Champion of Workers' Education -  Profile: Grischelda Hartman, DITSELA – South Africa

Champion of Workers' Education - Profile: Grischelda Hartman, DITSELA – South Africa

Working with IFWEA affiliate DITSELA in South Africa, Grischelda Hartman is the Programmes Coordinator in the Western Cape province. In this interview with IFWEA, Grischelda talks about her journey in education, learning, the exciting challenges of being an educator, and the value of solidarity exchange in the worker education and trade union movements.

Tell us about DITSELA and how it functions? We are an education institute, which provides training and support to mostly trade unions, but we are also open to social movements and activists in terms of the training programmes that we provide. DITSELA is the Development Institute for Training, Support and Education for Labour, and “DITSELA” also means “pathways” Sesotho. We also have our head office in Johannesburg, which has substantially more staff, and from there they work nationally -whilst I do provincial work, I also support them nationally, specifically around women workers and gender.

Working in Africa – although DITSELA runs its programmes in South Africa, we have links with other labour movements and labour institutions, and we get interest from those countries’ trade unions to participate in our programmes. Countries that we have links to include Botswana, Swaziland, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Namibia for example. For instance, when the Nigerian Labour Congress, have what they call their Harmattan School – Winter school and Rain School, and they invite DITSELA to participate and facilitate there. In the exchange between the two organisations, they would for example then come and participate in the Ditsela Advanced National Labour Education Program (DANLEP). Similar to the Swaziland connection, DITSELA facilitates programmes in the country, and their trade unionists participate in our programmes.

What is the value of exchange between worker education organisations? It is about sharing our knowledge on the continent and not only sharing knowledge abroad, understanding that we have the same issues and we should collaborate in terms of the work that we do. So, how can we support each other in terms of capacity? In various ways DITSELA tries to do that – whether its space in our offices to do your work, or whether it’s in terms of facilitation, education support etc.  The Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) makes use of DITSELA’s offices on a regular basis to have their workshops and their meetings in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Exchange should be global, and being part of IFWEA has given DITSELA the stature of also participating internationally in programmes, whether it’s the general conferences or whether it’s being part of that community of educators. Being part of the global organisation, that is how we see ourselves participating and influencing what happens in the world of workers’ education.

Can you tell us about your journey in education? I grew up between Cape Town and George in the Western Cape – I was born in George and in a sense I suppose I’m a product of migrant labour. My mother was a teacher and she taught in Cape Town, so she lived in Cape Town. My father worked in construction and mostly worked in the Gauteng province, and so I either lived with my parents in George or in Cape Town, depending on where they were working at the time. I did most of my schooling between those places, but finished high school in George. After that I went to what is now known as the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province. Part of my decision to go to Port Elizabeth was to be in a different environment, so I thought ‘I’m going to go where I don’t know anybody’. In my second year I began to have doubts, and thought ‘Why didn’t I go to the University of Western Cape?’ because all my cousins were studying there.

Student and worker activism – the experience was a political eye opener: at the time being at a university that was predominantly white, as black students we were in the minority. You also saw the challenges that workers were experiencing at the university, this was still during apartheid times in South Africa and in a way that was my entry into workers’ issues. Things were changing, but the situation was also quite still volatile, so we as students got involved and supported the workers because it was so difficult for them at that time.  Whether it was low pay or unfairness, or just trying to demonstrate their issues, we would be the ones supporting them. I was part of what we then called a student body organisation, because we couldn’t obviously have a political organisation on campus. I started off my studies in Social Work, I think I always knew I wanted to do work that contributes to society and helps people. I changed my programme and finished the degree majoring in Political studies and Public Administration.

Working in the new South African democracy – in 1994 I worked during the first elections with the Independent Electoral Commission, it was one of the ways I could still be involved in the politics in the new democracy. I wasn’t sure at that time what work I was going to do – looking for a job in government wasn’t working, so I decided to travel for a couple of years and then I came back to South Africa. So the search for work began again and I worked for different non-governmental organisations including Black Sash, Social Change Assistance Trust, and Gender Advocacy Project.

