Teacher unions have told the Mail & Guardian they will oppose the return of school inspectors, as proposed by President Jacob Zuma.
Delivering his political report at the ANC national conference in Mangaung last Sunday, Zuma said he wanted inspectors back and hinted it would happen even if the unions opposed it.
"Some of our friends in labour don't like this idea," Zuma said. "If they don't, we will just send them to find teachers not doing their work."
The ANC-aligned South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) remained opposed to the return of the inspectors, said its general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke.
"We have made it clear that school inspectors do not add value to education," Maluleke said.
Sadtu's opposition to the inspectors stems from their role in schools before 1994. "They were just there to find fault, policing teachers without playing a developmental role," said Maluleke.
A veteran teacher in Mpumalanga said inspectors caused misery in public schools. "Many principals died of stress because of these people who would burst into schools and intimidate everyone."
Alan Thompson, deputy president of the National Teacher's Union, agreed that school inspectors should not return in their old form.
"The history of the country tells us inspectors were not doing the education system any good. They were victimising principals and destabilising schools."
Unions said that instead of inspectors, the public education system needed more competent and expert subject advisers. They are district-based subject experts whose full-time job is to cultivate teachers' content knowledge as they adapt to curriculum reform.
"Subject advisers are crucial because they work with teachers instead of policing them," Maluleke said. Although there are insufficient subject advisers in some parts of South Africa, Thompson said a major problem was that the current crop comprised "incompetent" cadre deployees, of whom there were many in KwaZulu-Natal.