Global Labour University

South Africa

Social Theory for South African Trade Unionists short course

The Social Theory for South African Trade Unionists is an accredited certificate short course offered by GLU Wits and is supported by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in South Africa. The goal of the Social Theory initiative is to develop the critical analytical capacities of participants to assist them in engaging in key debates impacting organised labour in South Africa.

It is a themed one-month short course comprising four one-week-long modules taught by senior Wits academics and veteran labour scholars and activists. The course is certified by Wits University and has been running annually since 2017. The themes covered in module seminars are Labour, Development and Democracy, Global Capitalism and African Political Economy, (Systemic) Alternatives and a Just Energy Transition for South Africa.

All course participants are housed for the month at Wits University.


About the course:

On completion of the course, participants should be able to:

  • Apply conceptual and analytical frameworks in developing union analyses and strategy;
  • Lead relevant discussions, collect information, analyse problems, make judgements based on analysis, and effectively communicate them; and
  • Develop individual capacity and competence in academic reading and analysis.

The course is divided into four themed modules:

  • Labour, Development and Democracy
  • Global Capitalism and African Political Economy
  • Systemic Alternatives
  • The Sociology of Worker Organisations and Contemporary Challenges Facing Labour

Throughout each of these modules, a focus on trade unions and their engagements in each of these themes will be highlighted. In addition, each module will integrate themes of gender, ecology, international solidarity, and trade union strategy. Each theme will highlight the strategic approaches by trade unions.

Target group:

Labour activists and trade unionists from all federations, unions, and worker organisations working in the energy sector in South Africa. In 2020 we are focusing on the energy sector and will only accept nominations that fall broadly within the energy sector.

The course is run as part of the Global Labour University programme, a network that has successfully established postgraduate academic study opportunities for labour activists from all over the world. These are offered at five universities in Africa, Asia, South and North America and Europe to strengthen the intellectual and strategic capacity of workers and their organisations and foster stronger working relationships among trade unions. 

Modules are taught by experienced teaching staff from the University of the Witwatersrand and other guest lecturers.

Practical considerations:

Classes run from 08h30-17h00 each day as set by the Module Coordinators. Group-work projects may also be set by Module Coordinators outside class time. Attendance of the full course is mandatory for certification.

Certification: Upon successful completion of the training programme, participants will receive a short-course certificate of competence. Successful completion means full attendance and participation in all module activities as set by the Module Coordinators.


Admission requirements:

Union nomination, matriculation or school leaving certificate; current employment with, or membership of a trade union, labour organisation, or labour movement; and support from employer and union (confirming time off). Applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • you are a trade unionist (in full-time employment and/or voluntary involvement) or are otherwise active in the labour movement;
  • you are committed to employing your new skills in labour-related issues;
  • you are motivated to pass on your acquired knowledge to others;
  • you have at least a School Leaving Certificate (in exceptional circumstances we can also recognise prior learning for those who do not have a school-leaving certificate);
  • those with a Bachelor’s degree are also encouraged to apply;
  • you have at least three years’ labour-related work experience;
  • you are responsible or will become responsible for labour-related policies in an organisation representing workers or dealing with labour issues;
  • you have a good command of English, can express yourself in writing and are willing to participate actively in classes; and
  • you have support from your employer to attend the course as per the times set above.

Call for applications:

The application period runs from September – November each year. Please note that some years the course focuses on a particular theme (e.g. energy) and invites specific unions working in the sector to nominate participants.

Application procedures:

To complete the application process please submit the following documents (in English):

  • Social Theory Application Form (download at the application portal)
  • Your CV/Resume
  • A Motivational letter
  • A Letter of Recommendation by your Union/Organisation
  • Copies of your academic certificates

Please note that incomplete applications will NOT be processed.

Financing & Scholarships

The Social Theory course receives support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). There are a limited number of scholarships available to course participants. The nominating unions are expected to pay R1500 per participant towards these costs. This payment must be made when confirming the participant. 

The scholarship provided by the FES covers the following:

  • University Short course costs
  • Accommodation at the University of the Witwatersrand; and/or
  • Tuition fees

Day-to-day living expenses are the responsibility of the participants. All transport costs, including parking on University campuses, have to be paid for in full by the participants or an organisation on their behalf. 

Estimated costs:

  • Accommodation: 9300.00ZAR
  • Tuition Fees: 7000.00ZAR

Contact us

For more information please contact:

» Warren McGregor

To know more about study experiences, please do no hesitate to contact our alumni:

» Odelia Dogbe

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