Sadtus march, Cape Town: Full-blown strike on the horizon

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On Wednesday, Sadtu members across the country took to the streets to call for the resignation of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and director general Bobby Soobrayan.

The teachers union was hoping for a turnout of 25,000 nationwide, but in Cape Town only about 1,500 marched to Parliament, although the Western Cape education departments report indicated that 2,400 teachers took part in protest action altogether. Sadtu warned that a full strike could be on the cards next.

On an unseasonably hot Wednesday morning in Cape Town, a sea of red T-shirted Sadtu members gathered at the Keizersgracht in preparation to march to Parliament to make their feelings known. Top of the agenda was their frustration with Motshekga and Soobrayan, and there are suggestions that the latter is their primary target.

An unnamed provincial leader told the Mail &Guardian this week that, The real target is Soobrayan If Soobrayan were to be axed, I promise you, wed stop calling for Motshekgas resignation.

While Motshekga was the subject of a number of protest songs on the march, many marchers carried placards featuring detailed accusations against Soobrayan. In addition to there being differences of opinion between Sadtu and Soobrayan on policy matters  such as the remuneration of Grade 12 markers  Sadtu also accuses Soobrayan of financial mismanagement.

In particular, the union alleges that Soobrayan spent R46,908 of department funds on accommodation, car hire and a business-class flight over the Easter weekend. Sadtu disputes the idea that this expenditure was work-related, given its timing.

The Cape Town protest got off to a slow start, with the delays to the marchs beginning attributed to the fact that national leaders had been unable to land at Cape Town International Airport on Wednesday morning. As I photographed the protestors growing ranks, a Sadtu provincial official called me over. He taught at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, he explained, as well as working in the Sadtu provincial office.

He had a request: would I march up front with him, holding the Sadtu banner This would be in order to show that its blacks and whites here together. I declined, and asked him where the white teachers were. Theyre coming, he said confidently.

But there were few white faces evident on the march. What there were, however, were schoolchildren, most of them in uniform.Western Cape provincial Cosatu secretary Tony Ehrenreich had previously called on pupils and parents to join the action  a statement which was condemned by both the DA and the Department of Basic Education.

Western Cape education MEC Donald Grant had urged pupils to ignore Sadtu and Cosatus call, and also encouraged parents to enquire what substitute teaching was being put in place for children taught by striking educators.

Donald Grant is not a universally loved figure, however, largely as a result of his controversial attempts to close Western Cape schools, and small groups of schoolchildren turned out nonetheless. Siphelo Ndabeni, 17, a Grade 11 pupil from Sizimisele Technical High School in Khayelitsha, told the Daily Maverick that he and his friends were participating in the march to support our teachers.

Ndabeni said that his high school was under-resourced, and gave the example that pupils did not have access to the necessary books. We have to go to exterior libraries because the books are not in our library, he explained.

Was he not worried that they were missing out on valuable learning time Ndabeni paused. It does worry us in a way, he said, but we are here to help the teachers find solutions to issues.

Later, outside Parliament, a group of Grade 8 girls from a school in New Crossroads stood together. They had come to march, they said. Did their teachers tell them to come Yes, they agreed, nodding. Sadtu members wearing T-shirts reading Every Child Needs A Teacher pushed past them.

The Western Cape education departments report, released after the march, stated that 48 schools were closed across the province on Wednesday. We have yet to receive reports of learner absenteeism, the statement read. However, learners at the 48 schools that closed would have been affected.

Although the turnout for the march initially looked poor, by the time the protestors made their way through the streets to the Parliament buildings, there were probably at least 1,500 people present, although many did not stick around long for the speeches at Parliament. Messages of support were delivered from Popcru (the police union), Sasco (the students organisation), Nehawu (education, health and allied workers), Denosa (the nurses union), as would be expected.

Less expected was the announcement that the American Federation of Teachers had sent somebody called Lorna (surname not provided) along to show its support for Sadtu. Lorna was not produced to make a speech, however.

Tony Ehrenreich brought out typically fiery rhetoric, saying that Cosatu supports Sadtu without reservation. Ehrenreich did not dwell on issues like the dispute over remuneration for exam markers, preferring to focus on the wider problems within the education sector. He said the trade unions were committed to making sure learning takes place all the time, but said that the inequalities in educational resources were unsustainable.

Facilities of schools on the Cape Flats are half those of schools in the shadow of Table Mountain, Ehrenreich said. Teachers in townships must do double the work because they have double the kids.

A pupil representative of Cosas (the Congress of South African Students) also took the wider view, saying that we as learners from disadvantaged communities demand a decent education, as well as decent salaries for teachers. Why must we suffer she asked. Is it because our parents dont have enough money to send us to well-resourced schools

Cosatu deputy president Zingiswa Losi, who led the march, defended striking teachers. We have heard people say that teachers are being irresponsible, she said. Teachers are responsible.

The fact that they are on the streets marching today shows that they are taking responsibility for the future of the children. She slammed Minister Motshekga for seeming only to worry about the crisis in education when the matric results were due. You should be worried from January, Losi said.

Losi also used her platform to hit out against the DA, and leader Helen Zille, in the wake of the M&G story that a DA draft election document compares the ANC to the NP. This is a democratic country, Losi said. When we voted for the ANC consistently we were not under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances. How dare Zille reduce our freedom [by comparing the ANC to the Nats] The time has come for [Zille] to run.

Handing over their memorandum of demands, Sadtu organisers said that they were giving the Department of Basic Education 21 days to respond or we will be back. Among the demands are: the firing of Motshekga and Soobrayan; the scrapping of competency tests for Grade 12 markers; the equalisation of school resources; a moratorium on school closures; the firing of Donald Grant; smaller class sizes; and safety within schools.

When you provoke Sadtu, you are provoking the future, a representative warned grimly. If the demands arent met, Sadtu representatives say a full-blown strike is on the cards.

Bhungs Wam, a 34-year-old Grade 4 teacher at a Gugulethu school, stopped to chat to the Daily Maverick as the crowds dispersed. We have a lot of overcrowding, a lack of resources, and unhappy teachers, he said. I am teaching Grade 4 in all subjects. I have never been trained for all those subjects, but it doesnt matter.

Wam said that he thought the loss of teaching time due to the march was justified. There are learners here who are feeling this pain, he said. We have made arrangements for replacement teaching to take place.

The hours that we have spent here, we will make up, even if we work over weekends or holidays. He acknowledged that not everyone would agree with the union. But were not fighting for salaries, Wam said. We are fighting for conditions in education.

A 46-year-old teacher from Atlantis, who preferred not to be named, took a similar view. I have been teaching for 24 years, and in our area it’s getting worse, she said. She teaches primary school Afrikaans.

In our classes, we teach 50 to 59 kids. It’s too crowded. She, too, was aware that Sadtu attracted a negative reputation for the time the union encouraged teachers to spend away from the classroom.

But Im not a bad teacher! she exclaimed. I care deeply for my kids. I supervise sports after school. While we are here, there are other teachers looking after the kids. DM

Photo: Some protestors had a curious way of distributing the message.

Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary.   

Source: The Daily Maverick