Newsmaker: ‘If my best was not enough, tough luck’

2013-01-06 10:00

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We get to know the person behind the controversial civil servant who is Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga

Angie Motshekga had a tough 2012.

But, the Basic Education Minister says, while the furore around the Limpopo textbook delivery in particular was “energy sapping”, she stuck to her guns and did her job.

Many called for President Jacob Zuma to sack the woman who has been at the head of the basic education ministry since it was established in 2009.

Motshekga was squarely in the line of fire because the Limpopo department of education has been under her direct control since the end of 2011, when the department was placed under national administration.

But the minister has no regrets – when she stepped in, she says, the provincial department was badly cash-strapped.

“It was energy-sapping for me, but fortunately I was able to take the attitude which was that I knew I had not done anything wrong.

“There was nothing I could have done differently. If my best was not enough, tough luck.”

She’s fiercely protective of her employees and the criticism levelled at the national department’s officials upsets her.

It’s not fair, she says, to rubbish all the work of the department’s officials because of a crisis in one province.

The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is still baying for basic education director-general Bobby Soobrayan’s blood after a presidential task team on the Limpopo textbook crisis called for a further investigation of his conduct in the saga.

The union, which wants Motshekga to sack Soobrayan, has also levelled other accusations of mal-administration against the director-general.

But Motshekga has demanded proof, saying she will not find the director-general guilty of anything without due process being followed.

“I am not going to defend him, but I won’t act (on the allegations) when there is no basis.”

In person, the woman many South Africans love to hate is warm and friendly.

The 57-year-old talks proudly about her six children, and is clearly involved in their lives – she speaks about their university friends by name, sharing anecdotes about their lives.

As a mother, her own choices about her children’s education have been carefully scrutinised. Some critics have suggested that the problems plaguing our education system would be a thing of the past if politicians’ children also went to public schools.

The youngest of her children is now at university. During their school years, Motshekga says, the children got a mix of private and public education.

In their formative years, they attended Catholic schools because their mother is a devout Catholic.

She believed they would get the good grounding they needed at such schools.

As they got older they were transferred to public schools “because they must get to know about the bigger environment”.

Mostly, though, Motshekga wants to talk about work.

It’s been a busy week for her – the matric results came out, and Motshekga has been rushing from one appointment to the next.

The matric pass rate has increased steadily on her watch, from 60.6% in 2009 to 73.9% last year.

Critics have latched on to the fact that matriculants who got between 30% and 39% in their exams are deemed to have passed.

They say this is a sign of the low standard that allows people, who would otherwise have failed, to exit the basic education system with a certificate.

But Motshekga defends the practice, arguing that only 285 matriculants passed in the 30% to 39% range last year, while 135 000 of the 377 000 matriculants who passed got more than 50%.

The controversially low passing mark, she says, allows “slow learners” to exit the school system with some degree of dignity.

She describes the controversy surrounding this matter as “a storm in a teacup”.

“That’s why I have established a commission to put your minds at rest as South Africans to say these are the international pass marks, to say there is nothing abnormal.

“There is nothing that says people should pass at 33%.

“If you have the potential to pass at full marks, they can get full marks.

“I think it is a storm in a teacup.

“But I want to accept the fact that maybe the concerns are genuine, and that people are very worried about this (less than) 300 who passed at 30%.”

The independent commission is expected to report back to her later this year with its findings.

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