Thembi Luckett

Contact Details

University of Witwatersrand
Private Bag 3, Wits 2050, South Africa


PhD Project Title

Hope and utopianism in the everyday lives of metalworkers and their communities

Abstract of PhD Thesis

In December 2013, the National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA), the largest union in South Africa, called a Special National Congress at which NUMSA resolved to call the trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to break from the Tripartite Alliance. NUMSA (2013, p. 7) asserted that the time for building a political alternative had arrived: “the working class needs a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a Socialist South Africa”. NUMSA resolved to develop a socialist project and vision for a different future in South Africa. Whilst the subsequent splitting of COSATU marks a political endpoint, this moment also opens up political possibilities.

The NUMSA Special National Congress took place in the context of the Marikana massacre perceived as a turning point in the political landscape of South Africa. The Marikana massacre is not just a story of state and capital violence, but also of hope – of workers undertaking wildcat strike action, taking brave political decisions and refusing to “tolerate a dog’s life” (Bloch, 1986). This is not something new in South Africa. The struggles of workers, communities and youth were critical in bringing down the apartheid regime. The 1970s and 1980s were a dynamic period of praxis orientated towards alternative visions of society. It was a period of searching, imagining, dreaming and taking bold steps towards a different future (Cooper, Andrews, Grossman & Vally, 2002). Workers continue to be at the forefront of pushing against and beyond an oppressive and exploitative society and in the process envisioning an alternative, better society. Processes of hope and utopianism do not only happen during the big moments of struggle or through overtly political practices and programmes, but are part of everyday lives, concretely manifesting in multiple ways and in turn shape the social world.

Utopian thinking is constitutive of what it means to be human: the ontological basis of utopian thinking is that the material world is in process; it is unfinished. Levitas (1990, p. 18) describes concrete utopia as a “praxis-orientated category aimed at social transformation”. Hope as a political necessity galvanizes action because it is more than the critique or negation of what is but an imagining beyond the present. 

This dissertation seeks to explore hope and utopianism in the everyday lives of metalworkers, and the communities in which they live – the practices and beliefs that keep and build hopes and dreams alive across time and space. The topic of hope and utopianism is of particular importance in the current context of alienation and disaffection of millions of working class South Africans, but it is also a period of renewed searching, questioning and dreaming.


Areas of Interest

Sociology of labour, labour history, critical theory, emancipatory politics

Educational Background


Master of Arts in Social and Political Thought, awarded with merit, University of Sussex, UK


Master of Philosophy in Social Justice, University of Cape Town, SA (discontinued)


Bachelor of Social Science, awarded with distinction and major distinctions in Psychology and Organisational Psychology, University of Cape Town, SA


Independent Examinations Board Matriculation, awarded with distinction, SA

Professional Experience


Researcher on existing and past ‘traditions’ of popular education in South Africa for Re-Membering Traditions of Popular Education Project, Division of Lifelong Learning, University of Western Cape/ Charter for Humanities and Social Sciences


Researcher and Media and Communications Officer for Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural Allied Workers Union, one of the few farmworker unions actively organising vulnerable workers


Researcher for Southern African Labour Research Institute (Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union research department), Cape Town


Researcher on the informal economy in Cape Town and the effects of mega-events on the working class and poor for Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (based at African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town)


Tutor and research convenor for the Sociology Department, University of Cape Town


Researcher for Centre for Social Science Research and Global Studies Programme, University of Cape Town


Research, advocacy and policy development for the Centre for Early Childhood Development, Cape Town


Research assistant and tutor for the Psychology Department, University of Cape Town


Research assistant and editor for the Centre for Adult Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Social/Political Activities


Member of Wits FeesMustFall


Member of the October6 Movement


Member of the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee


Media, research and education volunteer for the Commercial Stevedoring and Agricultural Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU)


Member of the UCT Workers’ Forum


Member of the Sussex ‘Stop the Cuts Campaign’ and the Sussex Support Staff Forum


Member of the UCT Student Worker Alliance and the UCT Workers’ Support Committee



Associate PhD fellowship at the International Center for Development and Decent Work (ICDD)


National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) in association with the South African Humanities Deans’ Association (SAHUDA) PhD Scholarship


Commonwealth scholarship


Mandela Rhodes Foundation scholarship


AW Mellon Foundation scholarship


Sexuality Leadership Development Fellowship


National Research Foundation scholarship


University of Cape Town scholarship


University of Cape Town Humanities Faculty scholarship


University of KwaZulu-Natal scholarship


St John’s D.S.G Senior School scholarship


  • Von Kotze, A., Walters, S. & Luckett, T. (forthcoming) ‘Navigating our way: a compass for popular educators’, Studies in the Education of Adults.
  • Luckett, T. & Pontarelli, F. (2016) #OutsourcingMustFall:  Unity in Action in South African Universities, The Brooklyn Rail, March 2016. (LINK)
  • Luckett, T. & Mzobe, D. (2016) #OutsourcingMustFall: The Role Of Workers In The 2015 Protest Wave At South African Universities, Global Labour Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1. (LINK)
  • Luckett, T. & Fogel, B. (2015) ‘Decolonising Labour at SA’s Universities’, The Con. (LINK)
  • Duminy, J. & Luckett, T. (2012) ‘Literature Survey: Mega-Events and the Working Poor, with a Special Reference to the 2010 FIFA World Cup’. WIEGO. African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, South Africa. (LINK)
  • Luckett, K. & Luckett, T. (2009) ‘The Development of Agency in First Generation Learners in Higher Education: A Social Realist Analysis’, Teaching in Higher Education, 14(5).
  • Luckett, T. (2008) ‘Unsettling Humanity: A Critique of Archer’s “Being Human”’, Journal of Critical Realism, 7(2). (LINK