The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) in its current form was established on 5 December 1996.
The organisation was formed through political consensus after the transition to democracy and was mandated by its membership to represent them and unite the nursing profession. Prior to this, the South African Nursing Council (SANC) and the South African Nurses Association (SANA) were statutory bodies which all nurses had to join. It was also important after the transition to democracy to incorporate nurses from the homelands under the previous political dispensation, as they were forced to leave SANA and organise themselves into separate professional bodies.
This move to a unified nursing union was implemented shortly after the national Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations and transition to democracy in 1994, when the nurses of the country (then 10 separate organisations) amalgamated. Sixteen years later DENOSA has established itself as a well-organised entity that acts on behalf of its members – the biggest union in the country solely dedicated to the interests of nurses.
DENOSA has an organisational structure that includes both elected officials and full-time staff. It has a presence in all nine provinces and represents nurses across the country.
DENOSA is currently the largest nurses’ trade union in the country with over 84 000 members. It has a dual focus on both trade union and professional development offering training to nurses.
Although DENOSA has its roots in unionism and representing the workplace interests of members, DENOSA took notice of the global developments amongst nursing unions to also include professional development of their members as part of their core focus. To this end the DENOSA Congress of 2007 took a decision to re-introduce professional development activities as part of the DENOSA offering.
To this end the DENOSA Professional Institute (DPI) was established with generous funding provided by Atlantic Philanthropies in September 2009 which augmented the internal DENOSA funding used for the programme.
DENOSA is not the only trade union for nursing professionals as nurses have choices of COSATU-affiliated and non-COSATU affiliated unions to register with. DENOSA’s membership numbers are extremely important as they affect bargaining power with employers, and ultimately DENOSA’s credibility as a union. Currently DENOSA has enough members to be represented in the Public
Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council (PHSDSBC) and the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC). However, there are discussions within these bargaining councils relating to increasing the minimum membership number required by unions for participation at the PSCBC to 100 000 which would seriously affect DENOSA – limiting both their bargaining power and their income from the public service income stream.
DENOSA is currently the smallest of the trade unions represented at the PSCBC with only 5,75% of the votes. This is of concern to DENOSA and speaks to an urgent need to recruit and retain members .
DENOSA represents a profession which is subject to ongoing and serious challenges. South Africa faces a huge disease burden – particularly infectious diseases but also a rise in chronic diseases of lifestyle – and the public health care system is characterised by ageing infrastructure, shortages of qualified personnel, particularly at the management level, and a huge demand for service. Nurses provide an essential service and yet are not always adequately compensated or valued by society.
DENOSA has an important role in ensuring that the role of nurses is recognised, that their conditions of service are improved and that they are given the opportunity for ongoing professional and personal development.
The dual role of trade union and professional association is sometimes a challenging one as the need for industrial action may conflict with nurses’ professional ethics – DENOSA’s has proven itself capable of straddling the divide and managing such situations in a responsible and ethical manner.