Sadtu’s reactionary jibber jabber

2014-10-21 16:55

When the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) decided on the theme for its recently held congress, it was clear about its priorities.

“Restore the character of Sadtu as a union of revolutionary professionals, agents of change and champions of people’s education for people’s power in pursuit of socialism,” was the gobbledygook that passed for a conference theme.

It is a line worth memorising for times when you are feeling down and in need of a chuckle.

When it concluded its conference, the union came up with a declaration that contained the usual obstructionist claptrap that has made Sadtu the biggest enemy of the South African child.

Some of the main decisions of the congress, which reflected the union’s increasingly strident anti-education stance, have shocked South Africans.

The final declaration contained cut and paste rhetoric from various documents that circulate within the ANC alliance and was full of radical-sounding catch phrases. The rhetoric was more in keeping with a gathering of students, where big words impress student representative council voters and might score the speaker some welcome nookie when night falls. They used phrases like “radical phase of economic transformation”, “battles against neoliberal onslaught” and “revolution” this and that.

They told us that “the national democratic revolution is the shortest route to socialism” and that socialism is wonderful because it “guarantees sustainable development and deconstructs the exploitation of one man by another and will end poverty and misery in the world”.

There was also the obligatory swipe at Thuli Madonsela, without which one’s revolutionary credentials would be thrown into question.

But it was the bit about counter-revolutionaries that caught this lowly newspaperman’s attention.

“Congress notes that in recent times, the organisation has been exposed to an unprecedented wave of un-Sadtu, counter-revolutionary elements hell-bent on destroying us from within,” they declared.

Which got me thinking about this notion of counter-revolutionaries. The standard definition of counter-revolutionaries is that they are individuals or groupings that seek to reverse the gains of a revolution and take society backwards.

With education having been universally identified as the most effective tool to take society forward, it would stand to reason that those who stand in the way of a better educated society are an impediment to progress. And with most evidence pointing to the fact that Sadtu’s bullying tactics stymie efforts by government, parents, civil society and hard-working teachers to improve the education system, the union is definitely an obstacle to progress. So could it be clubbed among the forces of counter-revolution?

To see if this description does fit, I went back to the actions and words of two influential Sadtu heavyweights. One of them is Ronald Nyathi, secretary of the powerful Johannesburg region. Nyathi’s tongue is often inclined towards violent talk, and he often makes good on his threats.

When the Gauteng education department suspended 28 bunking teachers a few years ago, Nyathi told schools to shut down.

“We advise parents that no pupil should be at school tomorrow because they will be exposed to extreme violence,” he warned.

Knowing the ways of Sadtu, parents kept their children at home. Confronted about the threat a while later, Nyathi was unrepentant.

“Yes, I said it and I meant at that time. I meant it. Extreme violence. And no child went to school the next day. We don’t decorate things. We call a spade a spade. I don’t know about morally, but politically it was correct,” he boasted.

During the violent 2010 public service strike, he was at his inciting best, warning of dark consequences if schools remained open.

An avid supporter of President Jacob Zuma, he defended the disruption of schooling in favour of ANC electioneering during the 2009 general elections.

“Schooling will only be stable when Msholozi is elected president. We are defending the revolution,” said this dedicated teacher.

Then there is the union’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi. Known more for incendiary language than love for developing young minds, Mathonsi threatened the police with violence if they dared act against law-breaking strikers. “If they come with guns, we will bring guns. If they come with violence, we will give corresponding action,” he said.

The genius then came up with a gem when he called on matric markers to exercise “biased marking” in favour of black pupils whose home language was not English.

“We want them to scrutinise the scripts with a view to figure out meaning in the learners’ answers?...?It means the markers must be progressive and transformative in their marking.”

Now, it might seem like I unfairly chose the worst apples in the Sadtu leadership, but believe you me, they certainly reflect the top echelons of the union.

So given this fact and knowing the impact that the union has had on our education system, I am tempted to conclude that Sadtu is in fact a counter-revolutionary force.

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