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Zuma visit: Crackdown on 'absent' Mpumalanga teachers

Verashni Pillay

Teachers should be in school, on time, Zuma has said repeatedly in previous speeches - except when he's in town. Now the department is investigating.

Teachers who allegedly sent their pupils home on a school day thanks to ANC president Jacob Zuma visiting the area last week face disciplinary action. (Felix Dlangamandla, Gallo)

Mpumalanga teachers allegedly sent their pupils home on a school day thanks to ANC president Jacob Zuma visiting the area last week, and landed themselves in trouble.

And the province’s education department told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that teachers who sent their pupils home on the day thanks to Zuma visiting will face harsh action.

“A preliminary investigation was conducted by the district office and teachers at the school, [when] questioned, conceded that they did not attend on the day,” said department spokesperson Jasper Zwane. “The district therefore will implement a no-work, no-pay principle. They will also be charged with misconduct. The principal will also be charged for closing a school without authorisation.” 

“Learners of the Schoemansdal Combined School in Nkomazi were sent home with the message that there would be no classes today because president Zuma would be in the area,” the DA spokesperson for education in Mpumalanga, James Masango, said in a statement following the incident on Wednesday April 23. “There is absolutely no justification to interrupt our children’s education for an election campaign.”

The M&G confirmed the incident with four sets of parents with children at Schoemansdal Combined Primary School. Their children were all around the age of 10 and came home from school on Tuesday last week, saying they were told not to come to school the following day – Wednesday.

No permission
The principal of Schoemansdal Combined Primary School refused to comment on the matter, referring all questions to the province’s education department. Zwane told the M&G last week the department had received complaints about the matter and were awaiting a report from the school. 

“When he came home on Tuesday, I said: ‘just wash your clothes and shoes’, and my child said: ‘no mama, they are taking us to see Zuma’,” said one mother who preferred to remain anonymous. Her 10-year-old son stayed at home the next day as she did not want him to attend the rally. 

“They didn’t ask any permission, they just told the kids they must not come to school,” she told the M&G on Thursday. 

Suzman Gama, also from Schoemansdal, told the M&G that his nephew, who stays with him, was taken to the rally. 

“He told the grandmother he won’t go to school tomorrow, they’re going to the stadium, teacher said so,” Gama said. “He was not at home the whole day, he only came home at 3.”

A particular bug bear for affected parents was the lack of notification. “They didn’t inform us or give us any note that they must not go to school,” said another parent, Sisiso Nkosi, whose son is in grade four at Schoemansdal Combined Primary School.

Education ‘non-negotiables’
Zuma has repeatedly laid out his “non-negotiables in education” in previous speeches, particularly that all teachers and pupils “should be in school, in class, on time, teaching and learning for at least seven hours a day”.

“I am convinced that the teachers who excel in their work succeed because they implement these core principles,” he said at the National Teaching Awards in Johannesburg in March. “Education is a ladder out of poverty for many of our children who come from poor households.”

Zuma was in the area last week on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of election campaigning ahead of the May 7 national elections. He spent Wednesday in the Ehlanzeni region, according to an ANC press release. The M&G attended the rally near Schoemansdal Combined Primary School, which took place at the Driefontein Sport Grounds and began just after noon, earlier than its scheduled 3pm slot. 

Neighbouring schools were also affected by the visit according to a teacher and other parents in the area. While Schoemansdal Combined Primary School closed entirely a few others schools allegedly sent their pupils and teachers home by 10am. 

Loti Primary School in Malelane was mentioned as one school that closed at 10am. “School didn’t go on that day,” said one person who attends the school.

But the principal at Loti Primary School, who declined to be named, insisted that it was a working day and pupils and teachers were present. He referred all other enquiries to Mpumalanga’s education department.

Zwane said Schoemansdal Combined Primary School was the only one being investigated at the moment, but that the principle of taking action against errant teachers and principals applies to “any school that is found to have conducted itself in a similar manner”.


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