Message from the Director

Message from the Director

Workers College turns 25 in 2017. This is a significant achievement in an ever-changing context and we will be sharing more of the events and activities planned for 2017 in due course.


Whenever an historical milestone is reached one is given pause to reflect on the past to inform action going forward. The Workers’ College has since its inception spearheaded a form of worker education that is both rigorous and simultaneously grounded in working class learner experience. It has stood by this approach steadfastly and must not loose this unique offering as it moves into the future. In looking back it is also apparent that trade unions themselves and trade union based education have undergone enormous changes over the past quarter of a century. The constant threat however remains a capitalist system that can and will always attempt to undermine the gains the working class have made in order to maximise profit. It is the sole logic of the system. This can and will have terrible consequences for our communities who also remain perched on the knife edge of poverty. If allowed this will undo much of the progress we have made as a country since 1994.

When looking at the history of the Workers’ College as part of the struggle for social and economic justice in South Africa it is clear that its most important contribution has been in the development of the capacity of activist leaders in unions and communities. This must remain a central pillar of our delivery and offerings. Part of achieving this means in remembering the past we return back to the basics. Shop stewards education aimed at the shop steward as leader, activist, educator and representative must be central to our contributions. For this purpose a number of shop steward focussed programmes have been developed to be run in 2017. This will be outcomes based training so that at the end of all the training we get a shop steward who can be an organizer – a shopsteward who can do job of being representative , a shopsteward who know what democratic role is to play in the shopsteward committee, a shopsteward who knows how to defend and extend workers’ rights deal with workers ‘problems individual and collective, able to approach management with an pure understanding of capitalist tendencies and able to thrive in taking up workers’ grievances for is well equip with tools of preparing and taking up disciplinary cases to any level and deal properly with disciplinary enquiry and the likes. A Shop steward who knows through proper training what is collective bargaining, how to negotiate wages and working conditions at workplace, proper understanding of handling disputes. We look forward to training that will emancipate Shop stewards with skill in the interests of those they represent but also in the interests of a productive economy.

Another key role the Workers’ College has played in the past was the opening of space for debate and deliberation about ideas and strategies to progress the interests of the working class must follow from these efforts. In the past the Workers’ College has had an active programme of evening discussions and seminars to supplement classroom discussions.  This practice will be revived in 2017.

As a labour movement in South Africa and as communities we have always managed to use the law strategically and tactically to advance our struggles. However the education of workers and community members has been too easily handed over to institutions outside of the struggle resulting in a watering down and demobilisation of legal education. To challenge this trend the College has established a legal unit and has developed a new Advanced Certificate in Labour Law and a labour law Programme both of which will commence in 2017. At the same time the College is in conversation with the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) about the establishment of a Paralegal Diploma to bolster the capacity of community advice offices nationally and contribute to the formalisation of many paralegals prior experience.

Knowledge has always been the life blood of our movement. Knowledge does not stand still and as important as it is at this time to reflect on where we have come from so to is it important to be part of creating new knowledge that is squarely based in working class experience and context. This is critical in order to challenge the orthodoxy of ideas that lie at the centre of many of the countries learning institutions, but do not benefit the working class nor support our struggles. The Workers’ College has established a research Department in 2016 to spearhead this process.

At a strategic level, to this end, the College has redoubled its efforts to formalise its higher education status and take its place alongside our established public universities as a peer. It has also applied to ETDP SETA for recognition. Mainstream education and training adopts a mantle of legitimacy through processes of accreditation and quality assurance. These are important aspects of academic excellence and knowledge creation and dissemination in themselves and key to protecting the interests of learners. But beyond this it was recognised by the learning and governing community of the college that you can not challenge established ideas being taught to generations of students from the periphery. Once in this space it is then that we can begin to challenge the orthodoxy and work towards the recognition of our knowledge and the development of wisdom, the practice of knowledge, that elevates the interests of the working class.

I must emphasise that this is not a new direction but rather the culmination of efforts made by the institution over the years. The establishment of the Industrial Working Life Degree Programme 17 years ago was a first step towards this end. The expansion of collaborative programmes with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Durban University of Technology an intensification of the process. The beginning of research capacity and programmes at the College another step towards the recognition, valuing and generation of working class knowledge and wisdom.

We are proud to announce that the five traditional programmes offered in collaboration with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal have been subject to a rigorous process of module based template development and application to the Council for Higher Education for additional accreditation. They will still be offered in the same format and in the same collaborative spirit that has been a hallmark of the relationship with the University over the years, and endorsed by both institutions. The name change from the historically used generic term diploma to certificate is part of the Workers’ College compliance process necessary for registration. The module based approach allows us the flexibility to combine different accredited modules into programmes for unions and communities that most closely meet their needs whilst the learning still caries accreditation and is fully portable. Learners can then accrue credits without having to complete an entire qualification. This process should also ensure even greater portability of learning both in South Africa and internationally.

In order to widen access the college intends to introduce a new learning format and additional qualifications in 2017. This will entail initially non-funded qualifications that will be run in the evenings. Many potential learners can not secure the time off to attend block courses and these qualifications are intended to fill that gap.  A full two year diploma in labour studies that carries many of the specialisms of the higher certificates as electives has been developed and submitted for accreditation to this end.  This also facilitates greater vertical and horizontal articulation with other programmes including the Degree. This will mean reducing repeated learning and reducing the time necessary to complete higher qualifications. We are also very proud to announce that the efforts to build legal capacity in and through the College have born fruit. Our new NQF level 6 advanced Labour Law Certificate is going to be a key offering  in 2017 and will commence in a night class format from July. It will also underscore the labour law programme the College will be running in collaboration with the CCMA from earlier in the year. The Labour law offerings should appeal to many of the College Alumina who did not have the chance to receive intensive and practice orientated labour law courses. Suitably qualified and experienced legal staff have been recruited to develop these offerings.

Looking back at 2016, Workers College has come a long way. We have repositioned the organisations and ensured that it’s Compliance, relevance and contribution to all things educational in Worker Education in South Africa and regionally has been strengthened. We have built new relationships and also revived some of our longstanding engagements across the Worker Education community.

2017 promises to be an exciting year for working class education generally and here at the College more specifically. The College prides itself as a strategic asset to the labour movement and the working class.

We would like to thank all the institutions that have supported us in making this journey possible. Special thanks must be expressed to the Department of Higher education and Training, the National Skills Fund and the Longest standing supporter of the Workers College, the Department of Labour. It is also important to acknowledge the Board and council of the Worker’s College for the leadership and governance they have given in building and directing this institution over the last 25 years. A special thanks is given to the current Board for their wisdom in guiding the organisation through a transition period.  Thank you to the staff and visiting lecturers who have brought passion, knowledge and commitment to their jobs and together with learners helped shape the learning culture and practice here at the College. The students have of course been the very reason for the Workers’ College’s existence. They have brought great energy and often selfless commitment to the struggle and to the group of study. We salute you and wish all current students and participants in the 2017 year a fruitful year of learning and sharing.

Dr. Thulani John Mbuli

kaMhlupheki KaSkhisi-Polobho-KaMdlalose, KaNomakhanyeza,  Wembude,WaseMangweni, kaNtshosho kaZikode -olingana nasentendeni yesandla!

Uyabonga ngakho konke esizweni uLindisa, uMakhunga, uNdlolothi, uMngunikazi waseMhlabaneni!

Nime njalo nina bakaNtu!

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