Equal Education (EE) notes with grave concern the statement released by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) Limpopo on 24 July 2012. The SADTU statement is noteworthy for its ill-considered attack on the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zwelinzima Vavi. However, our primary concerns are that SADTU Limpopo has failed to accept its share of responsibility, attacked those who did take action, and, in this instance, have not treated the rights of working class learners as being of equal importance to the interests of SADTU Limpopo members.
We have a consistent record of supporting the struggles of teachers. In 2010, when teachers went on strike for decent wages, EE picketed outside government offices in support of teachers. EE has consistently raised the fact that teachers in township and rural schools work under impossible conditions, without facilities, with too many learners in their classes, and with too little support. We have opposed the use of teachers generally and SADTU in particular as scapegoats for the complex crisis facing education in South African schools. We will continue to be resolute in our solidarity with teachers in their struggles for decent working conditions, pay, training and respect in society.
EE appreciates the support SADTU has given to EE’s Campaign for School Libraries, but we expect SADTU to play a much more visible, organised and active role in championing the joint struggle of learners, parents, teachers and communities for quality education. We hope to see SADTU marching in support of EE’s campaign and court case for Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. We expect to see SADTU being more vocal about the lack of resources in schools, the inequalities in our education system, and the poor quality of educational outcomes in township and rural schools – as evidenced by the Annual National Assessments and matric results. Strikes are only one method to challenge these issues, but community meetings, petitions, media, pickets, legal challenges and many other means are also available. When textbooks are not available we expect SADTU to bring that injustice to the attention of every person in South Africa. EE is committed to working with SADTU, COSATU, and all trade unions representing the working class, in all of these areas.
When we confront a crime like the absence of textbooks for six months in Limpopo, we all need to be humble and take responsibility. For example, the SECTION27 statement of 26 July 2012 recognises the ‘collective failure of many organisations that represent the poor, including COSATU, SADTU, the churches, the African National Congress, school governing bodies and civil society.’ At the opening of the First Equal Education National Congress on 8 July 2012 in Tembisa, COSATU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, apologised on behalf of COSATU. This was done in a spirit of taking responsibility. It is therefore deeply disappointing to read the SADTU Limpopo statement which takes no responsibility, and seeks to exonerate a teachers union which could and should have done much more.
SADTU Limpopo must face one fact: Were it not for SECTION27’s actions, the learners of Limpopo would still be without textbooks today (although some still await their textbooks). By opposing SECTION27’s actions they seem to say that they would prefer learners to continue without textbooks. This is a disgrace from the teachers union of the working class.
As NUMSA Limpopo correctly pointed out: “The textbook crisis in Limpopo is a class issue and a solid and critical voice of the organised section of the working class was needed to provide leadership in the interest of the affected children of workers, as articulated by COSATU General Secretary”.
Equal Education regards itself as an ally of COSATU and all its affiliated unions, including SADTU. We call on SADTU Limpopo to rededicate itself to the project of quality and equal education, in order to retain the confidence of the learners and parents of Limpopo, including the members of Equal Education in Thohoyandou, Makuleke, Polokwane and other places.
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