Wits vice-chancellor, professor Adam Habib was the keynote speaker at NAPTOSA's annual provincial conference in Durban on Friday. Photo by African News Agency (ANA).

DURBAN – The vice-chancellor of a renowned South African university has told a KwaZulu-Natal conference that only if the country’s rich and powerful agreed to measured salary increases would organised labour even consider doing the same.

Professor Adam Habib, of the University of the Witwatersrand, made the remarks during his keynote address at the annual provincial conference of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA) in Durban on Friday.

“If we are going to ask our unions to be serious about measured salary increases, we must start demanding the same of the CEOs and the rich," said Habib.

“The cabinet needs to not take salary increases for the next five years. And the CEOs of the top 200 companies should not take a salary increase for the next five years. And frankly, the same should apply for vice-chancellors like me.” 

He said once that was accomplished, there was a greater likelihood of unions agreeing to realistic salary increases. This was one of the ways money could be found “to invest in the educational enterprise so that our children are not deprived”.

Habib was responding to recent remarks made by Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane, who said a 10 percent public sector wage reduction may have to be one of the options considered to cut costs and boost the country’s crumbling economy. The remarks caused outrage among union leaders.

But Habib did not shy away from stinging unions in his address, either. Some had “gone rogue”, he said.

“If the union is calling you out in the course of the working day, your responsibility as educationists is to say ‘suka wena’. Tell them, there is no way I am coming out without completing my class, because my vocation and my responsibility is to those children,” said Habib, to loud applause from the audience."

He said in order to solve the country’s education crisis, it first had to be admitted that there was a crisis. 

“We are in an educational crisis – let’s admit it, let’s not lie about it or manufacture statistics about it," said Habib.  

“Every year, after the matric results, the minister of education pops up on SABC and says how well we are doing and how we are improving. Really? Let’s first acknowledge that we have a crisis, then let’s start asking how to fix that crisis and what all of our roles should be.”

A financial mechanism had to be found that supported university and schooling systems and enabled talented students from all environments the ability to make their way through quality schooling and quality tertiary education, said Habib.  

“Frankly, we have compromised on the quality component of education over the last 25 years.”

Habib said his friend and fellow academic, professor Jonathan Jansen of the University of Stellenbosch, had four simple ways to address the basic education crisis, which he agreed with.

“Get the students in the classroom. Get the teachers in the classroom. Make sure the teachers know what they are teaching, and get decent infrastructure.”

African News Agency (ANA)