Unions want bold strides for teachers

Never mind a strike: Teachers’ union Sadtu said it was prepared to take the government to court over the issue of infrastructure such as toilets at schools, calling it an issue of dignity. (David Harrison)

Never mind a strike: Teachers’ union Sadtu said it was prepared to take the government to court over the issue of infrastructure such as toilets at schools, calling it an issue of dignity. (David Harrison)

Teacher unions want whoever is going to be appointed as minister of basic education to urgently deal with the problems of school infrastructure, which they say has crushed the dignity of their members.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has even threatened to take the new minister to court if that person does not address the problem.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week — in anticipation of a new Cabinet to be announced after the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday — the three biggest teacher unions said that, although they appreciated the work done by Angie Motshekga in her 10 years in the post, they believe it is time to bring in someone with fresh ideas to deal with the many problems in the sector. Sadtu, the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) and the National Teachers Union (Natu) agreed that the prime concern was the poor facilities in schools.

READ MORE: Sadtu accuses PSA of being ‘all bark and no bite’

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said that whoever is appointed has to restore the dignity of teachers by addressing inadequate infrastructure.

He said the union has been “too nice” while its members have been humiliated and now it is ready to fight.

“This is a dignity issue. We will go to court immediately if things that are affecting dignity are not being dealt with.
The dignity of a learner and a dignity of a teacher are very fundamental,” he said. “We will go on strike for other issues, but for infrastructure we will go to court. Teachers must hide behind bushes or go ask to use toilets at neighbours. Enough is enough.”

He said the union could institute a class-action lawsuit. “We want to be serious about infrastructure because it’s the one [thing] that is impeding education and the quality of education in our country. We cannot be nice anymore because these things are violating the Constitution of our country and we cannot tolerate that anymore.”

He said the union will request plans and continuous updates from the new minister on how he or she will tackle doing away with schools built of mud and pit toilets. This will require that the department has an effective infrastructure branch.

“We are saying: ‘Chief, whoever you are, you must know that here you must perform. We want six-month plans and you must come back and say there were 70 pit toilets, now there are 20. The next six months we are doing away with another 20 and so forth’. We can’t be nice about that. Infrastructure must be a priority,” said Maluleke. The executive director of Naptosa, Basil Manuel, said what was most disappointing was that large sums of money that were supposed to be spent on infrastructure are returned to treasury. “We have to be bold and we have to find bold measures, and we have to make bold decisions and crack the whip where there is something wrong.”

READ MORE: Another young child drowns in school pit-latrine

He said that someone had to be held to account. “The new administration has to be bold and attack things that the old administration failed to do. And it must come with a new energy and vision.”

Natu president Allen Thompson said schools are buckling under a mix of poor infrastructure and overcrowding. In some cases, he said, teachers have 70 to 90 pupils in a class. “Teachers are unable to move around the classroom because classes are overpacked; your only job is just to stand next to the chalkboard and you can’t move around. You can’t monitor your students, you can’t see whether all of them have written their homework, you can’t mark the scripts because if you are to mark the scripts for the whole grade you are talking about 1 000 scripts. As a result, learners mark each other’s work.”

READ MORE: Teachers, pull yourselves together and prepare your lessons

The union representatives also said they would not mind if the department of basic education is merged with the department of higher education and training because there was no logical reason for separating them in the first place. They were separated in 2009 by former president Jacob Zuma.

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