• Salim Vally University of Johannesburg
  • Mphutlane Bofelo Workers' College, Durban
  • John Treat Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg


Workers’ Education, South Africa, Trade Unionism, Apartheid, Social Transformation


Worker education played a crucial role in the development of the trade union movement in South Africa and in the broader struggle for social transformation. This article reviews key moments and dynamics in the trajectory of worker education in South Africa. We argue that international developments, the rise of neoliberalism, and the negotiated compromise between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid state, as well as corporatism resulted in changes to worker education. While the latter as it existed in the past has weakened, the centre of gravity has shifted to community organizations where various forms of learning and creativity continue. Despite the challenges and setbacks of recent years, there remains a significant legacy and influence of the traditions of worker education and militant trade unionism in South Africa, which can and should be drawn upon.


La formation des travailleurs a joué un rôle déterminant dans le développement du mouvement syndicaliste en Afrique du Sud et dans l’ensemble des luttes pour la transformation sociale. Cet article survole les moments-clés et les dynamiques de l’évolution de la formation des travailleurs en Afrique du Sud. Nous soutenons que les développements sur le plan international, la montée du néolibéralisme et les compromis négociés entre le Congrès national africain (ANC) et le gouvernement d’apartheid, ainsi que le corporatisme, ont provoqué des changements dans la formation des travailleurs. Alors que la forme sous laquelle elle existait cdans le passé s’est affaiblie, le cœur de ses activités réside désormais au sein d’organisations communautaires, où des formes diverses d’apprentissages et de créativité se poursuivent. Malgré les défis et les échecs au cours des dernières années, il reste encore un héritage important et une influence des traditions de la formation des travailleurs et du mouvement militant syndicaliste en Afrique du Sud, desquels il est possible et essentiel de s’inspirer.

Author Biographies

Salim Vally, University of Johannesburg

SALIM VALLY is the director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation and an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg. He was a co-ordinator of the education programmes of CCAWUSA and SACCAWU between 1984 to 1994 and also served in the national education committee of COSATU. His academic interests include education and social policy as these relate to social class, transformation, and social justice.

Mphutlane Bofelo, Workers' College, Durban

MPHUTLANE WA BOFELO is a poet, cultural worker, and a facilitator / trainer at the Workers’ College in the city of Durban. Bofelo’s articles, essays, poems and stories have been published in various journals, anthologies and online publications.

John Treat, Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, University of Johannesburg

JOHN TREAT is an independent researcher, writer, and organiser with wide-ranging experience in post-conflict social and political rehabilitation and development, civil society strengthening, and gender and environmental justice. His current research interests include the political economy of education, the causes and representations of unemployment, and the use of new information technologies to advance the interests of working, poor and oppressed people.




How to Cite

Vally, S., Bofelo, M., & Treat, J. (2013). WORKER EDUCATION IN SOUTH AFRICA: LESSONS AND CONTRADICTIONS. McGill Journal of Education / Revue Des Sciences De l’éducation De McGill, 48(3). Retrieved from