A teachers' union congress dissolved into near chaos on Thursday when ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe addressed delegates.
The congress of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) in Boksburg nearly broke down on Thursday afternoon when ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe addressed delegates.
Mantashe raised the ire of delegates when he said that the children of teachers were still receiving learning during the public service strike because they attended former Model C schools.
The congress delegates started booing and heckling him and the more he appealed to them to hear him out, the more they shouted at him to stop speaking.
Sadtu president Thobile Ntola intervened and told delegates to “close their mouths” and listen to Mantashe, but they refused.
They started singing “Can you see this crisis” while Ntola and Irvin Jim, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary, appealed to delegates to calm down.
Another delegate shouted: “This is not Nehawu, you can’t tell us what to do,” referring to the congress of the National Health and Allied Workers Union that took place last week.
At this congress Mantashe talked about the deployment of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, which sparked severe criticism from Cosatu leaders who feel Mantashe, who is also chairperson of the South African Communist Party(SACP), has no right to speak on deployment of Cosatu leaders.
Later an exasperated Ntola told delegates: “You must allow the SG to speak, we will only move forward if we listen to him.”
Eventually, after an umpteenth intervention by Ntola, Mantashe was allowed to continue his speech.
Ntola subsequently apologised to Mantashe, the ANC and all provinces for the unruly behaviour.
The congress follows shortly after the controversial public sector strike that saw thousands of teachers vacate their posts in the critical period before matric exams.
The congress was similarly marred on Wednesday, when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was heckled by some Sadtu members. But Ntola condemned the “heckling and howling” saying those responsible would be dealt with.
“Whether you like it or not comrade Angie is the minister of education, I think that you must accept,” he told delegates who again voiced their displeasure at the minister.
Motshekga, however, said she had always felt “comfortable” in the union and did not take the heckling personally.
“... after the strike the dust has not yet settled so I was not shocked,” the minister told Sapa on the sidelines of the congress.
She added that good and bad relations were part of politics.
“We fight today and then we are friends tomorrow. It is the nature of things.”
Meanwhile Vavi on Wednesday called for the creation of a single public sector union.
He urged Sadtu to ensure that a unified education sector union was part of their discussions.
“The next step is to ensure that you merge with all other teacher organisations in the country.”
He said Nehawu and South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) had long threatened to “marry” and this had to happen soon.
“It will be in our best interests to push for unity,” he said.
Currently, getting things done in the bargaining council was a “nightmare”.
The “aggressive egos” of everybody involved did not help.
He said union leadership wanted to be on television to be seen by their members.
“We can’t be presidents, all of us, comrades, it’s not possible.
“Division is a luxury that we cannot afford.
“This is the overriding lesson or message of the strike.” - with Sapa