Participation and facilitation of education in trade unions – I started working with trade unions when I was employed as organiser for the then Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union; which merged With Chemical Industrial Workers Union to form the Chemical, Engineering, Paper, Printing Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (CEPPWAWU). You get the sense that because you are a woman, that it’s somehow automatic that you become the gender coordinator, or you become the educator. That’s what I liked doing in the trade union and that was my entry into workers’ education, by coordinating the union’s education programmes.

There was not a lot of training, but that’s the nature of unions – you learn as you go, by doing. You learn from the things that you pick up in meetings and later on we did a Train the TrainerEducator programme, Gender Training Workshops, Media Skills and Arbitration Skills courses with DITSELA, as that was related to my work as an organiser. I participated in networks like Congress of South African Trade Unions – COSATU’s Educator Forums and DITSELA’s National and Provincial Educator Forums, and those engagements formed part of my level of education training in the union – I never did the DITSELA DANLEP educator programmes that would form part of your training as an organiser or educator. The Train the Trainer programme in the union formed the basis for me as an educator in DITSELA, so the different programmes that you do in line of your work, they add up. Essentially, trade union education is made up of different pockets of specialties and exploring the methodologies of how you transfer knowledge. There were also media educator networks in the unions, so the knowledge learning was built up through the eleven years I was in CEPPAWU.

Focussing on workers’ education – time came for a change and I’ve always liked what DITSELA was doing and the way they did things. You know it was always good to go to DITSELA programmes and participate in DITSELA events – whether it was their educator network, meeting or workshops. It was an interesting organisation as you could see the impact of what they were doing, as well as meeting people from different federations and different unions across the country.

As an educator, you can’t project what the outcome is going to be: you can’t put people in a box and predict how people will react in a DITSELA workshop group, because people all bring their own energies! I think that is what I like about it, it challenges you: sometimes you need to work harder, or you need to think differently, but you can’t take for granted that people will accept what you bring to them in the education programmes.

Methodologies of worker education – DITSELA has a peer educator program (PEP) that develops the skills of shop stewards to facilitate and run one day activities in their organisations, so that they can do education and training themselves. We do Siyakhuluma Seminars – basically discussion seminars on issues of the day. For example, a recent seminar was on the topic of identity politics and the forum was a combination of academic and worker education spaces. To have a forum with workers being able to respond in what is predominantly an academic space (at University of the Western Cape), and being able to stand their ground, was quite amazing. So we do workshops, peer to peer programmes, seminars, and we also have our biannual Educator and Labour Law conferences. We have two accredited programmes: the DANLEP Level 5 qualification with the universities of Western Cape and Cape Town, and the Trade Union Practice Qualification (TUPQ) Level 4 qualification with the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority.

In the classroom – we make use of different forms of methodology like presentations, videos, role plays, and educational study visits. I can acknowledge the late comrade Tony Sardien, an educator at University of Cape Town (Adult Education), who brought tai chi into the class and I learned that from him. I learned the Capacitar concept from other educators. “Capacitar teaches simple practices of healing, team-building and self-development to awaken people to their own source of wisdom and strength so they can reach out to heal injustice, work for peace and transform themselves, their families and communities.”

So essentially I learned a lot from what other educators do, bringing in different methodologies into the classroom when you see the need, and with a variety of methods, so you can assess how people respond. Because there’s a whole bunch of different people with their own issues in the classroom, you need to be able to facilitate and to respond their needs, it’s not just one methodology that you can say works for everything. You need to apply things to a group and see what works them.

Facilitating the learning experience – That’s why it’s interesting doing workshops across South Africa because province to province the responses are so different. We are influenced by culture, tradition, religion and identity politics – so working with people on awareness raising is quite interesting, while also being careful of your own beliefs or perhaps prejudices. As an educator you also have to conduct yourself to not come across disrespectful, but to make challenging topics a learning experience – so it’s important for me that I prepare by researching the possible issues in the province I am working in.

As an educator, I can’t just assume that I can use the generic material – you have to combine it with the needs and issues of the group. When we reflected on our last group of participants, it was brilliant that we have 50/50 gender representation.

