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Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech of COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, to the SADTU Eastern Cape Conference, 8th July 2014, East London

8 July 2014

Comrades of SADTU Eastern Cape, thank you for inviting me once again to speak to you. Some of you will remember that when I attended your 2011 Conference I began with a quote from one of the African intellectual giants, Frantz Fanon, who said: “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”.

That is the even greater challenge we face today, in the context of the difficult new problems we face in the union and the federation. Irrespective of these, we must stand up and be counted, and rediscover our mission - to win the revolutionary struggle to transform both our education system and society as a whole.

It both pains and excites me that as educators in the Eastern Cape, you are at the centre of the biggest educational challenges facing our country. It is no secret that school education in the Province has been in a state of crisis for well over a decade, and we must recommit ourselves to the campaign we adopted three years ago to ensure that we eliminate dysfunctional schools everywhere in the country.

Despite ten years of struggle on the part of SADTU, the problem of unpaid temporary teachers still prevails. The department remains under Administration, and while your Matric results improved in 2013, you remain at the bottom of the pile with a 65% pass rate, compared to the national average of 78%.
It is little wonder that as educators you have been unable to turn around the situation in the Province. Quality education depends not only on educators, but on learner books, on libraries and science laboratories, on conducive classrooms with good furniture, on clean toilets, on water, on scholar transport, on good nutrition for learners, and on protection from sexual violence against learners. It also depends on good administration and support.

Most of these factors are currently absent in an unacceptable number of schools in your Province, and in the country as a whole. The Department of Basic Education’s 2011 revealed shockingly that 92% of our schools have no stocked library, 85% have no science laboratory, and 77% have no computer centre. Section 29 of the Constitution states that all should have the right to basic education. This right will never be realized as long as the learning environment is so inadequate.

We have welcomed the publishing of regulations earlier this year to govern the norms and standards for school infrastructure, even though we are outraged that the regulations are nowhere near those that were agreed in a formal process in Nedlac. In particular we welcome specific targets such as the elimination of mud classrooms in three years.

But the fact that the Minister of Finance made no mention of the funding of the infrastructure in his 2014 Budget speech alarms us, and makes us wonder if we are not hearing yet again a set of false promises. Remember that in 2004 then President Mbeki promised the elimination of mud classrooms within a year. The 2014 Vision of the government promised to halve unemployment, poverty and inequalities. After ten years the triple crisis of poverty, inequalities and poverty remain intact and has in many respects worsened.

When will we see an end to some of the examples of the environment in which you work? Examples reported in May 2013 included:
• Patumo Junior Secondary School where there are 165 grade one learners in one classroom, with one educator and very few desks and chairs. Where in the whole school there are 14 toilets for 1175 learners?
• Sea View Secondary School, near Patumo, where there are 8 educators – with seven of them working in an unpaid capacity.
• Ntapane Secondary School near Mthatha where there is one tap for 835 learners, no sports field and no library, and where there are 100 learners per classroom.
• Nyangilizwe Secondary School in Mthatha where 735 learners and 23 teachers share 8 filthy pit toilets.
• Samson Senior Primary School in Libode district where 235 learners are being taught in 2 mud huts and a nearby mud church, and where the nearest running water is 5km away.
• Gwebityala High School in the Kotyana area where there are 162 learners in one grade 10 class.

Maybe some of you work at these schools I have mentioned. Regardless, you will all have your own shocking stories to tell of conditions that make it impossible for quality teaching and learning to take place.

Is it any wonder that the vast majority of the Province’s 57,000 educators are demoralized and that 4,814 are either physically or mentally sick and on incapacity leave? Many of these are getting increasingly sick and stressed as the department continues to bungle applications for medical boarding – which in turn clogs up the system by preventing the posts being released to be filled.

Is it any wonder that there has been a mass migration of 50,000 learners to other Provinces, and that many unpaid educators too have given up and moved to other Provinces? Unathi Mtsolongo is just one example. He was an economics and English educator at Isolomzi Secondary School, formally appointed in 2012 but never paid for 18 months. It broke his heart to leave the school he loved, but he was forced to migrate to the Free State where he is now getting paid the R15, 000 a month that his contract sets out.

Is it any wonder that in two related class actions a total of 122 schools have taken the Provincial department to court to claim repayment of R106m which has been advanced by poverty stricken parents to pay a small allowance to educators whom the department has posted but failed to pay?

A depressing recent event is the suspension last week of the head of the Province’s department of Education while an investigation is conducted into alleged R60m tender irregularities in the purchase of school furniture. While not wanting to pre-judge the case, how very disappointing that even in acting to fulfil a court order to provide furniture to 1300 schools, the department may have messed up further? And why on earth did the Department have to wait for a judge to order that furniture be provided?

Of course I am speaking of things you are most familiar with. You experience the challenge of a dysfunctional learning and teaching environment on a daily basis. And you have always recognised the relationship the struggle for better working conditions and the struggle for quality education.

