Schools closure: Cabinet causing 'anxiety' as it dithers to keep schools open or not, say unions

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Strict hygiene protocols have been implemented at schools to ensure they minimise the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Strict hygiene protocols have been implemented at schools to ensure they minimise the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Lee Warren, Gallo Images
  • Teachers' unions are still waiting for word from Education Minister Angie Motshekga on their calls to close schools.
  • Unions believe enough consultations have taken place and Cabinet needs to treat the matter with urgency.
  • Government is still deliberating on the way forward.

The wait for Cabinet to announce its decision on whether schools will close or remain open amid the Covid-19 surge is causing more "anxiety and uncertainty". 

This is according to the country's two largest teachers' unions - the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa). 

The two unions told News24 that the wait was too long, causing an unease among teachers and pupils.

Sadtu general-secretary Mugwena Maluleke said there was now a need for a decision to be made and conveyed urgently because people on the ground, at schools, were becoming more "uneasy" with each passing day. 

READ | School closures: Frustration mounts as teachers' unions await Motshekga's response

"We are quite worried. It [the delay in decision] is causing anxiety. It is important that we send the message clear that the waiting is too long and it is important that there is a sense of urgency because we are talking about the children of the country and the people.

"We are not only talking about teachers [but] also the public because we are part of it. So it is important that Cabinet makes a decision and tell us," Maluleke told News24 on Wednesday. 

Sadtu and Naptosa, along with other unions, met with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga  last week for a series of consultations to find a way forward for schools amid the peak in Covid-19 infections.

Hopeful

Following consultations with stakeholders, which also included School Governing Body organisations, Motshekga took their representations to the National Coronavirus Command Council and subsequently Cabinet. 

Maluleke said the unions were informed that Motshekga was still in meetings with Cabinet on Monday and Tuesday. 

He said they had made it clear to the department that there was a sense of urgency, especially as infections were on the rise.

Maluleke said although they were not aware of the final outcome from Cabinet, they were satisfied that the department had not rejected their proposals, but promised to take them to higher authorities to make a decision - and so they were hopeful. 

"They told us that they submitted the collective submissions of the unions as is to the structures (NCCC and Cabinet). That must give us the comfort that this matter is being debated and there are people who are taking us seriously," he added.

ALSO READ | Covid-19: Angie Motshekga meets Cabinet as unions propose matrics return to school on 17 August

But should the higher structures decide not in the favour of the union's proposals, Maluleke said Sadtu would then hold an urgent national executive committee meeting and deliberate a programme of action.

The programme of action cannot be revealed as yet and would only be set out once the committee meets after being informed that schools would not be closing, he said. 

Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said government needed to realise the anxiety from everyone - the public, teachers, parents, and pupils. 

'More than enough consultations'

He added that unions had given Motshekga the space to conduct as much consultations and believed they put up a strong case on why schools should close for a period of time. 

"We are concerned that [Cabinet] is taking so long. We met [with the department] on Friday, Sunday and Monday. Quite honestly, it's more than enough consultations and so I hope there is a decision that comes up, but we wait to hear," Manuel said. 

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told News24 consultations with the sector's stakeholders were continuing ahead of another Cabinet meeting scheduled for Thursday.

READ | Schools reopening: Union threatens to shut down schools

Manuel said Naptosa would not pre-empt what it would do should schools remain open, and that the union was of the view that the matter was not about teachers and pupils, but also about a department that is not ready to accommodate large numbers in schools. 

He said while top epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim had said there was a need for children to be in school, he also warned about the premises being safe. 

"Everybody listened to that, but didn't listen to his (Karim) next point that, yes, it is the best place for children to be [in], provided that they have PPE, social distancing, water... He mentioned those things. We don't have those things," he said.

Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) executive director Paul Colditz said the minister earlier met with SGB associations.

Motshekga is expected to give feedback to Cabinet on Thursday before an announcement is made by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Speaking on eNCA on Tuesday, Karim said most cases among teachers and pupils came from outside schools. 

"I'm not sure right now whether there's any part of the country that I would recommend that children should not go to school. I think at this point, even though cases are rising, the actual fraction of infections is quite small," Karim told eNCA.

Karim added that when it came to teachers, especially those with comorbidities, an exception should be made. 

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