Marching, not talking

2009-08-17 00:00

A DRAWBACK of living in a capital city that is the seat of the provincial legislature is that every so often you have to run the gauntlet of protesting marchers. It can mean having to sit stewing in a traffic gridlock because the roads are blocked. Last week was a case in point when members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) took to the streets demanding the resignation of Education Department head Cassius Lubisi, and four of his senior officials.

Don’t expect it to get any better this week because the union has promised further rolling mass action. There’s to be more protests culminating in a night vigil followed by a march by thousands of union members. All of this to get five people to resign. Coincidentally, all of this is also happening in the week that marks President Jacob Zuma’s 100 days in office. In his State of the Nation address at the start of his tenure, the president said: “We reiterate our non-negotiables. Teachers should be in school, in class, on time, teaching, with no neglect of duty and no abuse of pupils.”

Sadtu blames Lubisi and his four officials for the downfall of education in the province. The union could have told Zuma this and saved government the expense of including KZN school principals in his meeting with headmasters at the Durban International Convention Centre just the week before.

In a memorandum giving reasons for its rolling mass action, Sadtu mentions falling matric passes, KZN’s massive maths failure and corruption within the department. These are serious accusations and one would have expected the union to ask for these officials to be fired rather than calling for their resignation. Why aren’t they doing this?

Another question to raise is why the protest action now, so close to the end of year exams, when the drop in the pass rate and the poor maths performance has been known since the beginning of the year? Interestingly, high matric pass rates were recorded when the IFP ran the department. A subliminal message that can be read from all this action is that education was better off under the IFP. We know this can’t be the case, after all, Sadtu is part of Cosatu, which is an alliance partner with the ANC.

So here lies the rub. As a member of the alliance, one would have expected that Sadtu would have raised its concerns about Lubisi and his cohorts in the many forums available to them. It also has the responsibility of not just alluding to corruption, but doing something about it; like laying charges with the police and making the officials accountable for their alleged actions. The union has made two allegations of corruption so far. The one is the more than R200 million paid to stationery supplier Indiza Motswedi. This matter is currently before the courts so the department has acted.

The other allegation is that R1,5 million was injected monthly into the now defunct Remant Alton bus company. Under Lubisi, the Education Department for the first time received a clean report from the auditor-general (A-G). If there have been hidden payments made, this information must be made available to the A-G.

There have been suggestions that the massive protest action does not have the support of all union members. According to media reports, a document was purportedly circulated by disgruntled Sadtu members accusing union leader Mbuyiseni Mathonsi and his followers of leading a smear campaign because his faction want senior posts in the department. The document has been dismissed by Sadtu chairman Chris Ndlela as the work of Lubisi sympathisers.

Whatever Lubisi’s strengths and failings, remarkably little has been said by his political bosses. From reports, we know that he has the support of other teacher unions and is respected in education circles. We also know there is no love lost between him and Sadtu. The chilling of relations started in 2006 after the national public service strike when former Education MEC Ina Cronjé and Lubisi stuck to their guns on the no work no pay issue.

Rolling mass action was a weapon used by the disenfranchised during the apartheid era when there was no access to the organs of the state. This was seen as a way of getting one’s voice heard. We now have a legitimate government and a president with a listening ear. Sadtu’s actions place Zuma’s government in a difficult predicament. If its massive protest this week results in the provincial government caving in and getting rid of these officials it will mean that all you have to do is shout the loudest and cause the most disruption and government will give in to your demands. This is hardly a message that Zuma will want to send out after just 100 days in office.

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