Bulelwa Ralo has been a substitute teacher at Glen Connor Primary in Uitenhage. She has worked without a salary for two years.
The Eastern Cape education department paid her the R11 000 salary between 2013 and 2015. Then it stopped without an explanation from authorities.
Her situation is not unique. Hundreds of substitute teachers in Gauteng, North West, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal have also not received regular salaries.
Ralo has been teaching grades 4, 5 and 7 at the school for free for the past two years, hoping her plight would soon be addressed.
A day after Ralo spoke to City Press, she said the province finally paid her about R100 000. City Press learnt that DA chief whip Edmund van Vuuren had taken up her case and put pressure on provincial education MEC Mandla Makupula since November last year.
In the questions he filed in the legislature, seen by City Press, Van Vuuren asked Makupula about Ralo’s plight, demanding an explanation about what sort of “administrative issues” stopped the department from paying her when initially it did so without a problem for three years at least.
Although Ralo was paid this week, she can’t celebrate because she has to settle the debts she incurred after borrowing from relatives and loan sharks to provide for eight children; six from her siblings and two of her own – 19-year-old son Chulumanco and 11-year-old daughter Khazimla.
She had to raise R20 000 to settle the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality bill to reconnect electricity.
The single mother told City Press this week that she desperately needed the money to cover travel costs to school. It cost her R31 a day for the taxi fare from KwaDwesi extension in Port Elizabeth to Uitenhage and back.
“My daughter used to complain, saying we would be better off if I went back to work as a domestic worker because I was not earning a penny as a teacher.
“Sometimes I also questioned why I studied teaching because it brought me nothing but misery. But I’ve been doing this because I care for my pupils and I want them to be educated,” she said.
Meanwhile, at least seven teachers – assisted by the Legal Resource Centre in Grahamstown – have taken the department to court.
Chris Mdingi, secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) in the Eastern Cape, said there were a lot of teachers, including markers of exam scripts in December, who were not paid by the department.
He said the union was planning to organise a strike if negotiations with management failed to find an amicable solution. “We cannot sit back. Maybe that [a strike] is the only language they understand.”
The department has not responded to questions sent by City Press.
In Gauteng City Press found that some teachers at Ibhongo Secondary School in Soweto were not paid in January while others received only R4 000 mid-February.
Tseliso Ledimo, Gauteng’s Sadtu secretary, said: “We are aware of financial constraints facing the provincial department but that will not affect permanent teachers’ salaries because those are ring-fenced. It affects temporary teachers whose contracts were terminated in December last year.”
Ledimo believed the department’s financial woes were also affecting infrastructure, forcing it to reprioritise programmes.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial Sadtu secretary Nomarashiya Caluza confirmed that some temporary and substitute teachers did not receive their salaries in January when they returned to schools because “the contracts were terminated in December”.
She said the problem was due to a circular issued in December stating that only KwaZulu-Natal head of department Dr Enock Nzama had powers to hire teachers, not district directors. As a result, teachers returned to classes in January not knowing that their contracts were terminated, she said.
“Pupils now don’t have teachers in classrooms. In addition, the department has not paid R120 million for rural incentives to deserving teachers. There is no money in the department and we want to find out what is being done about this,” Caluza said, adding that they are engaging the province to find a remedy.
Northern Cape Sadtu provincial secretary Fikile Ntathu said Grade R practitioners and temporary teachers were not paid this year. Sadtu leadership had engaged the department, demanding an explanation.
“They promised that payments would be made by the end of this month [February],” he said, adding that the union even threatened rolling mass action to get the matter corrected.
Northern Cape education spokesperson Geoffrey van de Merwe blamed outstanding documents that had not been submitted to get teachers paid. He said they had 2 146 temporary teachers, of which 157 were foreign nationals who were “struggling with their work permits”. As a result, their appointments would be finalised next month once their papers were in order. The department had hired an additional 669 Grade R practitioners who received stipends, of which 81 experienced challenges with their appointment documents.
The North West Sadtu provincial secretary George Themba said temporary teachers were not paid in January because contracts ended in December and were renewed only in January. The matter was expected to be resolved by mid-March.