On the 21st of March, Human Rights Day, Helen Zille led a 3 000-strong march to the offices of the ironically named SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in Port Elizabeth. The purpose of the march was simple – to expose the single biggest human rights violation in democratic SA.
The victims of this rights violation are mainly poor, mainly rural, young pupils in the Eastern Cape. The perpetrators are the leaders and members of Sadtu, who deny these pupils their right to a quality basic education in the name of their own material gain and political ambition.
A quality education is the only real pathway out of poverty and into gainful employment. For these young South Africans, that pathway is being blocked by Sadtu, with devastating social results.
In recent months, this sad situation was exacerbated further by the province-wide go-slow by thousands of Sadtu-affiliated teachers. This is in a province where education outcomes are already the lowest in the country, where there are still hundreds of mud schools and where the provincial Education Department had to be put under national administration last year.
Sadtu’s role in the destruction of our education system is nothing short of a national disgrace. It has no defence for its own obvious culpability in this human rights violation.
That is why Sadtu and the ANC have resorted to their tried and tested strategy of shouting “racist” and feigning offence.
They have not addressed a single point of fact regarding the education crisis. Instead, they have loudly accused Zille of racism for speaking up for poor pupils who are forced to flee from the Eastern Cape to other provinces to get a decent education.
This allegation is bizarre. How can fighting for the rights of poor, mainly black, children be racist?
The real tragedy here is the perpetuation of “Bantu education” by a trade union that cares more about the rights of its members than the rights of children to receive the education denied to their mothers and fathers. It is the tragedy of poor pupils, in desperate need of a decent education to escape from poverty, who have been failed by an uncaring Eastern Cape Education Department and by Sadtu.
The truth is that the only thing holding us back from redressing apartheid’s legacy of unequal education is the Sadtu-ANC alliance.
Consider the facts:
n The ANC-governed Eastern Cape has the lowest matric pass rate in the country (58.1 percent). The DA-governed Western Cape has the highest (82.9 percent).
n The Eastern Cape saw enrolment figures drop by 88 000 this year. But the Western Cape saw an increase of 13 000.
n The Eastern Cape spent only 28 percent, less than a third, of its school infrastructure budget of R1.45 billion. The Western Cape recently built 30 new schools and 22 more are in the pipeline.
n Half of the state schools in the Eastern Cape do not have textbooks. In the Western Cape, R466 million has been budgeted to ensure that every child has every textbook from grades 1-12.
n There has been a massive redistribution of resources in the Western Cape to the poorest public schools. This money is used for education and is not lost to corruption.
n The Imizamo Yethu Secondary School in Thembalethu, in George, improved its pass rate from 27 percent in 2010 to 82 percent in 2011.
n Last year the Centre of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha was ranked ninth best school in matric outcomes in the Western Cape. This is the first time that a township school has made the top 10.
One of the greatest evils of apartheid was that it denied people freedom of movement.
And equally evil was that it deliberately set out to undermine education for black South Africans. In a democratic SA, people are free to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families anywhere in the country, which is precisely what is happening.
South Africans have always moved in search of opportunity.
For the many who even today travel some distance to get to the ex-model C schools to the many who now leave their provinces often leaving behind families to search for a better education as is the case with those moving from Eastern Cape to the Western Cape, as those who are experiencing high levels into Gauteng.
The DA deplores the fact that education is becoming even worse than it was under apartheid in the Eastern Cape and in other provinces where the ANC governs, thus aggravating one of the greatest crimes of our tragic past.
The Western Cape government will continue improving the quality of education for all in the province. And we will do it despite the efforts of Sadtu to stop us.
If anybody still believes that Sadtu cares more about pupils than it does about its members, then consider these two facts:
n Sadtu was responsible for 42 percent of all working days lost owing to strike action between 1994 and 2009.
n In 2012, the first school term in the Eastern Cape was disrupted for weeks by an illegal teachers’ strike led by Sadtu. For the duration of the strike, tens of thousands of pupils received little to no teaching at all.
While the DA is redressing apartheid-era inequalities in education, Sadtu and the ANC are perpetuating them. Indeed, they are aggravating them. That is the real issue here. This certainly deserves a public outcry.
The ANC and its partners can make as much noise about the premier’s choice of words as they like. The fact remains that pupils from the Eastern Cape seek refuge wherever they can if they want a decent education.
This is not just urbanisation, but a failure to deliver on the most basic imperatives of the constitution.
The development of SA does not reside in some having privilege as a function of birthplace, but in a pursuit of all of us having our rights met regardless of birthplace.
So when our youth wake early and face treacherous terrains just to get to school, with their parents having sacrificed so much to get them to school, it seems a crime for Sadtu to not have teachers in the classroom.
A turnaround must start with us doing our best to ensure provincial governments such as the Eastern Cape are held to account.
This issue is not about Zille’s choice of word, as Sadtu and the ANC would have us believe. This is a very real human rights tragedy that we cannot allow to continue.
All the ANC’s rantings and red herrings won’t change the fact that millions of children are being denied a decent education in our country. And it certainly won’t stop the DA from doing what it can where it governs to give all our children the opportunities they deserve to succeed in life.
Let’s make the issue, the issue.
n Maimane is the DA national spokesman