Mr. SA Thompson – NATU current President
Mr. Skhumbuzo Allen Thompson was elected to the NATU presidency on 5 September 2018 at the Union’s Centenary Celebration Conference and took over from Mr. Ngcobo who retired as the longest-serving NATU President for 18 years.
NATU Leadership, Membership, Challenges, and Achievements
To date, there have been fourteen Presidents of the National Teachers’ Union – Unfortunately, so far, all have been male:
Mr. JH Xaba (1918-1926)
Mr. James Xaba was the Principal of Endaleni Intermediate School when he was elected to serve as the first President of the Natal Native Teachers’ Union (NNTU). Under his leadership, the Union was consolidated into a very strong force in the following ways:
· In 1919, he led a successful boycott of a ‘Summer School’.
· The Union established branches all over the Natal province and by 1920 had 32 branches with Durban as the biggest branch.
· The Union’s market share of all the African teachers in the province was 30%.
· In 1921, the NNTU participated in unity meetings with teacher unions from outside the Natal province, leading to the establishment of the South African Native Teachers’ Federations (SANTF), to which NNTU became affiliated in 1923 after extensive consultations with members.
Prof. ZK Matthews (1926-1929)
Prof. Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews arrived in Natal in 1925 to assume the principalship of Adams College. In 1925 he became the Chairman of his branch and later the President of the Union. He was described by many as a distinguished academic, philanthropist, and politician whose skills, wisdom, and experience gave the NNTU a lot of impetus to consolidate itself and become more visible to bodies and organisations outside NATU. He fought fierce battles in the improvement of conditions of service for African teachers. In 1929, he left Natal to become a lecturer and later professor at the University of Fort Hare. Prof Matthews left the Union with a rich legacy of academic excellence and scholarship.
Mr. AW Dlamini (1929-1930)
Mr. Amos Dlamini became President of the Union during the years of great economic depression. He applied pressure on the government to protect teachers’ salaries from the adverse effects of economic depression and succeeded in having teachers’ salaries increased. In addition, he is credited for increasing the number of years for bursaries for teachers to study at Fort Hare from two to four years. Further, he successfully persuaded the Department of Education to introduce a matriculation program at Adams College.
Mr. TR Guma (1931-1938)
Mr. Robbin T. Guma is described as a great diplomat and an architect of interpersonal relations. One of his notable achievements was to establish a full-time position of General Secretary and Treasurer in 1937, which was occupied by the, hitherto, General Secretary (Mr. CJ Mpanza) who then established the Society for the Study of Zulu Language and Culture. This Society was, almost immediately, became absorbed into the Department of Native Affairs. It was also during Mr. Guma’s tenure as President that the Union established its own magazine.
Dr. DGS Mthimkhulu (1939-1953)
Dr. DGS Mthimkhulu continued with the work to strengthen the organisation. In 1941, he condemned the education system for Africans, which was based on using the mother tongue as the language of learning and teaching, as being backward.
· In 1943, the Union celebrated its Silver Jubilee in its struggle to better the lives of teachers.
· In 1944, Dr. Mthimkhulu was appointed to serve on the Provincial Commission on Native Education and in 1949 the Union launched the Hofmeyr Fund to raise money for educational purposes.
· During his tenure, Dr. Mthimkhulu successfully negotiated payment of teachers’ salaries based on their qualifications – a feat which earned the erstwhile Minister of Finance the nickname ‘Kaffir Boetie.
· One of the greatest challenges Dr. Mthimkhulu faced was the introduction of Bantu Education. In protest, he left the country and established himself as a leading scholar and academi in London, Geneva, Zambia, and Canada.
· It was during his time that the Union coined the slogan “Teach the African child as you never did before.”
Mr. MT Moerane (1953-1956)
The major portion of Mr. Moerane’s energy was expended on fighting the introduction of Bantu Education, which was introduced to neutralise what the government saw as liberal education, offered by missionaries. It was during Mr. Moerane’s time that the Federal Council of African Teachers’ Association opened its office in Charlestown, from which they ran the affairs of the Union.
Mr. PO Sikhakhane (1956-1958)
Mr. P.O. Sikhakhane was the principal of Lamontville Secondary School when he was elected to lead the Union. During his tenure, he fought very hard to secure funds that enable dismissed teachers to fight their School Boards with a view to reinstatement. Some of the highlights of his tenure were:
· He survived several running battles with the erstwhile Minister of Bantu Education, Mr. De Wet Nell.
· He introduced a floating trophy as an incentive for the best organised branch of NATU
· The Union changed its name from Natal Bantu Teachers’ Union to Natal African Teachers’ Union (NATU).
