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Corruption, cadre deployment and excessive union influence is crippling the education system: reports

Corruption, cadre deployment and excessive union influence is crippling the education system: reports
Members of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union at a march in Pretoria on 24 April 2013. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo)

The Department of Basic Education has failed to take on the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union and tackle corruption and capture in South Africa’s education system. Both elements need to be addressed for reform to take place. This is according to a report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

Tackling corruption and capture in the education system by ending cadre deployment and introducing measures that remove the “stranglehold” the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has on the education department, must happen if there is to be system-wide education reform in South Africa. 

This is among the key recommendations made by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) in a series of five reports on “The Silent Crisis” unfolding in our country’s education system. The reports were released on Tuesday. 

One report – “The Forgotten Story of State Capture in Education” – focuses on the widespread corruption and capture that prevents the education system from providing the support and accountability needed for effective teaching.

“What South Africa needs is system-wide reform. We have to overcome a multiplicity of challenges and we need to choose priorities and be realistic about what we can do, but we have to tackle the tough political issues within education,” CDE executive director Ann Bernstein said in a webinar to launch the series: 

“If you don’t eradicate capture, all other reforms are not going to work.” 

‘Jobs for cash’

In April 2014, City Press revealed that a jobs-for-cash racket was being run by Sadtu members. Sitting principals, the investigation found, were being threatened and violently ousted from their positions, then replaced by candidates who admitted to securing their posts by paying Sadtu officials. Principal posts were being sold for more than R30,000, and City Press uncovered that the racket was operating in several provinces. 

Amid mounting public outrage over the scandal, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga appeared to take decisive action by appointing a ministerial task team in May 2014 to probe the allegations. 

Two years later, in May 2016, the task team’s 295-page report was made public. It concluded that Sadtu had “enormous power and influence” over the education system, which was being held hostage by political processes. Additionally, the task team found that cadre deployment by unions had “weakened the education system”.

“If ‘undue influence’ (a polite name for corruption) is a result of cadre deployment, then cadre deployment is likely to lead to corruption. It is the impression of the task team that such corruption is endemic to greater and lesser degrees in the entire education system and that as a first move to cleanse the system, cadre deployment should not be permitted,” the report read. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cadre deployment unconstitutional and illegal – Commission’s bombshell finding on ANC’s key policy

It also made a number of key recommendations to free the education system from the union’s grip, which included: 

  • Corrupt individuals be reported to SAPS for criminal prosecution;
  • Officials who failed in their oversight duties be disciplined;
  • Whistle-blowers be protected and the Department of Basic Education establishes a specialised unit within the department to receive reports about the selling of posts, and direct these reports to competent authorities;
  • That the department regains control of administering the education system in all provinces so that clear distinctions are established between the roles and functions of the DBE and the concerns of teacher unions;
  • The power of school governing bodies to recommend appointments be removed and the observer status unions enjoy in hiring and promoting processes be renegotiated.

Slow off the mark

Upon publication of the report, the DBE said the recommendations of the task team would be implemented “to ensure that the system is strengthened for a better quality education”. 

In November 2016, Motshekga told Parliament’s basic education portfolio committee that the department had “institutionalised” the recommendations.

However, the chair of the ministerial task team, Dr John Volmink, confirmed to the CDE in February this year that, as far as he was aware, not a “single recommendation from the report has been implemented”, nor has anyone implicated in wrongdoing been prosecuted.

“Despite findings of criminality by the [ministerial task team], no government official implicated in the 2014-2015 ‘jobs-for-cash’ scandals has been prosecuted or suspended,” said Bernstein in a statement on Tuesday. 

“Not one of the key [ministerial task team] recommendations to fight corruption and push back State Capture has been implemented to this day.” 

In response to questions from Daily Maverick on why – after more than six years – the recommendations have not been “institutionalised”, as the minister claimed, DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga took aim at the CDE’s research:

That’s a disappointing assessment of the situation. In fact, it exposes the fact that the ‘researchers’ don’t have a clue in terms of what is happening in the sector. It indicates poor research and understanding of how the sector implements various recommendations from different reports that the Minister appoints.”

“The Bela Bill, for example, seeks to change some of the weaknesses identified. This is the way of institutionalising some of the recommendations.”

Mhlanga said implementation of the task team’s recommendations “has been taking place, but you don’t just implement the recommendations of a report cold as they come.

“You establish the various pieces of legislation or policies that are impacted by the report and [then] begin the process of making the required adjustments,” he added. 

In response to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on the CDE report, Sadtu rejected the findings of the task team’s probe.

“We refute reports of corruption by Sadtu. The [task team] conceded that Sadtu had no policy to [decide] to sell posts. Sadtu never instructed members to sell posts. From the 81 cases that the [task team] dealt with, only 22 were associated with Sadtu, of which only seven were of a serious nature requiring action. We called for the law to take its course against those seven teachers,” said Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi. 

“Whoever was found to have engaged in corruption was not doing it on Sadtu’s instruction. We won’t allow generalisations to be used to tarnish the name of Sadtu.”

Tackling corruption and cadre deployment 

In August 2022, a report by Corruption Watch highlighted the prevalence of corruption in the education sector. 

“The finding in 2016 was that corruption was pervasive across the education system, and it certainly hasn’t changed,” said Bernstein. 

The CDE report said Motshekga and provincial education MECs “need to urgently implement the key ministerial task team recommendations” to root out corruption and dismantle patronage networks in the education bureaucracy.

“This will not happen unless the President makes this a key part of the national drive against corruption, thus giving his and Cabinet’s full support and backing to the minister, premiers and education MECs,” it continued. 

In addition to this, Sadtu needs to move away from cadre deployment to give meat to their commitment to oppose corruption, said Bernstein. 

Mhlanga insisted that tackling corruption was “very high” on the DBE’s agenda. DM

You can find the CDE’s series of reports below:


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Easy Does It says:

    That SADTU runs the DBE is a given. That the state of education should equally be placed at the door of Angie and SADTU.
    That Angie is still minister questions then CR reshuffle. I wonder if there is a connection somewhere.

  • Confucious Says says:

    There’s absolutely no logical reason that it’s taken so long to pronounce this! When teachers are more interested in striking and holidays than teaching, there’s a problem. When teachers cannot pass the tests that are set for their pupils, there’s something wrong. When teaching is just another job and not a vocation, there’s a union!

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    SADTU is one of a bunch of influential unions that operate as a de facto mafia with no concern for their debilitating impact on South Africans. Everything state-owned or state-run is or is becoming a criminal enterprise with tax payers (read: ordinary South Africans) forced to fund it or face imprisonment! It is hard to imagine a more unjust and depressing situation in a modern constitutional democracy.

  • Michael Cosser says:

    Teacher unions are by definition there to look after the interests of their members. It is naïve to expect, given the conditions in which most of their members work (the poor infrastructure of and around schools) and their relatively poor pay for the critically important work they (should) do, that unions and their members would want to put the interests of learners above their own. If education outcomes in South Africa are to improve, a major reconceptualisation of the stakeholder landscape is needed – though it is doubtful that such a reconceptualisation can happen in the current dispensation.

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