IFWEA Global Knowledge Community News

Jul 08

Justina Jonas of MANWU on trade unions and learning

Justina Jonas is the Secretary General of the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union  (MANWU), in Namibia. She spoke to us about how she came to be involved in trade union work, the importance of learning in her journey to Secretary General, and what kind of training and worker education takes place in MANWU:

Please tell us where you are based, and where you grew up?

I’m currently based in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. I’m originally from the Ohangwen Region, a small village called Ohadiwa with only seven houses. Our village is about 10km from the border between Namibia and Angola. I grew up in that village as a goat herder – my grandfather was very strict on me to take care of the goats. I never grew up in the kitchen as my grandfather always wanted me to look after the goats. That’s why to date I do not know how to cook … lol!

You are Secretary General of MANWU. How did your involvement in trade unions begin? Was MANWU the first trade union you joined?

In 1999 at the age of 21, I got recruited at a construction site – it was at this site I got my first MANWU membership card. The construction finished and I went to start something else, but throughout I never threw my card away. In 2003 I moved to Windhoek to look for work. It was at that point I remembered my membership and I decided to go look for the MANWU office.

The first time I came to the MANWU office I realised that my dream of becoming a lawyer had come true … lol! I started coming to the MANWU offices to volunteer (was only given transport money to and from home) until 1 May 2003 when I was offered a position of the first ever MANWU receptionist with a salary of N$ 1050.00.

Today I’m grateful to so many leaders and colleagues who have contributed to my career in the labour movement.

How big is MANWU – how many members are there, and do you have branches all around the country?

MANWU membership is at 8000±. MANWU works in five regions with eight operating offices countrywide.

What would you say are the biggest challenges your union faces?

  •  Young people are reluctant to join the union because of different political, socio and economic dynamics.
  • There are limited financial resources to implement all activities to make the union more visible, especial creating digital tools and having the necessary equipment.
  • There is a shortage of the latest computers with the latest software to cater for the development of regional and national digitalisation needs.
  • We have a lack of educational and campaigning materials, both soft and hard versions.
  • We need intensive training on e-trade union education targeting young workers to build a strong foundation for the organisation.
  • We lack a proper union membership data base.

In your trade union career, and as you have had increasing responsibility, how important has learning and education been for you (and your trade union)?

I always say that, a trade union is the best university in the world! The only challenge is that it does not offer a qualification on paper, but a qualification in the mind. I personally never got an opportunity to further my studies; at the age of 18 I already had the parenting responsibility of my siblings in order to help our mother. Like many young African girls, when the need arises, you are obliged to set aside your life and focus on your siblings. Through the trade union, I have learned lot through in-service training. I started my academic studies in 2021 – I’m studying Business Administration, specialising in Human Resource Management. I’m in a final year and I hope I will make it!

My personal journey has motivated me to encourage our young people in MANWU to step up and improve themselves, as nobody will do it for them.

What sort of learning and education programmes does MANWU run – internal, online, external with providers?

MANWU provides training for shop stewards through workshops. Recently we have started with internal online training done by our regional coordinators and the education coordinator. We also have weekend studies which are done by the regional leaders and internal supportive staff.

We are hoping IFWEA will equip us to have our own online courses and study circles soon, as this will assist us to empower more members within the organisations.

Do you also partner with other organisations for learning programmes?

Not yet.

Ultimately, what is your dream for education within your union?

I want to see MANWU certificate courses for members at all levels.

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