In a huge display of political muscle-flexing on Wednesday, leaders from trade union federation Cosatu joined thousands of South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) members in presenting the presidency with a list of complaints and demands that far exceeds the reasons the powerful union has so far offered for wanting Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and director general Bobby Soobrayan sacked.
Cosatu's general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and S'dumo Dlamini, its president, turned up to endorse the 18 complaints and 17 demands in the memorandum, which was addressed to President Jacob Zuma and handed over at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The Pretoria march was bolstered by a simultaneous march by the union's Cape Town chapter, which marched on Parliament.
Sadtu will embark on a full nationwide strike if Zuma does not concede to the demands within 21 days, the union's deputy general secretary, Nkosana Dolopi, told the marchers at the Union Buildings.
The union's complaints include two it has repeatedly presented since December: the department's alleged reneging on an 2011 agreement to increase payments for matric markers and Soobrayan's controversial role in textbook procurement.
Soobrayan features in seven of the 18 complaints — the union's first demand is that he be fired "immediately". And Motshekga's role in the department's "dismal performance and conduct", which has "undermined" the state's education efforts, means she should "graciously tender her resignation", also immediately.
But Sadtu's memorandum detailing its extensive grounds for this week's angry one-day protest also lists disputes over allowances for rural Limpopo teachers, the department's failure to spend a R800-million conditional grant on school infrastructure and its failed laptop scheme for teachers.
"We wouldn't come from so far afield if we did not believe things are going wrong in education," Marvin Kgaba, a teacher from Makhado (Louis Trichardt) in Limpopo, told the Mail & Guardian while on his way to the Union Buildings.
"We don't have textbooks in Limpopo schools," Kgaba said. "We're teaching without resources we need at schools. How are schools expected to function? I'm telling you these things from experience."
Masedi Selaelo, a Gauteng teacher, said the "cardinal sin" of reneging on a collective agreement undermined negotiated agreements overall. "They had plenty of time to ponder the agreement before signing it. No one forced them to sign."
Tebello Matsie, a teacher in Gauteng, said she would support a full strike. "This is the only way we will be heard. The government wants us to disrupt education before listening to us," she said.
The extensive disruption to schooling that the M&G witnessed in Soweto this week could be a mere blip compared with the chaos Sadtu is threatening: its 21-day ultimatum will expire when schools are scheduled to write midyear exams.
The M&G saw Soweto pupils going home as early as 9am on Wednesday. Thaba-Jabula Secondary School pupils hanging around in a park opposite the school said their teachers had chased them away. "They came to the school but kicked us out, saying we must go home," said Andiswa Tshali, a grade nine pupil. "We're worried about losing [even] a day of education because the June exams are around the corner."
Standing around at a street corner in Pimville with his friends, grade eight pupil Siphosethu Masongolo criticised his school's teachers for dismissing pupils early to go to the march. "This is not helping us get education," he said.
Mugwena Maluleke, Sadtu's secretary general, would not say who the union wanted to replace Motshekga should she be sacked. But he unexpectedly brought Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, a former Limpopo education minister, into the picture.
"We need leadership like that of Motsoaledi," he said. "He's showing leadership in health … He's not undermining the bargaining chamber in the health sector."
On rumours of ANC intervention in the impasse between Motshekga and Sadtu, party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said: "We don't disclose the nature of our involvement in the public domain, but I want to put it on record that we've not been spectators." However, the party does not "agree with the call that the minister and the director general must be fired".
Department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi declined to comment.
• 'Run Angie, run!' Watch a video of Wednesday's Sadtu march to the Union Buildings: mg.co.za/sadtumarch