[NEWS] D. Sikwebu and J. Mdumo, 2011, “Opening Doors of Learning to Workers” (‘NUMSA News’)

Dinga Sikwebu and Judy Madumo, July 2011, “Opening Doors of Learning to Workers ,” NUMSA News, 2011

Report on the course I co-teach, and which I helped design, and co-coordinate, for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here.


NUMSA class of 2010In April and June [2010], a group of Numsa worker leaders caused a stir at the University of the Witwatersrand as they walked around corridors of the uni­versity in their colourful union t-shirts and caps. A worker at the university cafe­teria who could not contain her curiosity asked one of the Numsa members whether a union conference was being held at the university. She was surprised to hear the answer. They said that they were students at the institution. Clearly, the cafeteria worker could not imagine active unionists being university students at the same time.

Eighteen Numsa worker leaders are registered with the university and are do­ing a Sociology department certificate course in social theory and research. They were on campus in April and June as part of four week-long block-releases from work. The course is part of the union’s campaign to make uni­versity education accessible to workers.

Numsa’s 8th national congress in 2008 decided that the union should actively devise ways to open the doors of institutions of higher learning and ensure that workers have access to uni­versity education. Since then, the union’s  education  department has been negotiating with vari­ous universities to implement the congress resolution. The Wits cer­ tificate course is the fruit of these negotiations. The course, equivalent to a first-year sociology module, started last year and 13comrades graduated at the end of the year. Seven of these union members are registered for bachelors’ degrees at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Wits and Unisa.

Certificate in social theory and research
Block 1:  Debates on working class strategies
Block 2:  How capitalism works
Block 3:  Global capitalism
Block 4:  Alternatives to capitalism

“This certificate empowers us to advance the struggle of the working class. It enlightens us on contradictions that exist within capitalist society,” said one of this year’s students, Western Cape treasurer Vuyo Lufele. The course helps in heightening participants’ understanding of how capitalism works, a sentiment that was echoed by other participants. “Most of us were not aware of environmental and ecological issues,” said Ekurhuleni treasurer Gabriel Kheswa. “After the course we will not only con­centrate on production-related issues but also environmental issues.”

While this year’s intake is happy with the political nature of the course, some students in the group are still uncertain about how the course will equip them do deal with shopfloor issues. “To be honest the course is brilliant for worker leaders. The only issue is that what we have done up to now has not fo­cused on an analysis of the shopfloor,” says participant and Springs local secre­tary Leepile Khumalo. The Isipingo local secretary and national deputy secretary of the  Numsa   national  youth  desk, Khonzeni Mkhize, has a similar view. “The course is beneficial except that it should  accommodate crisis in compa­nies,” Mkhize said.

About Lucien van der Walt
I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: