Africa: Education unions benefit from South-South development cooperation and solidarity

published 9 January 2023 updated 20 March 2024

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) has undertaken a series of development cooperation activities with other education unions affiliated to Education International in neighbouring countries. It has especially supported the Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) in its efforts to recover from the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector.

In its latest development cooperation information, SADTU gives an overview of several cooperation efforts in which it is involved in to show solidarity, encourage trade unionism, promote non-racial and non-sexist union membership and advocate for quality public education throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

“SADTU’s interest in development cooperation work is based on the premise that, as a country and within SADTU in particular, we are the true beneficiaries of solidarity,” stressed SADTU General Secretary and Education International’s Vice-President for Africa, Mugwena Maluleke.

In the SADC region, he said, SADTU focuses on building relationships with sister organisations, namely the Botswana Teachers' Union, the Lesotho Association of Teachers, the Organizaçao Nacional dos Professores of Mozambique, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, the Namibia National Teachers' Union, ZNUT of Zambia and the Zimbabwe Teachers' Association.

Maluleke added: “As per our national cooperation, we have allocated each province to work with these organisations based on proximity. The focus of our cooperation mainly revolves around trade union education, teacher unity and capacity building.”

He recalled that SADTU has been partnering with ZNUT on numerous projects for more than a decade. “We did this through our Tripartite Agreement between ZNUT, the Union of Education Norway and us. Since the agreement came to an end, we decided to assess the impact of cooperation.”

That is why SADTU visited ZNUT in August to take stock of how the Zambian union is coping with the aftermath of COVID-19.

Discussions were centered around the following topics:

  1. State of the organisation. ZNUT reported its drastic decline ofmembership between 2019 and the current year, a decline they attribute mainly to the retirement of ZNUT membership and recruitment by rival unions having governmental support.
  2. Recruitment and retention strategy. ZNUT reported that the employer recruited over 30,000 new educators in the public sector, and ZNUT intends to engage in a recruitment campaign. SADTU asuggested that ZNUT try to organise sports and youth events as a strategy to recruit young educators.
  3. Gender equity and equality. ZNUT amended its constitution so that it becomes gender sensitive, including supporting women’s access to union leadership positions.
  4. Trade union education/capacity building. ZNUT currently has financial challenges undermining their ability to train new leaders as well as develop the capacity of their representatives in structures at the base.
  5. Organising and campaigning. ZNUT leadership acknowledged the need to use digital technology to recruit and keep records of their membership. They aim to increase their union membership by a minimum of 10,000, out of newly recruited teachers.
  6. Finances. ZNUT is going through financial challenges due to loans taken, as well as the decline in membership. Their leadership welcomed the decision by SADTU to write off the loan allocated to ZNUT in 2018. The Zambian union has committed itself to work on measures ensuring that they account for all money that they receive and to adopt financial policies promoting a healthy financial position.
  7. Teacher unity in Zambia. The ZNUT leadership deplored that Zambian unions are no longer discussing merger or unity amongst themselves and explained that, while their union is focusing on unity, other unions continue to compete to grow their membership.
  8. Administration of the union through ICT. ZNUT recorded a decline in ICT usage within the union, which they believe is mostly because ZNUT cannot financially afford the latest technologies.

Maluleke also pledged that SADTU will “mobilise resources as well as involve other partners who may share the same vision to assist in recruitment and capacity building activities”.

Recalling that SADTU agreed to provide ZNUT with branded shirts it can use to recruit members, he concluded that his union would continue to monitor ZNUT progress and developments.