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Our input on reopening schools during lockdown is ignored, say unions

Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to meet MECs from all nine provinces on Monday, to map out a way forward for the remainder of the year. Picture: African News Agency Archives

Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to meet MECs from all nine provinces on Monday, to map out a way forward for the remainder of the year. Picture: African News Agency Archives

Published May 18, 2020


Johannesburg - Two of the country’s biggest unions have indicated that they will not support any decision taken on Monday by the council of ministers at their meeting to discuss the reopening of schools

The meeting, hosted by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, which includes education MECs from all nine provinces, is meant to map a way forward for the rest of the school year, which has been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. But unions have already expressed concern over the fact that their input has been ignored.

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The first to lash out at the department was the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu). Its general secretary, Mugwena Maluleke, said the consultation Motshekga had with them was merely a formality.

“We were consulted, but the department comes to consult for formality, not alternative ideas. The provincial departments are doing their own thing, and nothing we discuss at national level makes any difference. For the reopening of schools, the departments must fully comply with regulations and occupational health and safety. None of the provinces are ready,” Maluleke warned.

He further expressed dismay at all the plans the minister and the MECs were making, saying they appeared unconcerned about the safety of learners and teachers.

“What we have observed is that the employer is worried about the school calendar, and not the safety and lives of the workers. It’s like the workers are commodities and in abundance, and if one dies, another resource is expanded. We are in an era where the work of workers (is a priority) but not (their) health or lives. So we have called on the national department to rein in the provinces, but that won’t happen because the provinces are in competition and the workers are expendable commodities,” he said.

Alan Thompson, president of the National Teachers’ Union (Natu), said after their meeting with Motshekga last week, they were unhappy as they had hoped exhaustive and meaningful discussions would be held.

He said Natu was disappointed to find that the employer wanted to “shove its position down their throats”, and brush aside all their suggestions as well as wanting them to “rubber-stamp what has been already decided on”.

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“Quite clearly, in our circumstances, more specific information needed to have been made regarding schools’ infrastructural readiness: repairs, maintenance, required extra spaces, extra teachers - both newly recruited and substitute, etc. The all-important matter of physical distancing cannot be compromised if we have to win the war on Covid-19,” Thompson said.

“It is suspicious that all the provincial education departments are quiet about this. It could lead to speculation that they are in a conundrum. We insist that we will never allow overcrowded classes to be taught and that we want only one child per desk.”

He said Natu would not allow children to suffer because the Department of Basic Education was unwilling or unable to meet its obligations.

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DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said they had met the unions but he could not disclose what had taken place.

Political Bureau

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** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the government's 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or go to  SA Coronavirus for more information.

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