Thousands of Sadtu members marched to the Union Buildings on Wednesday. Basic Education Minister Angie Mothshekga’s withdrawal of a collective bargaining agreement was what got them on the streets, but many of the marchers said they were concerned about the dire state of the education system and how the government treats teachers. The grievances run deep and unless the president acts the pupils of 2013 are in for a tough(er) year. By GREG NICOLSON.
Some of the most entertaining aspects of marches are also the most insulting. The South African Democratic Teachers Union demonstration from the old Putco Marabastad bus depot in Pretoria, down Cowie Street, through Struben and up Nelson Mandela Drive to the Union Buildings got off to a slow start; organisers say there were transport problems (the Limpopo delegation, however, arrived early after leaving just after midnight on Wednesday morning). But when they arrived they came in numbers, with estimates putting the attendance well above 5,000, with some guesses even at 15,000.
“Voetsek! Voetsek!” The protesters sang melodically for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. “Ruuun, Angie, ruuuun!!” was another favourite as the march front-runners sprinted the final yards towards the home of the presidency. One placard depicted Motshekga as a donkey. Another said it was “we” who bought her false teeth.
The Sadtu members, with support from other Cosatu unions, want Motshekga and Department of Basic Education director general Bobby Soobrayan gone. Wednesday’s demonstrations in Pretoria and Cape Town were the result of an escalating feud between labour and government, with the trigger being Motshekga’s termination of the collective bargaining agreement set to boost wages for exam-related work.
Many of those who attended the Pretoria march, however, were just as concerned about the state of education in South Africa. Tebogo, a 40-year-old business studies and English teacher from Free State, said, “We have been promised something which the government is now changing their minds on. Basically the fact is that this goes on on a regular basis.” He said he supports calls for the government leaders in education to resign. “You cannot promise something and do the opposite, which is the trend nowadays. There has to be someone to show when something is wrong.” He said one day away from school won’t harm pupils’ education.
The government and Sadtu were at loggerheads over the status of the demonstration with Department of Basic Education spokesmen calling it illegal. Sadtu, however, said the march was approved and was not in fact a strike but a “no work, no pay” day.
Nomsa Nkosi, a maths teacher from Piet Retief, said, “We are not happy with our minister, Angie Motshekga. There are a lot of things that have been going on. Like the bargaining agreement of 2011. All the structures were there but they are undermining us as teachers and we are working hard for this country. We are not happy… We are not getting anything that is encouraging us as teachers. We are working hard but the government is not treating us very well.” Nkosi said it’s better that teachers are in school but said she supported the demonstration. “I agree with [the critics] that we must be in schools but our position here is that we are not happy. We talked about it a long time ago but they are not listening. So we don’t have any options. It’s the last option. We are also not happy that we are not in school.”
Sadtu member Peter Madiba, a 42-year-old English teacher from Limpopo said, “I am unhappy as an educator. You know what the Department of Education has done? It has not delivered textbooks. It lies to the South African public that they have delivered all the textbooks. We, the teachers, know that we are still without those resources in classes.”
Yelling over music from loudspeakers Madiba criticised the Western Cape government’s planned closing of schools and the national department’s cutting of rural allowances. He said his school is suffering since norms and standards payments have been slashed in Limpopo schools. Now, the school can’t visit the department as frequently and has had to cut back on purchases of chalk, he said.
“Comrade Dlamini” from Mpumalanga was also angry. The Mpumalanga isiZulu and life sciences teacher wanted to speak directly to the minister. “You’ve killed our education. You’ve killed the progress of our children. I’m so disappointed when I heard you yesterday saying the march of Sadtu (harms) our children. It’s not Sadtu, it’s you as an individual.” He called on Zuma to shuffle the Cabinet and move Motshekga out of education. “Is there anything special, is there any gold about Angie? Enough is enough. Our kids are suffering. Remember the main goal is to progress the education of our kids.” He said it’s getting harder to teach in public schools and while private schools are coping, “Our kids are suffering. What about African schools?”
Sadtu had the support of Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi who were both present at the march. Relations between the two were icy, with them marching separately and appearing distant when they shared the stage. But both leaders shared sentiments that public education in South Africa is in crisis. Vavi gave a rousing speech about the broad problems in education before the march began while Dlamini spoke to journalists earlier while the crowd gathered.
Sadtu has given President Jacob Zuma 21 days to respond to its demands, failing which it has threatened to embark on industrial action that could cripple the 2013 school year. DM
Photo: Closer to the final destination, the unionists started to run, hard work in the sun. (Greg Nicolson)