Education – deal with SADTU now

Sara Gon writes on the implications of the MTT’s report on the ‘Jobs for Cash’ scandal

Education – deal with SADTU now

City Press published an expose on 2 May 2014 which reported “Crooked SADTU officials are selling not only principals’ posts, but are manipulating the education system across provinces to control teachers’ appointments, retirement packages and transfers in return for bribes of as little as R 6 500”.

The DBE then instituted an investigation across all nine provinces.

The report of the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to investigate these allegations was finally issued on 20 May 2016.

The report confirms many of our worst fears about the way education is managed. Many difficulties arise because education is both a national and a provincial competence. The good intentions of the national DBE often founder on the rocks of poor provincial department management.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) comes out of this very badly. Its reputation as confrontational and obstructionist is enhanced in no uncertain terms.

SADTU office bearers are implicated in criminal and disciplinary misconduct. They either “sold” teaching posts or influenced provincial officials to place people in positions.

Approximately 120 matters were brought to the MTT’s attention. Ultimately 81 cases were investigated, some of which had been investigated before. In thirty-eight cases there was either evidence warranting further investigation or pointing directly to criminal conduct.

In some cases there was collusion between union officials and district managers or provincial human resources officials. The latter two are instrumental in the selection and appointment of teachers.

Other than education, all other government departments’ recruitment processes acknowledge “the critical nature of acquiring competent professionals and thus they use special tools and processes to give credibility and validity to the process”.

This admission is astonishing. Education represents one of the greatest crises of delivery, and yet the professional competency of staff is not a basic requirement in their employment!

Competent districts work according to procedure and a coherent system. Unions are held in check, and procedures and decisions are led by the department. In the Western Cape there is a balance of power between SADTU and other unions.

The report scathingly says, however, that no union “can behave as SADTU does in North West, Eastern Cape, KZN or Limpopo”.

Then most startling finding is that the DBE is effectively only in control of education of one-third of South Africa’s provinces:

In other words, where authority is weak, inefficient and dilatory, Teacher Unions move into the available spaces and determine policies, priorities and appointments achieving undue influence over matters which primarily should be the responsibility of the Department. 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.”

By way of emphasis the report says: “The Task Team is of the view that by showing firm resolve to deal with corruption encountered in the education sector, the profession may be saved from further decay. If left unchecked it can and will have extremely serious ramifications for the quality of education of the future leaders of our country.”

Senior management membership of trade unions presents the biggest problem in most provinces. It interferes with objectivity when recommending candidates for appointment.

The MTT says data suggests that cadre deployment by unions has weakened the education system. SADTU may determine who and for how long Heads of Department (the 2-ICs to the MECs) in many provinces stay in office, and it deploys cadres into levels of provincial departments regardless of their qualifications. A union should have no role whatsoever in the appointment of staff, ever.

The inadequate and dilatory actions of district and circuit officials allow unions to move into areas in which they have no role. “If ‘undue influence’ (a polite name for corruption) is a result of cadre deployment, then cadre deployment is likely to lead to corruption”.

The MTT’s impression is that corruption is endemic to a greater or lesser degree to the entire education system. The first measure to counteract this is to forbid cadre deployment.

These observations are extraordinary, not for what they say, but how unambiguously and publicly they are being said.

The MTT recommends that teachers and officials cease to be office- bearers of                 political parties, and that teachers in management posts (including principals) be prohibited from occupying leadership positions in unions.

While union membership is a constitutional right, the Labour Court has recognised the conflicts of interest that occur when a manager of a company has to negotiate with or be in dispute with a union of which he is a member. A manager’s first loyalty is to his employer. If the person choses union obligations over his company obligations, the company may discipline the manager.

“There should no political appointments nor cadre deployments… People in these posts must be accountable to their employer and be assessed regularly…”

The MTT describes SADTU, in most districts, as a potent and often decisive presence. If it, and other unions, were to become less dominant, the education system in some provinces would probably collapse owing to the weaknesses of departmental management.

The South African Council of Educators (SACE) is the government regulator of the teaching profession. Teachers must be registered with SACE in order to be employed. The MTT finds SACE’s close links with and allegiance to SADTU raises questions about its independence, despite the fact that the composition of SACE’s Council accords with current structural agreements.

This article cannot comment on all 16 recommendations in the report. A couple are noteworthy.

First, the DBE should regain control of education administration in all provinces. Why? Provinces that are properly administered should be left to manage themselves. There is no justification for them to be put under central administration together with the miscreant provinces.

Second, separate and distinct unions should be established for officials. It is not the DBE’s function to form or encourage the formation of “suitable” unions.

Third, measures should be put in place to ensure that the practice of cadre deployment ceases entirely. Without a doubt! But it’s unlikely as the scourge of cadre deployment is endemic in the entire government.

Some of the following immediate considerations regarding remedial action are necessary –

The DBE must act quickly. It cannot delay in compiling evidence, and then instituting disciplinary and criminal processes;

The DBE mustn’t confuse or conflate disciplinary action and criminal action. They are separate and unrelated processes. Government departments often err awaiting the outcome of the criminal proceedings before launching disciplinary proceedings. Disciplinary hearings should be held much more quickly. The DBE should give any evidence arising from hearings to the prosecutor for use in criminal trials;

Even if a criminal case is unsuccessful, the DBE may still dismiss an employee. The onus of proof in the criminal proceedings is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This is a much higher onus than that for disciplinary proceedings, which is “on the balance of probabilities”. A prosecutor may not be able to prove a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt, but a disciplinary hearing may still prove guilt on the balance of probabilities.

It doesn’t matter how long ago the corruption occurred but when the DBE found out about it. Once it knows the DBE must then act timeously in instituting disciplinary proceedings.

Many have said that unless SADTU is dealt with, and the professionalism of teachers and officials prioritised, education in this country cannot be fixed. The time is now.

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica. 


1. Final Report of the Ministerial Task Team Appointed by Minister Angie Motshekga to Investigate Allegations into the Selling of Posts of Educators by Members of Teachers Unions and Departmental Officials in Provincial Education Departments – issued by the Department of Education, 18 May 2016 www.education.gov.za

2. IMATU & others v Rustenburg Transitional Council [1999] 12 BLLR 1299 (LC).