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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Sadtu march was the last resort

Thabo Mohlala

On the same day that South Africans reacted with shock and disbelief at the recent surprise cabinet reshuffle, South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) painted the streets of the capital city red as they marched to the offices of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to present a memorandum of demands.

Although the march was completely overshadowed by President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet announcement, Sadtu spokesperson, Nomusa Cembi, told Inside Education the march was a success. The union commands 260 000 members within the education system giving it enormous bargaining power.

Cembi said the march was the last resort and they tried to avert it. She said the department continuously failed to engage with them to address the deteriorating state of education and governance issues at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and Community Education and Training (CET) centres in the provinces.

“It took us exactly eight years trying to address these problems with DHET but this has yielded no positive outcomes and that is why we embarked on this course of action. The decision to march was not taken lightly, we had to think long and hard about it,” said Cembi.

Asked if the march was ill-timed, considering grade 12 learners are sitting for the final year examinations, Cembi said: “We are aware that it is during exam time, but every school day is crucial and our matters are equally crucial.”

She said the conditions of service particularly for TVET lecturers were so bad, most of them were demoralised. Cembi cited pay disparities where lecturers received 1% pay progression while their counterparts within the Public Service got 1.5%. She said the department routinely undermined collective bargaining forums and systems to “deliberately frustrate their efforts to raise the genuine concerns of their members.

TVET and CET centres have been earmarked to become institutions that offer specialised curriculums as part of re-configuring the entire post-school education system. DHET has poured billions into the sector to ensure they are adequately re-capitalised to enhance the quality of their institutions. The union’s memorandum also calls on President Zuma to release the report on the feasibility of free higher education which was handed to him at the end of August, by the chair of the commission Jonathan Heher. Sadtu supports students’ demand for free tertiary education, specifically for the poor. Most universities, except Central University of Technology and Stellenbosch, are waiting for the publication of the Fees Commission report before they announce their fees for the 2018 academic year.  

In its memorandum, Sadtu said its patience reached its limit.

“We have had to make difficult choices whether to allow this untenable situation to persist or to confront it head-on. We must point it out that our patience and flexibility has now been tested to the extreme. We regard this on-going state of affairs as an act of provocation against a disciplined work-force. We regard this as an affront to the poor and working class,” read the memorandum.

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