Gwede Mantashe

Michelle Jones and Sapa

Western Cape teachers’ unions have rejected the ANC’s call to declare education an essential service, which would limit teachers’ right to strike.

Party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said yesterday the government and the ANC would make sure education was declared an essential service.

“As a number one priority, the ANC and its government will leave no stone unturned in making education an essential service,” he told reporters after the ANC’s lekgotla, held last week in Irene, south of Pretoria.

“If you disrupt education, though you are not threatening a life and limb, you do threaten the growth and survival of society.

“We are a governing party and so we actually need to think broader than narrow trade union interest,” Mantashe said.

Unions said striking teachers were not the major factor contributing to the crisis in education.

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) provincial secretary Jonovan Rustin said the Western Cape branch agreed with its national office that the call be rejected.

“We don’t think there is a need to curb the right to strike by educators. What we do agree on is that education is a priority.”

Rustin said that the government should focus instead on providing sufficient resources at all schools and ensure quality teaching was taking place in all classrooms.

David Millar, provincial chairman of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), said he did not believe making education an essential service would solve any problems.

“The government is trying to deflect attention away from the problems plaguing education.”

He said Naptosa would engage

with the government to ascertain how serious it was about its plans.

“We don’t know if they are serious about this or post-Mangaung they are trying to make the right noises.”

Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who chairs the ANC sub-committee on education and health, said the ANC wanted a commitment from everyone who worked within the sector to focus on delivery of education.

“It does not necessarily mean there must be legislation… but the country must agree that we should have a social compact that recognises the core importance of this provision in our country,” said Naledi.

Her sub-committee had given itself until July this year to come up with approaches and if necessary, mechanisms to ensure that education was seen as an essential service.

“We really want… persons who work within the sector to recognise that they should not interfere even for a moment with the progress of education.”

The sub-committee also wanted to go to its branches around the country and encourage its 1.2 million members to take an interest in their local schools.

Pandor said that this was not just the ANC or the government’s responsibility, but that of the whole country.

Public Service and Administration Minister and chairwoman of the ANC’s sub-committee on social transformation, Lindiwe Sisulu, said that during wage negotiations last year there was an agreement that all involved would act responsibly to ensure that services were delivered.

“These are public servants, paid by the public service purse to perform particular services, and we identified two crucial sectors, education and health,” Sisulu said.

“Between ourselves and labour we are in agreement on what needs to be done.”

She said that for South Africa to advance as a country, education needed to become an essential service.

Bronagh Casey, spokeswoman for Education MEC Donald Grant, said that any development which would protect the best interests of children should be welcomed.

But, she said, all moves to make education an essential service would be watched closely.

“There is a complexity of issues at stake, therefore we will watch carefully the steps that are being followed in giving effect to the decision which is being announced.”

The announcement was welcomed by both the DA and the Freedom Front Plus.

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