The reinvention of Sadtu

The choice of Mugwena Maluleke as the new general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is widely interpreted as a move to redeem the union’s battered credibility in the eyes of the public.

Maluleke will have to show that Sadtu is a professional teachers’ union committed to quality public education. Under the abrasive and controversial Thulas Nxesi—now an ANC MP—Sadtu often appeared to put member interests above those of learners.

Although relatively unknown, Maluleke commands respect in Sadtu ranks. Having started off as secretary for the Soshanguve branch, he made his way up the ladder until he was elected deputy secretary for Gauteng.

A qualified labour relations and negotiations expert, he is studying for a master’s degree in business administration.

The 48-year-old father of seven was a maths teacher and principal of Tshwane’s Rodney Mokoena Junior Secondary School.
When he entered national politics he became Sadtu’s negotiator in the education sector bargaining chamber. He was the union’s national treasurer for 10 years, a position that earned him a place on Cosatu’s central committee.

Observers have welcomed his appointment, describing him as a “constructive, balanced and hard­working leader”. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an educator who belongs to a rival union, but worked closely with him in the bargaining chamber, said Sadtu had chosen well.

“I don’t think he’ll be another Thulas. He will likely choose a less high-profile role and do a lot of work from behind the scenes. I think under him Sadtu will no longer be as highly politicised as it was under his predecessor,” he said.

In a recent interview with the Mail & Guardian Maluleke came across as calm and self-effacing. He said he would pick up where Nxesi left off, and emphasise local and regional solidarity with other teachers’ unions.

Asked about the recent wildcat strike by Sadtu’s central region, which disrupted lessons at some Soweto schools, he said the union’s structures would follow correct procedures, including balloting members before striking. In future the decision to strike would have to be sanctioned by the union’s provincial executive committees, he said.

Maluleke insisted that the perception that Sadtu has been putting members’ interests above those of learners was “ill-informed and naive”.

“Sadtu believes that the rights of teachers, learners and parents are inseparable,” he said. The union’s actions aim to put pressure on the employer to provide necessary resources for quality education.

He also defended the action by some union affiliates who called for meetings during teaching time to canvass votes for the ANC during this year’s elections.

“At the time we had a programme that needed to be explained to our members. We were under attack and had to call teachers’ forums to address issues of independence,” he said. “We instructed our structures to apply for time off, which is permissible under the collective agreement signed with the employer.”

He punted the new assessment mechanism called integrated quality management system as the right teacher assessment tool to replace the inspectorate system.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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