- During an interview, KZN education MEC Kwazi Mshengu noted some teachers and pupils in isolated communities drank together.
- He said the department could only manage pupil safety during school hours.
- The MEC has since clarified the statements he made.
KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu has denied calling teachers drunkards after an uproar during an interview with uKhozi FM.
"At no point did I say teachers are drunkards, nor that they come to school drunk. I only made mention of the instances I have come across on certain occasions," he said in a statement on Thursday morning.
Mshengu said his comments were taken out of context.
During the interview, he was giving an update on KZN schools' state of readiness to reopen. He was asked about the assurance of the safety of teachers and pupils.
He said there was safety within school premises and that personal protective equipment (PPE) would be provided for six months.
"I proceeded to say we cannot guarantee their safety outside school. There are many complications in communities which are outside the control of the department, but which will affect both learners and teachers," he said.
Mshengu added that among the complications was the resumption of the sale of alcohol.
"I have seen instances of learners abusing alcohol and teachers drinking with learners and only remembering that they are teachers on Monday. In that instance they may get infected in those places and come back to allege that the infection happened in school," he said.
In his statement, he acknowledged the public outcry caused by his remarks.
"I have noticed the anger generated by this example made. At no point did I say teachers are drunkards nor that they come to school drunk. I only made mention of the instances I have come across in certain occasions."
He added: "If the context of the example made gave rise to conclusion of an attack [on] teachers, that is regretted. Having made reflection, I have come to the realisation that I should not have ventured into experiences outside the school premises.
"To that extent, the example made was an error of judgement and therefore unreservedly retracted and [an] apology extended [is] to all those who found it [offensive]."
Mshengu said he respected teachers.
"In many occasions, I have been open about the nobleness of the teaching profession and have called on all teachers to protect the prestige of the profession."
He called on stakeholders to focus on the Covid-19 crisis.
"We should all spend our focus and energies in improving the conditions within the sector - particularly during these difficult times. The danger becomes greater when we pull in different directions."
Mshengu will be heading to the Enkanyezini area in Mkhambathini on Thursday where he will be inspecting the state of readiness at the Unobhala High School and Enkanyezini Primary School.
His department will be seeking to satisfy teaching unions, five of which on Wednesday called on teachers in the province to stay home until all schools were ready.
The department came under fire on Wednesday, with Sadtu and union heavyweights National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), National Teachers Union (NATU), SA Teachers Union (SAOU) and Professional Educators' Union (PEU) declaring KZN unfit to reopen schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Premier Sihle Zikalala was also meant to visit various schools in Ndwedwe on Thursday but cancelled all engagements, citing "unforeseen circumstances".