Clean out Sadtu’s mini mafias
The education system is in crisis. Senior educator posts in some schools have been sold by unscrupulous union members, often working together with education department officials; recent studies reveal that many teachers responsible for tuition in English do not even have the vocabulary expected of Grade 3 learners; and, in many schools, less than half the curriculum is covered by the end of every year.
These are carefully researched facts. Yet the reaction to them by the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has been denial, accompanied by often vociferous accusations of political conspiracies and “union-bashing”.
Still the largest teachers’ union in South Africa, Sadtu should know better, especially since it has faced these realities for years.
The tactic of denial and generalised accusations about union-bashing merely makes it easier for the union-bashers to sound reasonable. It also opens up the way for government to introduce reforms that may seriously undermine union organisation.
This much is clear from the final report and recommendations of the ministerial task team that investigated allegations about the selling of posts in the education system.
Most worrying is that all unions are tarred with the same brush; all union organisation seems to be regarded as a problem.
However, there has so far not been a single reported case of union members outside of Sadtu being involved in such practices. Which does not mean that all Sadtu members and branches are corrupt, merely that in many areas, elements of this union are behaving like “mini mafias”.
This seems to be aided by the fact that the union is politically connected through the ANCled alliance that admits to problems of “cadre deployment”. Political favours and nepotism all too often lead to greater corruption.
Although the task team report is, in some regards, quite seriously flawed, it reveals the frightening extent of the problem, noting that “the department of basic education has lost control of two-thirds of the country”.
And it admits that “education officials are in implicit collusion with the unions to maintain a conspiracy of silence about the practice of buying and selling posts”.
“But we are the victims of this practice of cadre deployment, and the buying and selling of posts,” say members of the other unions.
The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) has produced a detailed, nine-page response to the task team report. It calls for “deeper, more pointed investigations” to be carried out.
The SA Teachers’ Union, better known by its Afrikaans acronym, Saou, has also responded, along much the same lines. And chief executive Chris Klopper wants further consultation on the report and “where necessary, collective negotiations”.
Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel stresses that his union feels that “investigations should not be limited to schools, but should extend to provincial and district offices, and all officials at all levels”.
This is essential, since even the limited investigation by the task team makes it clear that the level of collusion and corruption extends throughout the system.
The main question now is whether the political will exists to further pursue investigations and, above all, to act fairly and firmly.