I am the first woman elected as FAWU chairperson in the sugar sector, said Pauline (Titi) Ngcobo, when meeting her last September in Durban. Titi was elected chairperson in Noodsberg in August this year, and represents the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) membership of 245 workers, out from a total labour force of 368 employees, excluding management staff.
Titi was elected on a highly contested poll, which saw her obtaining 116 votes, against 98 obtained by her fellow opponent. This step is quite important as women are the minority among the sector’s permanent employees, and Noodsberg is not the exception: there are a total of 96 women or 26 percent of the total workers.
When asked what motivated her FAWU colleagues to elect her the first FAWU chairperson in sugar, Titi says they see her as a hard worker – something that I can testify by her participation in several activities of the IUF Global Sugar project in East and Southern Africa. Titi also thinks her colleagues appreciate her speaking the truth “no matter what” and to abilities to represent their concerns through her participation in committees, like the Providence Fund, the Employment Equity, and also while coordinating the Bargaining Council.
Of course, there is her job record as well. Titi joined Illovo Sugar in 1996, as a Cane Cutters Clerk in the Seven Oaks Farm, which belonged to Noodsberg Sugar Mill. In 2000 she was promoted as a Clerk in the Agriculture Department at the Noodsberg mill and worked there for two years. Since 2002 to the present, she works as a Planning Clerk in the Planning Department.
Titi says that the IUF Sugar project has helped developing her through the training programs, which have covered several topics: woman in the sugar industry, woman empowerment, sexual harassment and health and safety matters. Titi said she also learned about electronic communication and computer use. “I am proud to say,” Titi adds, “that I am a product of the (work of) IUF Sugar, because since the project started it changed everything for me. I have gained more confident and achieved social and political equality. When I broke a record becoming the first woman chairperson shop-steward in South Africa Sugar Industries, it was thanks to IUF sugar project.”
Maybe, Titi says, it also helps that I always have a smiling face and being friendly to everyone in the workplace.
Titi will serve as chairperson until 2014, period in which the next proposed project between the IUF Sugar and FAWU would be developed.
Noodsberg is an Illovo Sugar operations, located near Dalton, some 90 km north east from Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province. Most FAWU members in Noodsberg are employees in Grade A to C bands, following the Patterson grading scale.
Comments by Titi’s colleagues in FAWU
Sihle Silinda works in Darnall sugar mill and is also a FAWU member. When asked for her comments on Titi’s election, she said: “Titi’s election has changed the history of FAWU. All along women had been elected as secretaries but Titi’s election has made us all realize that we also have what it takes as to become leaders within our structures.
Titi’s election is the concrete proof of the work the IUF and Jorge has done for us, the women of FAWU. We have been equipped and empowered to take FAWU to next level. Operation Gudluzindoda is on!!!
Nelisiwe Nxumalo, FAWU shop steward in Sezela sugar mill, said: “Titi’s election as a Chairperson is really going to have a huge impact on women workers for it proves that the mentality of the workforce has finally changed; they now believe women cannot only be part of a decision making process or just members, but we can hold the highest positions within the Union and become leaders.
It is also the tangible proof that we as women are moving forward, thanks to the good job the IUF did on empowering women workers with knowledge and skills to be leaders.
Titi has made women in the sugar industry believe that through FAWU their voice can be heard and women membership has escalated. Personally I was encouraged to work as twice as hard to ensure the sustainability of our Union, and it pleases me to see women supporting each other in taking up positions; and I still hope for the best. Congratulations to comrade Titi Ngcobo you have really made us proud history has been made in our Union and we look up to you. Viva Comrade Titi Viva!