· NATU organised a protest against Bantu Education, which was abandoned after iNkosi Albert Luthuli’s intervention (then ANC President), fearing that the boycott would severely adversely affect learners.
· Subsequently, Mr. Sikhakhane was summarily dismissed as a teacher by the government and fled to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he distinguished himself as a leading scholar.
Mr. AJ Mwelase (1958-1968)
Mr. Mwelase was also a school principal at Lamontville High Schools when he was elected to the position of NATU President. During this time, Bantu Education was already firmly established. Some of the notable events which took place during Mr. Mwelase’s tenure were:
· NATU donated:
§ R100 in 1959 to the Treason Trial Fund in support of those facing prosecution – such as Nelson Mandela.
§ R10 in 1960 towards the relief fund established after the Coal brook mine disaster in the Orange Free State.
§ R10 in 1965 towards the Effingham rail disaster relief fund.
§ R6 in 1967 towards wreaths in respect of Chief Albert Luthuli’s funeral.
· NATU fought successfully for the absorption of teachers who were displaced from Cato Manor.
· NATU fought against Departmental policies (a) requiring primary school teachers to have passed Afrikaans with at least a B symbol at Junior Certificate level and A symbol at the same level to teach at Junior School level, and (b) not to offer married female teachers permanent employment.
· At a conference held in 1964 at St. Augustine, the Union resolved to open an office in Durban to be run by a clerk who would earn R20 per month. After this, the Nquthu Executive Committee was fined R40 by the local chief for holding a conference without permission – thereupon, the Chairperson of the branch engaged the services of a lawyer. The case was decided in NATU’s favour.
· It was during this time that NATU established a matriculation bursary for one boy and teacher training for one girl.
· NATU excelled in choir competitions during this time.
Mr. GT Hadebe (1969-1970)
Mr. G.T. Hadebe was the Principal of Isibonelo High School when he became NATU President, after having been part of Mr. Mwelase’s leadership team. His tenure as President was short as he was soon promoted to the position of Inspector of Schools. Nonetheless, he worked very hard to better teachers’ salaries and conditions of service.
Mr. TB Shandu (1971-1979)
NATU’s Jubilee Celebrations were held at Inanda Seminary during Mr. Theo B. Shandu’s tenure in 1972. However, this was a very difficult time for some members of NATU who bore the brunt of security forces and was incarcerated without just cause, as the struggle against apartheid intensified. Nonetheless, the NATU leadership rallied behind its members who fell victim to South Africa’s apartheid system. This period also coincided with the 1976 student apprising in reaction to the imposition of the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction for more than 50% of the school subjects. The battle between teacher unions and the government over this matter was mainly fought at the national level.
During this period, NATU:
· was offered the use of office space by Colonial Mutual in appreciation of the business the company received from the union.
· excelled in organising cultural activities for both teachers and learners.
Prof. AJ Thembela (1979-1996)
· Prof. Alexander Jabulani Thembela was one of the luminaries of the Union, having served as Vice President under Mr. Theo Shandu. He had extensive experience in education as he had served as a teacher, college of education lecturer, an inspector of schools, a university lecturer, professor, and vice-rector. In this regard, he joins the league of giant intellectuals who have superintended over the affairs of NATU – such as Prof. Z.K. Matthews, Dr. D.G.S. Mthimkhulu and Dr. P.O. Sikhakhane.
· Over time, Prof Thembela used NATU, in his own words, as a laboratory to try out his ideas and practice leadership skills.
· Was a very popular President who served as President for seventeen years.
· Put NATU on a firm and sound footing financially by introducing the values and ethics of saving and investments in the management of union funds – thereby making the Union live to its principle of self-reliance through self-development.
· Organisationally, Prof. Thembela introduced many important policies, including an overhaul of the Union’s constitution to accommodate modern trends in teacher unionism.
· Philosophically, he put the Union on a developmental track that embraced deep-seated values, principles, and procedures to guide the organisation’s path, going forward.
· One of Prof. Thembela’s top achievements lay in his ability to steer NATU through the turbulent waters associated with the dismantling of apartheid and the re-birth of a new South Africa – against the backdrop of an emergent plurality of unions and realignment of some with political organisations.
Dr. MMA Shezi (1996-2000)
Dr. Musa Shezi was the youngest member of the union ever to become President of NATU. He was elected to the position of President after having been Vice President for more than two terms. At that time, NATU was an affiliate of NAPTOSA and when Dr. Shezi became President, he quickly rose to the presidency of NAPTOSA, which thrust him into the international arena with the admission of NAPTOSA as a member of the World Confederation of Teachers (WCT) in 1998. He was elected Deputy Secretary of the Pan African Federation of Teachers Trade Unions (PAFETTU) and a member of the Confederal Board of the WCT, the positions which he used to win international friends for NATU.
