By Sithembiso Bhengu
Chris Hani (born Martin Thembisile Hani) is considered a legendary figure in the fight against apartheid. His fierceness continued to impact the South African political landscape even after his death – as the movement was emboldened to push for the date for the first democratic elections soon after his assassination, which were ultimately held on 27 April 1994, just after the first annual commemoration of the death of this gallant revolutionary. Thus, it was fitting for the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) to institutionalise the memory of Chris Hani by establishing the Chris Hani Institute in 2003 – conceived as an independent, left-wing think tank to offer an alternative to neo-liberalism that has emerged in the movement in the context of the ‘‘1996 class project.’’ CHI aims to engage in the battle of ideas, develop alternatives to neo-liberalism, and deepen the links between progressive intellectuals in our universities and inside the democratic movement. The research and educational work, and public engagement that the Institute does is informed by the Marxist-Leninist perspective – that is it focuses on the working class (working and workless people); and is done from the perspective of the loser rather than the winners of the neo-liberal global capitalist system.
Founding objectives of the institute include:
1. Strategic and applied research projects: The main objective of the CHI is to participate in the production of knowledge through research and research capacity development that drive left-wing policy alternatives. Research is undertaken and analysed on a wide range of topics related to South Africa’s transition, political economy, the national question, state and state power, trade unions and working class struggles, democracy, poverty and inequality. Developing research capacity is accomplished through various memoranda of understanding with academic institutions, and through the provision of scholarship and internship programmes for research to qualifying postgraduate students.
2. Research Dissemination and Public engagement: This is done through seminars, roundtables and various colloquia on the research projects undertaken by the CHI and provides avenues for public debate and engagement of working-class formations in knowledge production. Some of the key subjects for public discourse going forward, include the Road to Socialism, Trade Unions and Worker Education, the National Minimum Wage, National Health Insurance, Radical Economic Transformation, the Land Question, etc.
3. Worker Education: Research on this aspect is done to build the capacity of trade unions to engage meaningfully in shop floor and broader struggles central to the work of the CHI. Working with COSATU, the Institute is developing a programme called the Chris Hani Brigade, as well as other relevant political education programmes. These could include courses to enlighten shop stewards on the global economy – through collaborations with the Wits Global Labour University (GLU) programme, the UCT Global Studies Programme, and the DUT Working Life Programme (WLP).
In March 2017, the Institute appointed a new Director and was awarded a multi-year funding to conduct Worker Education Research, which was approved in July 2017. The broad objectives of the programme include the following:
1. Strategic and applied research projects
The programme develops key research projects, specialising in worker education. The anchor research programme is framed on doing research, which will help articulate worker education, with emphasis on worker control. Localised (case study) projects emanating from the anchor programme include doing research on the role of worker education in building working class consciousness, the link between worker education and household livelihoods of working class families, worker education in the bargaining regime, as well as a public engagement project on finance awareness that links with the SACP financial charter campaign.
2. Research Capacity development
On this component, the programme seeks to contribute to strengthening the research capacity of trade unions. This will be achieved through collaborations with various university postgraduate programmes in labour studies and cognate disciplines at South African universities. These outcomes will be fulfilled through MA research internships to 16 Masters students in the course of three years. The first intake of research interns will commence at the beginning of the 2019 academic calendar year. Research interns will be mentored by senior research staff at the CHI, and will form part of skilled fieldwork activities of the projects.
3. Research dissemination and public engagement
The third critical objective of the programme is to grow a community of practice. Dissemination of research outputs and new knowledge, as well as dialogue and reflections on research is an important component of the programme. The CHI will utilise a number of outlets to disseminate knowledge and facilitate dialogue with relevant stakeholders. These include CHI publications, seminars, workshops, roundtable discussions, conferences and colloquiums.