Mary Sithole was elected TSSA's first black woman Treasurer in May 2023. She takes office on July 1st. Mary sat down with me for a chat about her hopes and plans for TSSA's future, and the importance of diversity and representation.
Can you tell us a bit about your background in TSSA? I have been a member since 2000 and around mid 2011 I became an active member. My activism started when I met my then regional organiser Amina Asanga following one of her station visits. Amina encouraged me to become a union rep and mentored and supported me through my journey and I am grateful for her support. I also appreciate the training I received from the union which enabled me to do an excellent job as an industrial rep, health and safety rep and equality rep. These roles have allowed me to build amazing relationships and friendships and learn how to work well with others.
What led you to decide to stand for Treasurer? I did not want to see TSSA disappear. So instead of standing and doing nothing, I decided to make a difference. I have been in a similar situation before where our union was no longer visible or effective in the workplace. In that situation we turned around and we increased membership and I believe we can do it again. Using the words of Bob Marley, “Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight.” Let us all come together and build our union.
What are your aims for the role? I intend to work closely with the General Secretary, President, Executive Committee (EC), Staff and members. Be accountable for the union’s finances and reporting back to membership. Also, ensuring that the union is fulfilling its legal duties to maintain the financial health of the union, with systems in place to allow for financial compliance and timely reporting.
What are your hopes for the future of TSSA? I hope TSSA remains an independent union and that we grow our membership. I hope we all find healing, our union has experienced a deeply traumatic period and we need to heal, rebuild and grow. I hope we will learn lessons from the Kennedy and Conley reports and lead campaigns around the issues raised
You're the first black woman officer for TSSA. What's important to you about that? Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the members because they realised that change was necessary.
Representation is very important to me; our union structures need to reflect the demographics of its membership. It is nice that TSSA can now talk about a black female Treasurer and my hope is that I will not be the last. We must make sure we are building in these historic moments and work even harder to create a more diverse workforce that represents all groups.
What do you think is important about TSSA getting better at reflecting the full diversity of its members? Diversity creates that sense of belonging and representation, which in turn engages members. And I would like to see our self-organising groups (SOGs) leading in this area of Diversity, Inclusion and Equality. The SOGs should be producing our diverse leaders.
What do you think we need to prioritise going forward in this post Kennedy and Conley era? Of course, we have to ensure that all of the Kennedy and Conley recommendations are fully implemented. However, we must not stop there, we must be prepared to learn lessons from what has happened and ensure that it does not happen again. We need to commit to developing a sustainable framework to provide support for the victims. We need to normalise reporting, and investigate, review and follow up all issues that are reported.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to our members? I want all the members to know that they are very important in this union. Their views and opinions matter and they must hold all TSSA officers accountable. I want to encourage each and every member to ask questions and make suggestions, this is our union