As a very skillful and shrewd negotiator, Dr. Shezi secured very good and favorable conditions of service and financial arrangements – the latter leading to the erection of the NATU Hall and Conference Centre and upgrading of the NATU Headquarters into a modern structure.
During Dr. Shezi’s time, NATU staged two big protests, one in 1995 in Ulundi against the Department of National Education for diverting employees’ pension contributions to finance salary increases, and another in 1998 in Durban to express anger against the KZN Department of Education for terminating the services of temporary educators. Further, it was during his time that the idea of expanding NATU’s operations to become a national organisation was crystallised.
Mr. SL Ngcobo (2000-2018)
Mr. Siphosethu L. Ngcobo went through all the stages of the NATU mill, starting as Secretary of one of the most dynamic branches, to serving as an Executive Committee member of the North Coast Region, through to serving in the Enlarged Executive Board to the Central Executive Board, where he served first as Vice President and later as deputy President to Dr. Shezi.
As an activist, Mr. Ngcobo coordinated two major demonstrations, one under the presidency of Prof. Thembela and another under Dr. Shezi. Furthermore, he set for himself two major objectives, namely (a) to take the Union to the people, and (b) expand the Union to other provinces in the Republic of South Africa, to make it truly national. With regard to taking the Union to the people, Mr. Ngcobo initiated the practice of rotational Regional Conferences in 2003. This assisted the top leadership of the Union to get closer to the general membership – thereby strengthening the Union. In expanding the Union to other provinces, by the time of his retirement, Mr. Ngcobo had succeeded in establishing the NATU footprint in Mpumalanga, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, and North West provinces, apart from its home base in KwaZulu Natal.
Furthermore, as part of its nationalisation strategy, NATU pulled out of NAPTOSA and gained recognition in the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) as an independent entity. In addition, NATU also got admitted to the Public Service C-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC), working in partnership with the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (HOSPERSA) and the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (NUPSAW).
Under Mr. Ngcobo, NATU’s business also grew steadily – thereby enabling the Union to buy shares worth R2.5 million with Hypo Plus Naturals (PTY) Limited, as well as purchase a Microsoft database license, worth more than half a million Rand, to manage its fast-growing membership.
The inauguration of the NATU Teacher Development Institute and Conference Centre at Madadeni, Newcastle by the Minister of the Department of Basic Education, Mrs. Angelina Matsie Motshekga, on 21 August 2014 was one of the epoch moments of Mr. Ngcobo’s presidency. This was in fulfillment of the 2011 NATU 93rd National Conference resolution which emphasised the importance of NATU’s participation in teacher professional development campaigns and programs – given that professional teacher development is a career-long pursuit.
Mr. SA Thompson (2018- )
Mr. Skhumbuzo Allen Thompson was elected to the NATU presidency on 5 September 2018 at the Union’s Centenary Celebration Conference and took over from Mr. Ngcobo who retired as the longest-serving NATU President for 18 years. The year 2018 was a very turbulent year in the annals of NATU as the Union had literary come under attack for standing firm against corruption with respect to some of the happenings in the Department of Education, which adversely affected service delivery at the school level, while immeasurable financial resources were being diverted towards the purchase of materials not directly related to the implementation of the school curriculum. In the process, due to his stand against corruption and outspokenness, Mr. Thompson was attacked by unknown persons and shot several times military-style in broad daylight, ostensibly, to silence him. However, he managed to outwit the attackers and survived to tell the tale. Thereafter, he remained undeterred and by the time he was crowned NATU President, he had literally taken several live bullets on behalf of the Union, which left him in excruciating physical pain and nursing even deeper psychological scars.
Mr. Thompson came to the NATU presidency after serving under Mr. Ngcobo, first as a Vice President and then in a combined portfolio of Executive Director and Deputy President. In this combined portfolio, Mr. Thompson continually strove to attain maximum visibility and presence of the organization in the media and the public eye so that people could understand NATU’s position on critical matters – both in times of peace and educational crisis. His efforts, indeed, bore fruit in that, presently, NATU has not only become a household name in the country but also well-known countrywide.
Before that, he served as Chairperson of the Ubombo branch and then as an Executive Member of the North Coast branch, where his negotiation skills shone and twinkled like an evening star. He ascended to the presidency on the ticket of (a) growing NATU membership, (b) expanding the NATU footprint to all provinces, (c) further consolidating and strengthening NATU’s business arm, (d) strengthening NATU members’ professionalism through ongoing teacher professional development, and (e) improving working conditions (classroom-based and socio-economic) and benefits of NATU members.
At this time, he is still on the journey of pushing ahead to fulfill the objectives he has set for himself as well as meeting the expectations of members.