Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
“The Minister finds the stance taken by SADTU unfortunate; the posture and tone, regrettable.”
(Spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education responding to calls from the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union for the Minister and Director-General to resign, 8 April 2013)
SADTU and the ANC are at loggerheads. Yesterday’s strike and protest march was less about teachers expressing frustration with a Minister, and more about a union flexing its political muscles. The ANC, through its President, has already proven itself unwilling to jeopardise SADTU’s political support.
With one international report after the next declaring that South Africa’s education system is failing, President Zuma felt the pressure to make a bold statement during his 2013 State of the Nation address. Thus he upgraded education from “an apex priority”, as it was in 2009, to “an essential service”. But he could not fully commit, and backtracked to explain that this did not mean teachers would forgo the right to strike. “It means,” he said, “we want the education sector and society as a whole to take education more seriously.”
I questioned the President’s use of meaningless catch-phrases because, while education was an Apex Priority, teachers went on strike, textbooks weren’t delivered, learners entered high school functionally illiterate, pass rates were dismal and many learners simply dropped out. What would change by re-labelling the problem?
Very little, it seems, because a month later, according to a Cabinet Statement, “Cabinet re-affirmed its commitment to education as Government’s Apex Priority.” It also made its position clear with regards to the Minister of Basic Education, stating that Cabinet –
“acknowledged the many achievements of the current administration under the leadership of Minister Angie Motshekga. in particular the smooth opening of the 2013 school calendar year, continuous accessibility of education for all South African learners, the significant improvement in the 2012 National Senior Certificate results, the progress in Mathematics and Language achievement as measured by the Annual National Assessments and the steady progress of the department in addressing infrastructural backlogs.
These achievements point to a system that has turned the corner. Cabinet re-iterates its support for Minister Angie Motshekga in her endeavours to improve the quality of education. Under her leadership the country has a better understanding of the challenges facing our education system. This has enabled government to provide realistic solutions. Our education is improving steadily.”
Thus when SADTU announced its call for the Minister to step down just a month later, there was no doubt in my mind that Government would rally behind her. The Minister therefore had the luxury of responding with gentle euphemisms, saying that SADTU’s call was “regrettable” and “disappointing”.
Responding to the go-slow which SADTU members embarked on at the opening of the second school term, the Minister said, “I am seriously bothered.”
One cannot help but immediately think of the learners and their parents, who must also be seriously bothered. In Limpopo, last year’s class, who sat without textbooks for much of the year, yesterday sat without teachers.
Before the textbook saga, came the massive teacher strikes of 2010 just weeks before the year-end exams, which crippled education across South Africa.
So how must learners feel to see their teachers abandon classrooms and take to the streets again?
I have sympathy with teachers and I understand the role of collective bargaining. I am, by no means, opposed to trade unions. But unions have been overrun by politicians and politics, and now unions like SADTU have the power to hold us to ransom, because an ANC-led Government cares more about retaining their support, than about prioritising education.
This has been a problem in the ANC-COSATU-SACP alliance right from the start, where the ANC bows to its alliance partners at the expense of doing what is right and necessary for our country. Thus when COSATU rejected the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Programme, GEAR simply fell off Government’s agenda. A similar destiny may be in store for the National Development Plan, which COSATU is likening to GEAR.
The need to please alliance partners whose vision for our country is so divergent from that of free market economists, has led the ANC to become schizophrenic in policy making. As Baroness Thatcher so aptly put it, “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”
The ANC is certainly not prepared to sacrifice the President of the ANC Women’s League to pacify SADTU. But it is also not prepared to do what is required to restore health to our education system if that means losing SADTU’s political support. This places the ANC in a catch-22 situation. The real victims of this tussle, however, are our learners and, ultimately, our economy.
Subjugating education to politics creates a lasting impression on a national psyche. This generation of teachers is the generation of students who were taught by the ANC to burn down schools and disrupt education in the hope of overthrowing a government. But now the ANC is in government and is bearing the brunt of its own tactics.
Can Minister Motshekga be blamed for the state of education in South Africa?
Has the record of our education system been any better under past ANC Ministers? I believe the problem is not with the Minister, but with the policies, attitude and political line the Minister is compelled to toe.
SADTU is wrong to believe that a different ANC Minister would do things differently. The Minister is not just a Minister, but an ANC Minister. Thus if SADTU really wants things to change in our education system, and in the daily experiences of our teachers, they need to change their vote.
Inkatha has administered education before, in the erstwhile KwaZulu Government. On a shoestring budget, under an Apartheid regime, we built more than 6 500 schools – more than the ANC has managed to build in almost two decades of democracy. Under Inkatha, classes started on time, teaching was considered a calling and absenteeism was nipped in the bud. There is no excuse, after nineteen years, for children to be sitting in mud schools while their teachers go on strike.
I encourage teachers who embarked on yesterday’s protest, and those who are engaging the go-slow, to consider a different way of seeking solutions. Use your vote in 2014 to bring in a Minister not chained to ANC policy. Use it to bring in a party that values your contribution and seeks to equip you to serve our children.
I also encourage every parent and matriculant suffering in the midst of this political tussle to use your vote next year to make a change in the way things are done. Bring in a party that is willing to do what is necessary and right. Bring back the IFP.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP