‘We are treated unfairly’

Mpho Thibedi* has a personality that naturally qualifies her to work with young and fragile minds. This serves her well as an early childhood development (ECD) teacher at a primary school in Meadowlands Zone One.

She studied to become an ECD practitioner in 1996, but a lack of funds meant she could only study up to N3. Nevertheless, the following year she became a full-time practitioner. She was excited about finding a job she loves, even though she could not get to N6 level. Little did she know about the frustrations awaiting her.

Her main source of frustration was not getting a regular monthly salary – sometimes it could take two or three months before she would be paid.

“We are still treated as a separate entity from other teachers despite the fact that we do similar things to what foundation-phase teachers do. We get paid R1 500 by the school governing body. We also used to get an additional R2 000 grant from the DoE (department of education),” says Thibedi.

But suddenly the school governing body cut her pay to R750, she says, “because I was getting more” – referring to the inconsistently paid grant from the DoE.

“I never expected this kind of treatment from the state. Imagine having to run around asking about when you will get paid. Even when you try to enquire you end up confused as you get tossed between the district and the notorious Gauteng Shared Services Centre,” Thibedi says.

Not only does this affect her performance, it also has an impact on her personal and family life. “I cannot open an account with any store because I am considered a risk. In the event that I succeed in opening one, I know at the back of my mind that it will be revoked as I am certain I would have to skip payments. This has destroyed my credit profile,” says Thibedi.

She adds that her relationships with friends and neighbours have soured because she still owes them money which she borrowed a while back. “My husband is not working. We do not have our own house and rent at his parents’ house. I am also supporting my husband’s two kids from a previous relationship.

“So it means out of the little that I get, I must pay for rent, buy food, travel to work and also take care of the debts he incurred while he was still working. It is such a stressful life,” Thibedi explains, her eyes brimming with tears. Her total monthly budget hovers at around R3000.

Nono Lehlokwa, who teaches at Senyamo Primary School in Dobsonville, Soweto, is also demoralised and complains about the irregular manner in which she gets paid. “The emotional pain this causes us is enormous. I remember I was suffering from diarrhoea and my doctor attributed it to the stress I was experiencing. What is worse is that my marriage was nearly wrecked. My husband was beginning to distrust me because at the end of every month I have to give an explanation,” she says.

Adds Thibedi: “Recently one of my best friends died from what we suspect were stress-related complications. As far as I know she was healthy, although she was always complaining about financial problems associated with late payment.

“At the time of her death she had not been paid for over four months. I am not a doctor, but I have no doubt the frustrations related to late payments contributed significantly to her death.”

What angers Thibedi and Lehlokwa is that, in 2004, they went for 18 months of level four to five upgrade training.

“We graduated and the officials from the provincial education department congratulated and assured us that we would now be treated like any qualified teacher and be entitled to all basic benefits,” says Lehlokwa.

“This confuses us as nothing has changed for us. We are still treated like before and now they are talking of 2010. Whether they mean it or whether they are just climbing on to the bandwagon of the World Cup euphoria is anybody’s guess. But, the fact remains, we are treated unfairly,” says Thibedi.

* Not her real name

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