We insist that your conduct, humanity and professionalism in the classroom should win over the parents of those you teach so that when you campaign for improved infrastructure and conditions of employment, the same parents will throw their weight behind you.
The time we mistakenly believe that to be a revolutionary and militant is to be against any form of authority is past. The time when we thought to be revolutionary is to spend as much time out of the class as possible is past. The time it`s cool to take advantage of young girls, pregnant and take no responsibility is past.

To be revolutionary means appreciating the centrality of your profession in changing the fortunes of the working class and our country. It means emulating the example of Mathew Goniwe and Govan Mbeki who both loved using education to make a difference but at the same time playing a leading role in broader societal struggles for fundamental change. In your last conference I challenged you to produce more Mathew Goniwe`s.

SADTU going forward has a critical role to play in leading the ongoing struggle not only for better working conditions for educators, but for quality education. This is something which cannot be done alone as SADTU, or even as COSATU. It requires strong alliances with progressive civil society organisations – particularly those involving learners and parents. In this respect it concerns me that within our movement there are some who have questioned the long standing policy of COSATU on building alliances with progressive civil society organisations.
Of course the struggle for quality education is not an end in itself. In a society where half of all learners who enter secondary school will never find work, the context has got to be the ongoing struggle for an end to poverty, inequality and unemployment.

As educators, you are right at the centre of our core demand for an end to poverty, inequality and unemployment. We need you to play a leading role in our campaign for a radical economic transformation. This is a campaign that you can take up both in the school curriculum, and also in SADTU and Federation structures. But in order to get anywhere close to a radical economic transformation, we all need an independent and militant fighting COSATU to engineer what we have called our Lula moment working together with organs of people`s power under the leadership of a transformed Alliance. If you interested to know what we mean by a restructured alliance you have to read the COSATU 11th National Congress political resolution. We need a transformed Alliance - not the one which only comes to life on the eve of elections and immediately thereafter allow government to dictate policy and direction of the revolution alone.

SADTU is not a craft union which must preoccupy itself with problems of educators. You changed your scope to organise all workers in the education sector in line with our founding principle of "one union - one industry". Today there are thousands of early childhood development workers in this country who live off inadequate stipends and who suffer appalling working conditions. They live in a twilight world of vulnerability, at the same time as providing a critical role in preparing young children for formal school. They are largely invisible and unorganised.

Should SADTU not be seriously considering organising these workers in large numbers? This month COSATU is launching a national campaign to organise vulnerable workers. I want to seriously challenge you to think about reaching out to ECD workers as a highly exploited group of vulnerable workers.
It pains me today that we meet in the wake of the death in the Province of at least 24 young male learners in illegal circumcision schools. This has happened in a matter of weeks, with at least 60 more hospitalized. Together we have to find a way to put a stop to this dreadful loss of young life. As educators, trade union leaders, and as parents we have to engage in a difficult discussion about whether it is possible to restore the historical safety of non medical circumcision.
These are the real challenges facing the federation today – the crisis in education and the economy, the marginalisation of workers and the youth and the struggle for a fundamental transformation of our society.

Given that you are living and working in the midst of the worst of our educational challenges, I know that you can be relied upon not to waste your time on petty squabbles, and the politics of labelling those who hold different opinions as reactionary or part of the "anti-majoritarian offensive".

Our priority must be to build a democratic, genuinely independent, worker-controlled trade union and a strong, united federation. That is what should be preoccupying our minds, rather than the new alien cultures of rumour-mongering, character assassination and cut-throat vendettas which afflict our movement at the moment. We must focus not on supporting or defeating any faction, but how best to strengthen and unite our movement.

What is killing me is that at the time when we face a 36% unemployment rate which should mean more campaigns for job creation, we spending less on these topics. We are not preoccupied with how we should ensure we contribute to elimination of dysfunctional schools and ensure that 50% of working class children do not get marginalised by our education system. We are not preoccupying ourselves with ending enslaving labour brokering system together with casualisation and subcontracting practices that have combined to sentence 50% of South African workers to poverty wages of less than R3000 per month.

The agenda of our meetings are dominated by factional activities. I have never experienced the rate of suspensions and summary dismissals of members by the democratic trade union movement as is currently happening. In my three decades as an activist in the union movement I have never seen voting in the COSATU CEC as it is currently the case. Of course I insist that normalizing this situation requires that all the victims of factional suspensions and cut-throat politics be allowed back in our fold - asiphelelanga!

We have to move out of this environment as soon as possible or risk allowing a vacuum to develop, with new kids on the block emerging all over to occupy the space we risk abandoning. COSATU must be relevant today. In the spirit of the World Cup, Brazil can`t rely on the good memory of Pele tonight and Germany can`t invoke the memory of Franz Beckenbauer.

In constructively challenging the material conditions that you face every day, please walk the talk. You must help lead a movement that takes us towards the realisation of quality education for our children. After all, our children are the future.

Forward to quality education and the eradication of poverty, inequality and unemployment!
Forward to a fighting, strong and united SADTU and COSATU!
Down with sweetheart trade unionism down!
All the best to you for the rest of your Conference deliberations.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Streets

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
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E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za