SADTU and the spirit of June 16 betrayed

Paul Trewhela says the union's grip on state schooling is killing the country's future

Spirit of June 16 betrayed

Forty years after South Africa’s school pupils rose up against their education for servitude, a report commissioned by the government reveals “endemic” buying and selling of teachers’ posts, with the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) “in de facto control” of all but three of South Africa’s provincial education departments.

In KwaZulu-Natal last year, two senior teachers who were front-runners for the post of principal were even murdered: Pietermaritzburg acting principal Nokuthula Magwanyana in August and Eshowe deputy principal Thokozani Mkhwanazi shot dead at school in November.

In the Eastern Cape, the Dispatch revealed last December that the education department paid R90 000 to a member of a separate teachers’ union, Boyce Klaas, after he won a dispute over the interview process for a principal’s post at Siwisa Primary in Grahamstown.

After being recommended for the post by the school governing body, “due to alleged Sadtu influence, the panel re-performed the interviews. We understand that in this process, the panellists were instructed to ‘overscore’ [the Sadtu-preferred candidate] above other candidates [including Mr Klaas],” the report states.

Pity the nation where a quarter of a million school teaching posts are at risk of becoming crony posts. That nation can only go down.

Revealing a shameful betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the generation which rose up for a proper education, and which then provided Umkhonto we Sizwe in exile with the overwhelming majority of its troops, the final report by Professor John Volmink, head of the Umalusi Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, reveals a debauch of the young, paid for out of public funds.

Today there is nothing so degrading and humiliating in South Africa as this wound inflicted on its own children. Or anything so dangerous.

Steve Biko was killed by the apartheid regime for his radical integrity, but imagine his rage – if he were alive today – at the turning of the education of the young into a feeding trough for the footsoldiers of the political elite.

Youth Day this year should be the occasion for outrage at the squandering of his vision, together with that of Onkgopotse Tiro and Tsietsi Mashinini, stretching back beyond the dream of Mandela, Sobukwe and Luthuli to the great visionary founders of a nation’s self-respect, to JL Dube, Sol Plaatje, Pixley ka Seme, and before them Tiyo Soga, Rubusana and SEK Mqhayi.

It is right to ask: what is there in common between their visionary demand and today’s failed, corrupted schooling for the huge majority of the country’s young, especially the poorest?

What happens to a nation’s self-respect, when its schools are degraded by its teachers, under the eyes of its elected leaders?

The final report by Volmink is an indictment of a country’s moral collapse.

Appointed two years ago by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to investigate the scandal in education in Gauteng, following a resolute ongoing investigation by City Press, the Volmink report shows conclusively that the education of the young in the province is not determined by the merit, dedication, hard work and vision of their teachers, but cites the “enormous power and influence” of Sadtu, which “seeks to entrench itself repeatedly and inexorably”.

The report contains Sadtu’s admission – for the first time – that jobs of teachers and principals are being sold for cash, sex and “other favours”, and that the system is “widespread and under-reported”.

As the union’s general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, its deputy general secretary Nkosana Dolopi, and an unnamed “legal adviser” have admitted – and the report makes clear – this is because “the seller and the buyer of the post operate in high secrecy and, in some instances, with intimidation”.

In what way, then, is this better than Bantu Education, or rather just another way in which the majority of the nation’s pupils continue to be scandalously treated?

Undue influence, as Volmink writes, “a polite name for corruption, appears to be endemic in the entire educational system, in offices, in schools, unions and everywhere else.

“Weak authorities, aggressive unions, compliant principals and teachers eager to benefit from union membership and advancement are a combination of factors that defeat the achievement of quality education by attacking the values of professionalism.”

Sadtu is Cosatu’s largest and most influential union, with more than 260 000 state-employed members, and in this way has access through the ANC and SA Communist Party to positions in parliament and the cabinet.

As City Press’s Sipho Masondo pointed out in an article headed “Break Sadtu’s power” (May 15), it has been a “grooming ground” for ANC leaders who became ministers, MECs and senior government officials. “Many of its members are active ANC branch leaders, and the union provides foot soldiers in election campaigns.”

The Umalusi report concludes: “The access of a teacher union to one single political party is dangerous and inappropriate.

“This means that those educators who join the union are bound to that party. And the fortunes of the education system become dependent on the fortunes of a political process.

“While the party is in power, the union has a kind of political sanctity. To challenge the union is to challenge the party. It is not difficult to see how that can lead to corrupt forms of influence.”

The Umalusi report condemns the hawking of teacher posts as subversive of the principles of good teaching.

Sadtu is fighting the report, accusing Volmink of “union-bashing” and of making baseless findings without evidence to support his conclusions.

However Masondo pointed out in “Sadtu’s power at full throttle” (2 June) that the union demonstrated its power in 2014 by getting the minister, Angie Motshekga, to force the then director-general of Basic Education, Bobby Soobrayan, from office.

Masondo describes this as “a first in South Africa’s union history” – a “watershed moment”, in which a union used its power to evict a director-general, with Sadtu’s branch, regional and provincial leaders “operating like quasi-mafia outfits.”

No other union in South Africa, he argued, has ever exercised such power. This power derives from Sadtu’s “vantage position in the tripartite alliance”, as the only affiliate of Cosatu with members “in every corner of the country and in every ANC branch”.

One could add: and paid by the state.

This explains why a report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in May last year, titled “Universal Basic Skills”, listed South Africa’s performance in maths and science as second last out of 76 countries.

Four Asian countries – Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan – took the top positions. Vietnam came in at position 12, with Kazakhstan at 49, and Botswana ahead of South Africa, at place 70.

As Moeletsi Mbeki pointed out at a Dispatch Dialogue in East London on Monday in relation to the nation’s underclass, “4% of them have no education at all, 46% have not completed high school and only 9% have tertiary education”.

Three months after Youth Day this year is the 39th anniversary of the murder of Steve Biko, on September 12 1977. If Biko’s murder can be seen as a reprisal for the uprising of the school pupils against their mis-education, the failure of education under the ANC’s self-interested and undemocratic system must register as an even more extensive abuse of the hopes and aspirations of the nation’s young.

Umalusi is the word in isiXhosa and isiZulu for a guard, a pastor or a shepherd. The Umalusi council can indeed be described in these terms, but what is one to say of South Africa’s education system?

* Paul Trewhela was editor of Freedom Fighter, MK’s underground newspaper during the Rivonia Trial, a political prisoner and a schoolteacher in exile 

This article first appeared in the Daily Dispatch – see here