By Samukele Hadebe
Although Chris Hani Institute (CHI) was founded in 2003, and has so far, achieved notable milestones (for example, labour research, book publications and public engagements with labour stakeholders) as part of providing alternatives to the pervasive neo-liberalism, it however, suffered a low ebb at the end of the tenure of the then director, Professor Edward (Eddie) Webster. Even staff had whittled down to one member (the administrator). The appointment of a new director, Dr Sithembiso Bhengu, and consequently, the successful application and award of funding from the National Skills Foundation (NSF) for a multi-year worker education project marked the revival of the vibrancy of CHI towards the end of 2017. In actual fact, from November 2017 additional staff were recruited; both on the research and non-research categories.
The NSF-supported worker education programme seeks to strengthen the research capacity of trade unions and Labour Service Organisations (LSOs). Some of its deliverables include internship programmes (currently CHI employs three interns – project management, admin, and research) conferences, seminars, roundtables, focus group discussions and sharing of knowledge through publications, newspaper contributions, radio/television, and social media. An even larger number of research interns, most likely six, shall be recruited in 2019 including an additional one for publications. CHI also promotes institutional linkages with other labour institutions and university departments that focus on labour studies. It remains alive to the internationalist perspectives of labour and the importance of solidarity work.
The CHI is at the first leg of its research, where among other things, it is still trying to conceptualise the term worker education. The research project is expected to be completed in 2021.
The Zimbabwe Seminar
In a joint collaboration with COSATU, SACP, the Zimbabwe Communist Party and CHI, the Zimbabwe seminar was held on 27 November 2017, in response to the military-assisted transition in Zimbabwe, that saw the long-serving president, Robert Mugabe resigning from power. The Zimbabwean political crisis has had significant social, economic and political impact on countries in the SADC region, particularly South Africa, as the main host of political and economic emigres from Zimbabwe. The seminar interrogated the meaning of the Zimbabwean transition to the working class and organised labour, and possible opportunities for the workers to improve their livelihood.
The Radical Economic Transformation Seminar
In line with the second phase of the radical National Democratic Revolution (NDR), it was important to interrogate the meaning, relevance and appropriateness of radical economic transformation in the South African context. A seminar held on 7 December 2017 had its thrust mainly on industrial policy, macro-economic policy, social policy, land and agrarian policies. Notable among the contributions was how re-industrialisation could be achieved for increased labour opportunities. While expert presentations were made, the seminar, which consisted of worker representatives, was quite engaging and informative.
Roundtable Discussion on Worker Education
On 28 March 2018, CHI held a successful Roundtable discussion on worker education in South Africa. Apart from CHI staff, participants included a broad spectrum of stakeholders with a strong background in worker education, drawn from institutions as diverse as the University of Johannesburg, University of the Western Cape, Khanya College, Workers’ College, and Labour Services Organisations (LSOs); such as DITSELA, Limusa, NALEDI, and some independent researchers, including a comrade from the People’s Republic of China. Many other stakeholders were invited, although some could not make it due to some constraints. Since worker education is the thrust of CHI research, the Roundtable was a preliminary process of brainstorming on the subject.
SASA Panel on Worker Education
During the Sociological Association of South Africa (SASA) annual conference held at the University of the Western Cape on 4 July 2018, CHI held a special worker education session, which included four leading professors on labour issues as panelists – Edward Webster, Linda Cooper, Mondli Hlatshwayo, Matsileng Alias and a trade unionist, Tony Ehrenrich, as discussant. The proceedings of the conference have been compiled and are scheduled to be published in a special edition in one South African Review of Sociology journal.
Worker Education and Household Livelihoods Roundtable
On 4 October 2018, a Roundtable discussion was held at the Parktonian Hotel in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, in which community members and community health workers in particular, participated. The Roundtable aimed at investigating the current relationship between worker education and household livelihoods. It sought to ascertain if there is a direct (or indirect) link between worker education and household livelihoods, as well as examine factors that come into play in the relationship between worker education and household livelihoods. The discussions revealed significant gaps in the community health sector as volunteer community health workers remained largely unacknowledged and sometimes work without being remunerated.
At the moment CHI is busy with preparations for hosting the Worker Education International Conference, which will be preceded by the annual Chris Hani Memorial Lecture on 9 April 2019. The conference intends to attract delegates from the region and internationally.