The role labour unions must play in the life of every employee can never be disavowed. Even if we think of teaching as an essential service, it is difficult to contemplate teachers not being unionised.
But the alleged sale of teacher posts by some members of teacher unions is shocking.
Ideally, effective teacher unions advise members on various matters, including professional development. Teachers in unions acquire an enhanced voice. And big-voiced teacher unions can partner other advocates for change in the education transformation debate.
But there are still those who believe less unionised teachers will result in a better school system, and that teacher unions cannot solve any educational problems because they are the problem.
In the struggle for liberation in South Africa, the trade union movement played a vital role. Not only did teachers use their militancy to fight for a democratic education, they also sacrificed their lives for a free South Africa.
People view labour union actions by teachers with disdain. They don’t support teachers in “chalk-down” strikes. Rarely do teacher unions fight for pupils’ rights or lead social justice-inspired actions to improve conditions in schools.
The alleged selling of teaching jobs has been going on since as early as 2014. Improper manipulation of teacher appointments harms pupils’ learning and how school programmes are run.
With the many problems in education, this is unfortunate, considering the initiatives tried by many to heal a weak education system. Some members of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, South Africa’s largest teacher union, are implicated in the sale of teacher posts. This is a cause for concern, although some still argue that these are mere allegations that still need to be proved.
Buying teacher posts is an injustice to not only fellow teachers but also to the pupils and their families. It short-changes those who still have faith in the education system, and there are many such families who pin all their hopes on a better education for their offspring. One cannot be certain that those who buy posts will be able to command their colleagues’ respect; it is also unfair to those who have worked hard with the hope of moving up the professional ladder in fair competition.
Adversarial relationships between school managers and union members do not build schools. If teaching posts are being sold, it needs to be condemned by all, including teachers. The history of teacher unionism in South Africa has shown how teachers could be a conduit of liberation and educational change. In fact, we desperately need strong teacher unions to fight for teachers’ rights as well as free quality education.
Vuyisile Msila heads Unisa’s African Renaissance Studies institute. He writes here in his personal capacity