Newsmaker – We strike for our children

2013-03-10 10:00

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Sadtu’s ‘engine’ Maluleke leads the fight to advance policies designed to transform basic education

Members of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) burst into boisterous song when a speaker introduced their general secretary Mugwena Maluleke in Katlehong on Friday.

He was introduced as “the engine of the organisation, who is fighting left, right and centre”.

Maluleke, seated next to the union’s president, Thobile Ntola, rose to his feet and gave the clenched amandla salute. The half-packed hall obliged him with a roar of “ngawethu!”

A section of the crowd broke into song. “Amandla asembhalini wethuuuu (the power is in our general secretary)...”

The rest of the crowd joined in, their voices rising to the roof of the Change Bible Church in Tsolo Section.

The union was launching its promotion of quality public education campaign.

This forms part of the union’s broader programme, which calls on teachers to be punctual, to refrain from having sexual relationships with pupils and to stop meting out corporal punishment.

The gathering took place against the backdrop of the union’s growing hostility towards the embattled Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

On Monday, a special Sadtu national executive committee (NEC) expressed its loss of confidence in Motshekga, calling for her immediate resignation.

Motshekga has described Sadtu’s call as “unfortunate, the posture and tone regrettable”.

The union is citing the department’s decision last month to unilaterally withdraw a standing collective agreement that determines what teachers are paid for marking exam papers signed in 2011.

Sadtu argues that “since 2009, the department of basic education (DBE) has only concluded two collective agreements and never implemented any of them until the withdrawal of one of them last month”.

The department has blamed the cancellation on an error that occurred in the gazetting of amounts governing the agreement.

The department said, further, that the error would have cost provinces an additional R700 million that was not in their budgets. Government further accuses Sadtu of rejecting various offers to resolve the matter.

It now appears the union, with 240 000 members, is set to go on strike.

Not only that, but its special NEC also resolved that if Motshekga does not resign it will apply pressure on the department by:

» Limiting its interaction with the department to the employment contract and strictly within working hours only;

» Withdrawing its members from marking supplementary and end-of-year exams;

» Working a seven-hour day with no extra effort beyond what must be expected from them; and

» Lobby all the other public sector unions to withdraw from the three-year collective agreement.

Maluleke left Friday’s gathering in a huff after delivering a 16-minute address, saying he was going to meet the union’s legal structures to discuss the legalities of strike action.

His address was received with thunderous applause, except when he mentioned that teachers should refrain from meting out corporal punishment to pupils.

“Sisazobashaya thina!” (we are going to beat them still) a delegate was heard shouting in disapproval.

City Press asked Maluleke how sacking Motshekga would solve the crisis in education.

“If the minister does not go, the crisis will not be resolved,” he said.

“If our demands are not met, we will have no option but to declare a dispute and go on strike.

“We’ve been talking since October last year,” he went on, charging that Motshekga was not capable of advancing the policies designed to transform basic education.

He said the relationship between Motshekga and the union was at an “all-time low”.

“It has reached an irretrievable level. The minister has gone public to say she won’t consult with us on anything. You cannot have a relationship with people where you don’t have an interpersonal relationship,” Maluleke said.

He accused Motshekga of not showing commitment to deal with the real crisis, charging that she has made no progress in getting rid of mud schools and that infrastructure in township and rural schools is in worse condition than it was 18 years ago.

Maluleke disagreed that teachers going on strike wouldn’t have a negative effect on pupils, particularly those in rural and township schools.

He argued that, by going on strike, teachers were fighting for improved conditions that would benefit both pupils and teachers in the long term.

As part of the union’s adopt-a-school programme, Maluleke said he has adopted three rural schools in Limpopo.

He said the programme involves individual members of the union adopting schools and working together with all stakeholders to help implement programmes aimed at addressing their needs.

When it was put to him that the image of teachers in the country was not all rosy, with allegations of absenteeism, sexual relationships with pupils and general poor performance, Maluleke said the department has regulations in place to deal with misconduct.

“Many, many teachers are working under trying conditions, doing their best. There are policies to deal with those who are not doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

Maluleke, a former teacher and principal, has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by pupils and teachers in deprived rural schools, having grown up in a rural Limpopo village.

He says he worked in tobacco and cotton fields and herded cattle, where one of the most important lessons he learnt was that “only once you have left the field, you can remove the mud from your feet”.

He swears that every action he and his Sadtu comrades take is motivated by the love of children and their education.

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