AGGRIEVED: Teachers at protest march outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria in April. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
AGGRIEVED: Teachers at protest march outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria in April. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has thrown its weight behind the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union’s (Sadtu’s) grievances over the state of the education system, expressing support on Wednesday for its affiliate’s call for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to be removed.

Thousands of Sadtu members marched on the Union Buildings and Parliament on Wednesday as part of a work-to-rule campaign launched earlier this month. The protests culminated in the handover of memorandums of demands, addressed to President Jacob Zuma, to Presidency officials.

Sadtu is demanding action on complaints ranging from overcrowded classrooms to continued failure to reform the provincial department of education in Limpopo. The union’s deputy general secretary, Nkosana Dolopi, on Wednesday promised a full-blown strike in the education sector unless a favourable response from the Presidency was received in the next three weeks.

Sadtu’s marches on Wednesday followed an announcement by the union earlier this month that its members would not work beyond seven hours of teaching time or mark supplementary exams.

Union members also picketed outside provincial education headquarters last week, in a campaign that Sadtu maintains is in defence of collective bargaining in the sector. This followed the department’s "unilateral" withdrawal last month from an agreement governing pay for teachers who mark and set matric exams.

The union is also calling for Ms Motshekga’s head of department, Bobby Soobrayan, to be fired.

Speaking at the Union Buildings on Wednesday, Mr Dolopi said the memorandum of demands captured the failure of the Department of Basic Education to avoid the "impasse" with the union. He said that unless Ms Motshekga was removed, "Sadtu will intensify the campaign to full-blown industrial action".

Earlier, Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said the union federation continued to faithfully support the African National Congress (ANC) and "the votes we give to the ANC is worth the ANC meeting our demands today".

"We want to move forward in transforming the education system and she is not fitting the bill. We call upon the president to firstly recall her and then have a serious discussion with her after sending her elsewhere.

Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to comment, saying the office had not yet received Sadtu’s memorandum.

The document accuses Ms Motshekga of failing to deal with overcrowded classrooms and providing teachers with laptops as she had allegedly promised. It also claims that, in two instances, Mr Soobrayan had flouted collective agreements, reneged on one about the payment of markers of matric exam papers and unilaterally withdraw rural allowance for teachers in Limpopo.

The Department of Basic Education has called Sadtu’s demands for Ms Motshekga’s removal "unfortunate" and appealed to the union to respect ongoing mediation aimed at resolving the dispute. The department further warned that teachers who did not turn up at the workplaces to participate in the marches would face disciplinary action.

Department of Basic Education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi downplayed the effect of the strike in most provinces. It was only Gauteng, the North West and the Western Cape that had been affected, while in other provinces it had been a normal school day, he said.

It was already clear that mostly schools in poor areas were affected, but it would "take some time" to collate the information before any disciplinary action was taken.

The department, which gave updates on disruptions throughout the day, said by late afternoon that North West was the most affected province, with 2,048 teachers reported to be absent while 18 schools were shut down in the four districts.

The department said Ms Motshekga was still willing to address Sadtu’s concerns, adding that Cabinet had recently expressed support for the minister’s leadership and had endorsed the progress in improving the quality of education.

Democratic Alliance basic education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore on Wednesday condemned the Sadtu protest.

"(It) demonstrated more clearly than ever before that they are an organisation more concerned with tripartite alliance politics, than ensuring that our children receive the opportunities that they need to lift themselves out of poverty and address the wrongs of the past."

She said that the schools most affected by the campaign were those in the townships, and that she had written to the South African Human Rights Commission to request an investigation of the effect of both Sadtu and Cosatu’s actions.

Cosatu Western Cape secretary Tony Ehrenreich vowed on Wednesday that if Sadtu’s calls were not heeded, the union federation in the province would join them on the streets in future protest action.

"If the government does not listen to the voices of the teachers today, we want to assure them that all of the members in Cosatu, all the 260,000 members in the Western Cape, will come and join you to make sure that we fix the problems in education," he said.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said at a national level no formal decision on joining industrial action by Sadtu had been taken.

With Sapa