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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi’s Speech to the launch national education campaign to adopt schools in Butterworth

2 October 2011

Today we standing at the crossroads for the first time confront the greatest challenge we face as revolutionaries of our generation – the education crisis and our role as revolutionaries in solving this unfolding human tragedy.

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”. These words were uttered by one of the greatest African intellectuals: Frantz Fanon

On this Sunday the 2nd October 2011, here in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, together with all of you including SADTU and the government, we are launching this national campaign to adopt schools to ensure we eliminate dysfunctional schools everywhere in the country.

One of our greatest criticism of the current epoch is that as Africans we spend 95% of our time lamenting about our past (colonialism of a special type) and only spend 5% of our time doing something practical about our plight.

For 17 years we have written the most moving poems and speeches lamenting. For 17 years we have moved from one summit to the next issuing declaration after another declaration. We have adopted resolutions and adopted programmes of action only to repeat those very resolutions at the next congress without translating them into deeds. We have the most progressive manifesto written in the most glossy papers.

Yes we have made tremendous progress in many areas, such as improving infrastructure, delivery of books, enrolment of children, in particular the girl child, improving access by opening more no-fee schools, etc.

Today as we launch this there is no doubt in our mind that have not succeeded in transforming the education system in both quality and quantity. Apartheid fault-lines remain stubbornly in place in our education system. The poor’s children remain trapped in an inferior education with wholly inadequate infrastructure; 70% of our schools do not have libraries and 60% do not have laboratories; 60% of children are pushed out of the schooling system before they reach grade 12.

As you know 70% of (matriculation) exam passes are accounted for by just 11% of schools, i.e. the former White, Coloured, and Asian schools[1]. What is of major concern is that 12-year olds in South Africa perform three times worse than 11-year olds in Russia when it comes to reading and 16-year olds in South Africa perform three times worse than 14-year olds in Cyprus when it comes to mathematics[2]. It is estimated that only 3% of the children who enter the schooling system eventually complete with higher-grade mathematics. Nevertheless, white learners perform in line with the international average in both science and mathematics, which is twice the score of African learners.

Only 1% of African schools are top performing on high school certification results versus 31% of formerly privileged schools. Policy and personnel are problematic for example the Eastern Cape has had record number of MECs of education since 1994.

This crisis manifests itself more profoundly in this very province, the Eastern Cape. The Eastern Cape basic education system is simply dysfunctional. The province is a home to 395 mud schools, which collapse at the mere idea of heavy rain.

Approximately a hundred thousand learners in this province are subjected to walking long kilometres to schools due to the inefficiency and poor management of the scholar transport system. Tens of thousands are going hungry because the School Nutrition Program in the Eastern Cape at some point was stopped due to lack of funds. Political hyenas have identified even this Nutrition Programme as a feeding trough. This was particularly disheartening given that the province’s under-spending in previous years.

Eastern Cape is rivaled only by Limpopo as a province with the most schools, which have no libraries. A report by Equal Education indicates that 90.2% of Eastern Cape schools have no libraries.

The Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education has been receiving not just qualified reports but disclaimers from the Auditor General since 2005. This simply means that the education department in this province, much like all others, is haunted by a reality of financial mismanagement.

As part of these campaign we will demand accountability! Those responsible for this mess must be dismissed from their position be they national ministers or provincial premiers or MECs.

Let us state the obvious: we simply cannot expect teachers to produce miraculous results in this type of situation. This is more so since this bleak picture also replicates as the working environment for thousands of teachers in this province.

We know very well what this situation has meant to many teachers in here in Butterworth, Tsomo, Butterworth, Idutywa and other places in the province where teachers have become social workers and psychologists at the same time. We salute the teachers that have been consistent in raising the plight of poverty-stricken children with the provincial education department and those teachers that continue to provide a revolutionary service to the poor despite these morbid circumstances.

Whilst this disaster is unfolding, the children of the rich are in private schools. The children of the middle class who are now joined by a minority of blacks in former Model C schools. Both private and former Model C schools are in varying degrees far better than the schools where working class and black children find themselves.

The connection between the high failure rates in schools and youth unemployment needs to be emphasized. Of the unemployed 72% are below the age of 35 years. The majority of those unemployed do not have standard seven or matric. 60% of children are pushed out of the schooling system before they reach grade 12. 95% of all people who are unemployed do not have tertiary education. This is what we have called a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Already that bomb is exploding in many parts of the country in violent service delivery protests.

It goes without saying that government has a primary responsibility to address this crisis. The government’s move to place the education department in this province under National Administration was a good starting point.

However, the critical question all of us must answer in this congress is: what is the role of a revolutionary trade union movement in making a contribution towards resolving this crisis? A collective effort is required to work together to overhaul the situation in our schools. We need a change in the mindset among teachers, learners and parents in order to ensure quality education delivery for learners, particularly in poorly performing schools.

We appeal to teachers, who are amongst the most important public servants to commit to the provision of good and quality teaching and uphold ethical and professional behaviour at all times. We must adopt zero tolerance towards teachers who arrive late for class and leave early. Those who prey on young girls and treat them as objects of sexual lust must find no space amongst us. Let us be both objects and subjects of change. Let us campaign to ensure that teachers do not abuse their power in society by impregnating school kids often infect them with HIV. As a revolutionary trade union, we must expose and isolate such gross acts of misconduct.

So please join us in Butterworth on Sunday, in the words of Frantz Fanon, to discover our mission to save our nation.

One of the campaigns COSATU is undertaking is geared towards changing the culture of service in the public sector. A new culture that seeks to make the wellbeing of the working class a priority is needed in the public sector. All public servants must understand that they are the hands and feet of the revolutionary ideals that we seek to realise.

We have a responsibility to inculcate a revolutionary morality, which seeks to radically alter the status quo. A revolutionary morality derives from a yearning to build something different, something new and something that is opposite to what exists. It is zeal to incite forces of change in the struggle against the terrible state of things.

It is impossible for teachers to breed a new generation of anti-capitalist fighters unless we inspire learners from a young age and show them and their parents that we really do have their best interests at heart. This is the essence of revolutionary morality – the realisation that overthrowing exploitation will require a struggle waged in different but interconnected terrains.

It is now time that we cease sloganising and roll up our sleeves to mobilise and galvanise not only SADTU members but also our entire society behind a campaign to save our collective future as a nation.

Thank you for listening

Phindile Kunene (Shopsteward Editor)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Street
Braamfontein
2017

P.O.Box 1019
Johannesburg
2000
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080 / 6940
E-Mail: phindi@cosatu.org.za
Web: www.cosatu.org.za

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