Don't blame striking teachers

2010-08-26 00:00

ONCE again, people entrusted with the education of the future generation and the welfare of the sick are on the streets, striking. As they engage in their protest action, gruesome accounts of intimidation, the closing of schools, the assault of pupils by teachers and the diabolic endangerment of the sick and dying make headline news. The question that needs to be asked is: who is the villain, the striking workers or the incompetent government?

When you look at the government’s previous policy on HIV/Aids and its inability to deal with violent crime, as well as corruption involving senior governmental officials, how dare you accuse striking public servants of acting shamefully? Should you not be placing the noose around the neck of a more deserving scoundrel — our elected government, described by some as the Polokwane Lynch Mob?

I will be the first to admit that assaulting schoolchildren is a disgrace. Only a mad person would condone such behaviour. I will also agree that the withholding of vital medical assistance from the sick and dying is inexcusable. Any deaths resulting from such deadly actions must be condemned. But who do we condemn?

We have ministries of public health and education to ensure that these essential services are delivered to the South African population. These ministries are headed by obscenely remunerated ministers who have little more than struggle credentials and struggle now to do the jobs they are paid to do. The culture of entitlement has ensured that fancy cars, expensive meals and luxury hotel accommodation are now viewed as tools of the trade.

Those who view nurses and teachers as following a calling for whom job execution should be an overriding and final consideration should do a bit of ref­lecting. They should ask themselves whether highly paid doctors and specialists would treat teachers and nurses at reduced rates. They should ask the municipality if nurses and teachers get a discount rate with regards to rates, water and electricity. They should inquire from universities and colleges about their special rates for the children of nurses and teachers. Lastly, they should ask SARS, which incidentally could not stop greedy government officials from squandering money on the purchase of World Cup tickets, if teachers and nurses qualify for a reduced tax obligation because they are following a calling.

When I became a teacher, I knew that I would never be rich. I knew that I would never be able to afford fancy holidays, expensive cars (hell, even a new cheap car) or a fancy home. When I became a teacher, I accepted this limitation. I wanted to serve humanity, and this is still my motivation, even as I sit here at home, longing to re-unite with my beloved pupils. But while I’m prepared to forego being rich, I refuse to be treated like a dog. I have my pride and must take care of my family and dependents.

Many members of the public are ever ready to condemn striking teachers who intimidate teachers at former Model C schools. Teachers who do so are seen as barbarians who are attacking committed teachers, who are determined to execute their obligations.

The sad truth is that many teachers at former Model C schools are hypocrites. They refuse to be part of any strike action but will not refuse any additional remuneration obtained as a result of strike action. These teachers also receive top-up salaries from the school governing bodies, camouflaged as incentives. Parents are bled dry by school governing bodies so these teachers can receive extra remuneration that makes them reluctant to strike.

The really sad part of the public service strike is that teachers from previously disadvantaged schools who ensure that schools have sufficient funds to deliver quality education are regarded as greedy and uncaring. The Department of Education contributes a tiny fraction to these schools’ operational budgets and expects them to make up the deficit by fundraising since most parents cannot afford school fees. “Greedy and uncaring” teachers do this chore with very little thanks from the government.

Those who are horrified by the public service strike and its consequences should engage in appropriate action to end the strike. Don’t blame the strikers. Instead, hold responsible those who are obscenely paid to deliver quality education and health care but refuse to do so because they do not care or because they are incompetent to do so.

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