[lg policy] South Africa: Cosatu responds to DA attack

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 10 15:07:16 UTC 2010

Insight: Cosatu responds to DA attack



THE DA and its leader have decided that in order to improve the
quality of education they have to attack teachers – the vast majority
of whom are members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union.
Is the DA strategy having its desired affect? Sadtu continues to grow
in membership. We launched 20 years ago with 30 000 members. Today
membership is 245 000 and growing. Indeed the other major teacher
union in Helen Zille’s own province – the CTPA–- has recently
amalgamated with Sadtu.
Sadtu believes in worker unity and will work with the other teacher
unions to unite workers.

The DA has long supported the notion of a two-tier education system to
protect the interests of the middle class. Sadtu’s vision is for free
and equal education in line with the demands of the Freedom Charter.
The DA charges that Sadtu protects ill-disciplined and ineffective
teachers. Not so. We have called on our members to blow the whistle on
teachers guilty of sexual misconduct and have been instrumental in
disciplining such teachers through our own structures and the South
African Council for Educators.

In relation to ineffective and poorly trained educators, Sadtu has
been at the forefront in arguing for a system of developmental
assessment and teacher development. This is based on the premise that
teachers and education officials must be held accountable, that they
must be regularly evaluated and weaknesses identified so that such
teachers can receive appropriate training and mentorship.

In the case of a recalcitrant employee, the employer doesn’t need
Sadtu’s permission to impose the necessary measures to ensure that
work is executed to the required standard. As a union, Sadtu will
exercise its right to represent its members.

The DA has distorted the remarks of the Minister of Basic Education,
Angie Motshekga on the crisis in the education of the African child,
to argue that Sadtu’s presence is the cause of the high failure rate.
In fact, what the minister was pointing to was a highly unequal
education system divided along lines of race, class and rurality. The
DA ignores centuries of racial segregation, the debilitating effects
of Bantu education, and the current under-resourcing of schools in
poor communities.

Sadtu is fully aware of the high failure rate and poor quality of
education in many schools, and we have not stood idly on the
sidelines. We have actively participated in the Quality Learning and
Teaching Campaign since its launch in 2008. The campaign is based on
the premise that all of us in education have to identify our roles and
responsibilities and hold each other accountable. Over the last year
Sadtu has mobilised its thousands of officials and structures – 20 000
school site committees, 600 branches, 54 regions and nine provinces.
We have further strengthened our commitment to the QLTC by forming a
social contract with the other teacher unions, the National
Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa and the Suid-
Afrikaanse Onderwysers’ Unie.

Similarly, the Department of Education must ensure that they provide
infrastructure, learning materials, teacher development and support to
facilitate teaching and learning.

The DA likes to rubbish the contributions that teachers make.
Thousands of our members spend more than the stipulated time in
school, teaching over holidays and on Saturdays without complaint.
They work in difficult conditions – in the townships and rural areas.
Most African teachers have to use English as a medium of instruction
to non-English speakers, most of whom are exposed to the language only
at school. Is their work understood, let alone appreciated? Certainly
not by the DA.

Contrast the situation in the former Model C school. The children may
include Africans but they probably live under different socio-economic
circumstances. The child admitted at the former Model C school, has
probably had early childhood education which enables the child to
develop language skill and readiness for schooling. The parents are
usually more educated, have better paying jobs and can monitor or
supervise the child at home. The issue is not about race but class. We
still have to grasp the nettle of language policy.

Our commitment to delivering quality education has borne fruit in
KwaZulu/Natal. One factor in the province’s improved matric pass rate
is attributable to Sadtu through our intervention programme which
involved Saturday and holiday classes at failing schools.

The DA likes to project Sadtu as self- interested and uninterested in
the education of the learners. This is not so. Sadtu has always
recognised its core business as twofold – collective bargaining to
improve the conditions of teachers, and education and professional
development to improve the quality of education.

Sadtu’s internal education department is expanding to include an
education and training institute to assist in the professional
development of teachers. We have also called for the reopening of
colleges of education, and hope that the new national plan for teacher
development will include this.

Another DA myth is that Sadtu members all send their children to
private and former Model C schools where Sadtu members are in a
minority. In fact the majority of Sadtu members cannot afford the fees
charged at these schools. We have thousands of our members whose
children attend the same schools where they teach.

In its quest to portray Sadtu as mindless militants, the DA relies
heavily on a superficial reading of the recent Tokiso Review. The DA’s
misuse of this information is aptly described by the authors of the
report, Andrew Levy and Tanya Venter: “There is a well-known
observation that statistics can be used in the way that a drunken
person uses a lamppost – for support, rather than for illumination,
and the discussion around teachers and strike action might just be a
case in point.”

The finding that Sadtu accounts for 42 percent of workdays lost due to
strike action in the period 1995 – 2009 needs to be put in context:

The report shows that on average over this period days lost due to
strikes for all unions amount to between one and two million per year.
The exception is 2007, when days lost jumps to 13 million. The largest
part of this figure is accounted for by the month-long public service
strike in mid-2007. This was the largest strike in South African
labour history.

As the largest and the best organised public service union, Sadtu was
prominent in the 2007 strike. With nearly a quarter of a million
members – multiply that by the 21 days that the strike lasted – and
you end up with five million workdays lost on account of action by
Sadtu. So this is what the findings of the report boil down to. The
one strike – dominated by the largest union – seriously skews the

In fact, the Tokiso Review findings – taken in their totality – are
rather more nuanced. Looking at the total number of strikes – rather
than workdays lost – a different picture emerges. The top 10
strike-prone unions are listed: Sadtu is not among them. Strike
frequency is analysed by sector: health and education taken together
account for only two percent of strikes.

The crisis in education is systematic and deep-rooted. It will not be
solved by setting up straw men or looking for scapegoats. The
education system in this country will be salvaged when all of us –
teachers, learners, parents and society – come together to take
ownership of the system and hold each other accountable for our

Mugwena Maluleke is general secretary of Cosatu


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