not the first person who comes to mind when you think of South African union leaders.
For a start, he’s white.
And the union he leads has its roots in the 117 year old Mineworkers Union – a trade union which once stood for racial segregation on the mines.
While it still recruits on the mines and has many Afrikaaners in its ranks, it is now a fully non-racial union.
Why the title ‘working class hero?’
Through sheer hard work and dogged deterimination du Plessis has managed to pursue one of the most powerful, corrupt families in the country: the Zumas.
And after years in the courts he has finally managed to pin down one of the worst offender – Khulubuse Zuma – whose assets look as if they are about to be liquidated.
Zuma is accused of robbing some of the poorest, most exploited miners in the country.
The Aurora miners
I came across the story back in 2011 when – as BBC Africa Editor – I went to South Africa to visit the Aurora mine.
The tale the miners told was one of how two individuals – ANC ‘royalty’ – had conspired to buy the gold mine and then systematically strip it of all its assets.
The managing director of Aurora was Zondwa Gadaffi Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela. The chairman was Khulubuse Zuma, nephew of President Jacob Zuma.
I met people like Primrose Javu, who had once made a descent living on the mine.
She lived in fear of the debt collectors. Like many other former miners, Primrose had nothing to fall back on.
She was deeply cynical about how Zuma had used his money to buy influence during an election.
“Khulubuse Zuma gave one million rand to the ANC. For what reason? He gave it to them just to shut [them] up.”
Driven over the edge
Others had suffered an even worse fate.
The closure of the shafts at Grootvlei has severely affected the local economy in the nearby town of Springs, where local pawn shops are full of furniture, TVs, fridges, and even clothes, sold by former Aurora workers – black and white – struggling to make ends meet.
“We had to sell some of our curtains, our crockery, a lot of stuff,” Susan Ferreira told us.
“It’s things you get over the years, and it breaks your heart to do a thing like that, just to get some food on the table.”
Mrs Ferreira’s husband, Marius, worked at the Aurora mine, and like many others, saw his pay packet dry up.
“He stressed a lot, and said he couldn’t go on any more. My husband took his life – he’s gone.”
The Solidarity union says the company owed Mr Ferreira approximately 170,000 rand (£15,500; $25,600).
It is these cases that drove Gideon du Plessis’s relentless quest to win reconpence for his members.
It seems that finally some will receive a portion of what they are owed, but Gideon is not over optimistic.
“Zuma had so much time to hide his riches. But he will still be declared bankrupt and that burden will remain with him,” Gideon informed me.
Zuma’s victims must live with the legacy he left them.