Eastern Cape teacher strike could hit exams

With 53?000 Eastern Cape teachers poised to strike from Friday, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) in the province said it could not guarantee matric exams would not be disrupted.

But on Thursday frantic negotiations continued between the union and the national department of basic education to avert the action. Sadtu is demanding the removal of Modidima Mannya, the head of the Eastern Cape’s crisis-ridden education department.

Sadtu provincial secretary Mncekeleli Ndongeni said that if “angry teachers” did not get the response they wanted from the provincial department the writing of the matric exams could be threatened. Union members would march to the premier’s office in Bisho on Friday to demand Mannya’s removal and the reinstatement of more than 4?000 temporary teachers whose contracts were terminated last year.

In March this year the national department invoked Section 100 of the Constitution and put the provincial education department under administration.

Negotiations on Thursday to avert the strike were at an “advanced stage”, said national department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi. This time last year, many schools across the country came to a halt when Sadtu joined a public-service strike over wage disputes, also during the matric exams.

“The province is burning”
Ndongeni said industrial action had to start now because “the sooner Mannya is suspended, the better”.

“The province is burning. Learners have been without enough teachers for a year now since those temporary teachers were suspended,” he said.

Mannya referred queries to the premier’s office, where provincial spokesperson Mahlubandile Qwase disputed the claim that the 4?000 teachers had not been reinstated.

Sadtu’s demands related to even more teacher appointments, he said, which the province could not afford.

Ndongeni said the union met Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday and expressed its “frustration with how Mannya is running education in the province and that the strike would go ahead on Friday”.

Deploring Sadtu’s poor image in the media, he said: “We have told teachers who are invigilating exams to stay at work. If we didn’t care about learners we would shut down all the schools, but we are not doing that. We are a responsible union.”

Wilmot James, Democratic Alliance spokesperson for basic education, said Sadtu’s decision to strike sacrificed the interests of the nation. “The effect on matrics and other learners is terrible because teachers will not be in class,” he told the Mail & Guardian. The province has nearly two million pupils.

Union members were angry that some teachers had not been paid, that classrooms were too full and that some teachers had been suspended “for organising what the department called illegal meetings”, Ndongeni said “How we respond depends on how seriously the provincial department takes our demands.”

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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