Any Cosatu-affiliated trade unionist - past and present - who supports the move by the national convention to establish a new political organisation has sinned and will "go to hell".

With those words, the executive of the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) decreed that the name of the union's first general secretary, Moses Mayekiso, be removed from the union's convention centre.

No public statement was made, but the centre, in downtown Johannesburg, opposite the union's head office, now has a black banner draped over the name as plans are made to remove it permanently.

A commercial venture by the union, the centre is used by other unions and groups for meetings and conferences and everything from note paper to brochures carries the Mayekiso name.

"It seems crazy and it will obviously cost money, but all of it will have to go," a Numsa regional official said.

The decision was taken by an executive meeting last Friday at which there was only muted protest.

The Cosatu chair for the Eastern Cape, Goodman Wayile, reportedly quoted SA Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary Blade Nzimande as saying that even if a man lived an exemplary life and committed just one sin before he died, he would still "go to hell".

Hell, in this case, was to remove all reference to Mayekiso, probably the first general secretary of any major union to be elected while in prison.

One of the main organisers of the Metal and Allied Workers' Union (Mawu) throughout the early 1980's, Mayekiso and four Alexandra township activists became the focus of perhaps the biggest ever international prisoner release campaign by trade unions.

Mayekiso was arrested in 1986 and held in solitary confinement in the basement cells of John Vorster Square for eight months before being charged - together with his younger brother Mzwanele, Obed Bapela, Richard Mdakane and Paul Tshabalala - with counts of treason and sedition.

The treason charge was eventually dropped and the "Alex Five" were acquitted on all other counts.

But while the five were still in prison, Mawu and other unions in the metal and engineering sector joined forces to become Numsa, and Mayekiso was unanimously elected general secretary.

Although, as a Mawu organiser and regional secretary, he was known as a "workerist" and was attacked by both the ANC and the SACP.

He joined the ANC in 1990 and was appointed to the central committee of the SACP. In this capacity, he was one of the official welcoming party for Nelson Mandela when he was released from Victor Verster prison.

Contacted about the move by the Numsa executive, Mayekiso, now 61, shrugged: "It doesn't matter. I never asked for that in the first place."