It terms of sexual orientation we ask ourselves whether we have LGBTQIA+ persons in this class? There is more diversity, so how do we as educators facilitate “I am here how are you going to deal with me?” – And if you are educating in this way it means DITSELA is called up to make a policy on that.

What would you say are the challenges facing women workers, and young workers in South Africa? I think one needs to bring it closer to what are the challenges that young workers and women face in trade union? From an education perspective when you look at participants you ask – who participates in our programmes, is it the same people that come through, do young people come onto our programmes? If there is an absence of young people, does it mean that the unions are not organising, are they not interested? Are there women shop stewards?

I think the challenges for women and young workers hasn’t changed much – it’s unemployment, it’s a lack of quality jobs, job insecurity, it’s precariousness of work and the kind of employment – contract and casual. Like in call centres for example, it may be the hours that they work that don’t allow them easy access to the trade union.  When I saw the gender balance for women coming onto courses this year, it was really exciting because I see this as an indicator that trade unions are concentrating on education and training again, as there has been lack of programmes and low budgets.

Education and young workers – Young people want to be in organisations that are vibrant, that speak about their needs and I think that is what the trade unions must get right. We see a nice constituent of young people on the DITSELA programme and I think that it takes planning.  The education programme in your organisation needs to be planned, so that you hear the voice of young people – they may not have the same amount of experience, but they bring a different type of energy. For example, one of our young participant’s interest is hip hop and social media, and he brought this refreshing way of using these skills. So if we do a presentation we don’t just do it in Power Point – we can bring music in it, we bring video in it… So people can see that there’s a different sets of skills that young people bring to reach workers. Participants need to hear that things are not being done the same, because as older people we can be condescending: there’s our way and so you just have to do it our way and only our way has value and works. So trade unions must make the space, they must send young people onto these programmes. Young workers will recognise that they are being valued, and that trade unions do provide for them in terms of training and education.

Intergenerational exchange and knowledge transfer – Being an adult learner I can also see how younger people feed from our experience but we also feed from what they know and bring, so we are already learning from each other. I think that it’s essential that we must have diverse and different generations in the classroom. The gap between the generations can be very big and there are people who are very resistant to change – they sit their seats warm in the trade union, but you need younger people to come in and bring about change.

It’s the same as in the workplace, when young workers come in with their qualifications and need a job that pays well, versus the experienced older worker who has been doing the job for 20 years without qualifications perhaps. The outlook is I’ve been doing all the work without qualification but now I must teach a younger person, I had to learn on the job so why should I teach a new person and this attitude also comes over into the trade union. You have to transfer skills and knowledge, to sustain an organisation.

What do you think is the value of popular education methodologies in worker education programmes? I think if you apply popular education methodologies, people are able to express themselves. If you think about music, poetry, drama or dancing it allows expression in terms of one’s language and culture and just brings such a different dynamic to the education, it can make stagnant education vibrant. I’m reminded of the Indian street theatre group Jana Natya Manch (Janam for short), which use plays to demonstrate how to deal with issues in the workplace. I think we’ve lost some of the popular education methodologies, we don’t apply them, but some organisations do and we can see how impactful and useful they are. For example in a programme the participants were instructed to use drawing or drama to demonstrate the issue.  One participant from Zimbabwe used a drawing and a poetic saying from Zimbabwe, and we then learnt the meaning of this saying and got some insight about culture in Zimbabwe, so in DITSELA we have always used poetry and theatre as tools.

What message do you have for educators in the IFWEA community? I think sometimes in our work we can become isolated, so it is important that we do communicate with each other and share, and for example come to Ditsela conferences or IFWEA’s conference. We should not miss the opportunity to be part of an education programme or conference where we can get knowledge and exchange experiences, it has the potential to bring a lot of value to our work. Sometimes think that we need to have money to do certain things, but for some things we don’t need money we just need to ask how do I do this and be open to advice. It’s important that we continue to share our spaces with each other and let’s share what we have – our resources, our learnings, whatever we have and not keep it for ourselves.