Time for Motshekga to meet Sadtu’s crazed antics with political muscle

Sinister enemy forces apparently targeted the basic education department's Pretoria headquarters on Monday this week. 

In a surprise attack that caught the building's security off-guard, the invading forces managed to take occupation of the department's second-highest office – that of the director general.

This was because – even more alarmingly – it was the director general himself, Bobby Soobrayan, who spearheaded the invasion. Closer inspection suggested Soobrayan might have learned a thing or two from Agent 007 or Jason Bourne, in that he appeared to have pulled off this successful attack, invasion and occupation single-handedly.

At any rate, these were among the lurid impressions the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) managed to create in a press statement it released on Monday morning.

This invited media to an "urgent" briefing about the "provocative … invasion of the DBE offices by Bobby Soobrayan". It also strongly hinted that Soobrayan was perhaps [and alas] not really James Bond or Jason Bourne: although it was he who did the invading, this was "part of a campaign to disrupt education". 

So he had help – enemy forces that Soobrayan led, therefore? But who were they? And was President Jacob Zuma told about the coup d'etat in national education governance? Sadtu didn't cast light on any of this.

But there was another way of reading its unusual way of describing a bog-standard state bureaucrat's arrival at the office on a Monday morning.

This was that the country's largest teacher union had finally lost the plot (to stick with its current preference for military metaphors concerning conspiracies, enemies and invasions). Or, more plainly, that it had gone bonkers and lost its marbles altogether.

"Marbles" gets us closer to understanding what actually led to Sadtu's ludicrous press release. Unfortunately, it also provides a way of reading this week's genuinely sinister development: Sadtu's threat on Tuesday to call its members out on a national strike over – we are expected to believe – a 0.5% pay increase.

First, Sadtu appeared unaware when it issued the Monday release that there was nothing illegitimate at all about Soobrayan's arrival at work. 


Yes, he had been on "special leave" since last year, pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing on charges that Sadtu itself spent about a year pressuring Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga into bringing against him.

But by Monday, the hearing, chaired by Judge Willem van der Merwe, had already concluded by clearing Soobrayan – a little detail that it was surprising Sadtu seemed to have missed because, at its insistence, its own legal representatives sat in on the disciplinary hearing as observers. 

Perhaps those representing Sadtu took the same breezy approach the union does regarding its members' working hours and presence in the classroom? Or maybe Sadtu developed its well-known selective deafness on being told anything it doesn't want to hear?

The point is surely that, concerning Soobrayan's disciplinary case, Sadtu got everything it wanted – except the verdict.

The two charges related to increased payments to matric markers that were never implemented and allegedly unauthorised expenditure of about R48 000.

These were charges Sadtu spent a militant year demanding be independently adjudicated in a hearing with its own lawyers present. That is precisely what happened – in a process that the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) itself applauded for its transparency.

In an exceptionally unusual political move, Cosas in the same statement also denounced Sadtu on Thursday for its strike threat. The congress expressed its "dismay and disgust", and lambasted the union for "seeking to impose [its] thinking on everyone in a bullying way".

This is spot-on. By Tuesday, when Sadtu held its press briefing, the union appeared to have caught up with what Judge van der Merwe had actually ruled and so toned down the "invasion" rhetoric dramatically.

But it upped the war talk in another way, both by dismissing (on obscure grounds) the hearing's exoneration of Soobrayan, and saying it would call its members out of classrooms over the department's alleged failure to implement a 0.5% pay increase.

That amount is part of an agreement to a 1.5% increase for all public-sector employees reached some time ago. The department has so far only implemented 1%, Sadtu said.

If it beggars belief that the union would consider this adequate grounds for bringing schooling to a halt, so too should it ignite profound alarm that Sadtu is dismissing – on Soobrayan – a 26-page report penned by a judge and replete with case law and legal precedent in support of his verdict.

Here is where one strongly suspects the loss of those school-playground marbles comes in. Frustrated now in its year-long attempt to get Soobrayan fired, Sadtu throws its marbles along with all its other toys out of the cot.

None of this is to suggest that Soobrayan has nothing left for which to answer and still be held accountable (he does). But that is not the tack Sadtu took anyway (it should have).

Now it is Motshekga who will need to show a hardness of political muscle she has not always displayed and show Sadtu the door.

Otherwise, government might as well just go the whole hog and hand the entire ministry of education over to this currently power-crazed union – a governance arrangement that all too often appears to be the undeclared status quo anyway.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

David Macfarlane
Guest Author
Advertising

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations