Sunday, 5 October 2014

South Africa: A Battle for Ideas


Apologies for the delay in posting anything recently, but workload has kept me away from blogging, and I had a fantastic opportunity to journey to South Africa for a week 1-7 September with my colleague Sue Ledwith (who created the MAs in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) and women's studies at Ruskin College).

There were many reasons for Sue and I to be in South Africa, and I can't believe that we managed to fit in so many meetings with so many organisations, all of whom with long-standing links to Ruskin College long pre-dating the collapse of apartheid.

Ruskin College has a long. proud history of association with the liberation movement which fought the apartheid regime. I have written of this history and relationship previously (search the blog posts on David Kitson and this year's Mandela Day event for example) and if you want a snapshot of this search the online archives of the Non-Stop Against Apartheid blog (an amazing achievement and run by Gavin Brown at Leicester Univ: and the digital archives of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (which became available online in March this year:

In the picture here (downloaded from the AAM archive) Ruskin students are pictured in March 1970 on the inaugural annual march from Oxford to London as part of the campaign calling for the release of David Kitson imprisoned at the time by the South African regime for 20 years.

I am very proud to record that I was a student at Ruskin College when, on 11 Feb 1990, Nelson Mandela was released and as was the case for decades before there were a number of South African students present and discussions with these comrades were incredibly about issues I was unfamiliar with , for example on the rise of the black consciousness movement.

Not only was the liberation struggle a backdrop to my formative years as a young trade unionist, but I had taken a special interest in South Africa and kept abreast of developments principally by reading the South Africa Labour Bulletin:

Wind forward two and a half decades and the situation in South Africa under a black majority government is not as straightforward as promised or predicted, not least in the form of endemic corruption within the ruling ANC government and parlous state of relations between the triple alliance of ANC, COSATU (main TU confederation) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

There is a fascinating critique of the current parlous state of affairs by Leonard Gentle - and in particular the crisis in the labour movement caused by the decision of NUMSA to challenge the ANC:

Tony Burke's website provides links to videos at the last NUMSA conference in 2013 which spelt out the union's strategy to create a new workers' party:

Whilst in South Africa I was able to meet with Crystal Dicks and Ntokozo Durban of the education unit of NUMSA. It was fascinating to spend time with them in order to understand the position of NUMSA and to hear them describe the union's decision to oppose the ANC - rooted critically in the Marikana massacre of miners - as a 'battle for ideas'. I will no doubt return to this issue in this blog.

The last matter to comment on as a key reason for the visit to South Africa was to launch - with the support of our close education partners Ditsela ( - was to formally launch the Nomvuyo Ngwaxaxa scholarship in the memory of Numvuyo (known as Vuyo) who was education officer for NEHAWU and then COSATU and who was an alumni of Ruskin College.

The scholarship funds two women from the global south to undertake the MA ILTUS that I run at Ruskin and one of these has to be from South Africa.

The first successful recipient of the scholarship, Nokwazi Magwaza, attended the launch event on Friday 5th September and it was attended by many trade unionists who knew and worked with Vuyo and members of her family.

It was an amazing event and one made more profound by the way in which it underlined the particular role of women in the labour movement during the liberation struggle and the impact on children.

The pictures below were taken at the event: myself and Nokwazi, Sue speaks of Vuyo's time at Ruskin, a group picture of friends of Vuyo.

In Solidarity


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