Newsmaker: It’s a crisis

2012-02-11 15:16

Our kids are bearing the brunt of strikes and corruption

Mncekeleli Ndongeni says destitute temporary teachers often call at his King William’s Town home in tears, begging for help and advice.

At least 6 000 temporary teachers have found themselves jobless following the Eastern Cape department of education’s decision in 2010 to do away with their services.

Says Ndongeni, the provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu): “I don’t know how they know where I live. I’m always woken up by some of our members knocking at the gate in tears. They have not been paid for a long time and they are hungry.”

The situation has led to industrial action and protracted legal battles with the department, which last year was put under administration by the national government. It has meant massive school disruptions for at least two million pupils in the Eastern Cape, which has the second-highest number of pupils in the country after KwaZulu-Natal.

Minimal learning has taken place since school reopened in January after Sadtu declared a go-slow, prompting an outcry by parents.

This week, Sadtu, Cosatu and the provincial education department signed an agreement to end the strike. But the picture is still bleak.

Two years ago, the department of education halted the distribution of pupil support material, scholar transport and the school nutrition programme, citing irregularities in the awarding of tenders.

“Learners tried crossing rivers in an attempt to get to school. Others risked being attacked and raped because they were forced to walk long distances to get to school,” says Ndongeni.
“In one school, a temporary teacher was withdrawn and replaced with a permanent one who had never received training in the subject (Afrikaans) he was supposed to teach. Learners were laughing at the teacher because he couldn’t even speak the language.

“Now, if this is not a crisis, then you tell me what it is.”

Last year, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi cited corruption as the reason behind the province’s education crisis.

Ndongeni agrees. He says in some areas, people pocketed millions of rands meant to be used to build schools. Only a fraction of the amount was spent on actual projects.

“Sometimes I’m forced to drive on a road that is supposed to have received a face-lift totalling millions of rands on paper.

“But when you actually go there, you find there is nothing. No work has been conducted, yet someone received money,” he says.

“In certain areas, schools have no toilets and the buildings are dilapidated, yet someone got a tender to fix the school. How can you give someone who’s pushing a wheelbarrow millions of rands to build a road?

“In some areas the conditions are even worse than they were during the Bantustan administration. It’s about tenders, who gets what tender,” he says.

Sadtu’s go-slow was met with accusations that teachers didn’t care about their pupils because their own children were in private or former Model C schools.

Says Ndongeni: “The situation in South Africa is that all parents want to see their children go to a school where the windows are not broken, where there are proper desks and where there are doors. That is the wish of every parent, and teachers are also parents.

“It is not teachers who must build schools, it is the government.”

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