Editorial: Teach and deliver
"If you disrupt education, though you are not threatening a life and limb, you do threaten the growth and survival of society." He then declared the party's support for proposals to classify teaching as an essential service.
Mantashe was drawing a line in the sand, sending a message that resonated with parents in poor townships who are fed up with the damage done to their children's future by teachers who consistently put their own interests above those of their pupils.
Or maybe he wasn't; Mantashe later said he had not meant an actual legal change in status. All the party really wanted, apparently, was an "attitudinal" change.
Did this verbal flick-flack follow a belated realisation that there was little realistic prospect of success, or was it a more cynical calculation?
Make no mistake, his is a popular position, and lays the groundwork for an election campaign that will see education become a key battleground.
The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) is no paragon. In fact, it is often a barrier to proper teaching and learning, with its disruptive behaviour, intimidatory attitudes towards principals and refusal to countenance efforts to manage performance. But we have to agree with Sadtu secretary general Mugwena Maluleke, who said the ANC should instead be paying attention to the provision of textbooks and all other learning material, as well as empowering teachers inside classrooms with teaching resources, proper training and commensurate remuneration.
They should also be tackling the union, however, on the really tough stuff, what members do, and fail to do, in the classroom, rather than what they do when they are out on strike.
If high-profile sabre-rattling is a prelude to sustained effort on this grittier work, rather than hollow populism, we'll all have reason to applaud