Cosatu takes to the streets in sup­port of free ed­u­ca­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - CARYN DOLLEY, ZINTLE MAHLATI and HEIDI GIOKOS

THOU­SANDS of Cosatu mem­bers marched to Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day, calling for all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion, from preschool to univer­sity, to be free to chil­dren from poor ar­eas.

They also want the sizes of classes to be re­duced to a max­i­mum of 28 pupils.

If they don’t get a re­sponse within two weeks, they said they would re­turn to Par­lia­ment.

Across the coun­try, thou­sands more mem­bers of the weak­ened labour fed­er­a­tion marched to var­i­ous em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing govern­ment de­part- ments, to mark In­ter­na­tional Day for De­cent Work.

The de­mands for all tiers of ed­u­ca­tion to be made free for the poor comes as vi­o­lent protests have rocked uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try.

In Cape Town, a large group, mon­i­tored by scores of po­lice of­fi­cers in riot gear, first gath­ered out­side the provin­cial leg­is­la­ture, which they shouted was “the madam’s palace”.

Po­lice of­fi­cers with shields blocked the en­trance.

SA Demo­cratic Teach­ers Union provin­cial sec­re­tary Jono­van Rustin told the chant­ing crowd: “We’re here to­day to tell the Western Cape ed­u­ca­tion de­part­ment and gov­ern- ment that we’re tired of the fact that learn­ers in poorer ar­eas have in­fe­rior school­ing to those in rich ar­eas.”

He said if the provin­cial govern­ment did not bow to their de­mands for no fees and smaller classes, Cosatu would take their fight to the courts.

Cosatu lead­ers wanted to hand a mem­o­ran­dum to a leader of the provin­cial govern­ment, but Cosatu provin­cial sec­re­tary Tony Ehren­re­ich com­plained that a ju­nior mem­ber had in­stead been sent to meet them.

He re­fused to hand over the mem­o­ran­dum, say­ing: “We will meet them (provin­cial govern­ment lead­ers) in the town­ships when they try and come there.”

The thou­sands of marchers then moved on to Par­lia­ment, where they were mon­i­tored by po­lice. An ar­moured po­lice ve­hi­cle was also parked nearby.

Ehren­re­ich shouted to the crowd that while class­rooms com­prised about 50 chil­dren in ar­eas in­clud­ing Mitchells Plain, Khayelit­sha and Delft, “here un­der the shad­ows of Ta­ble Moun­tain” in Con­stan­tia there were 25 chil­dren in classes.

Of the protest­ing univer­sity stu­dents, he added: “They must know we are with them 100 per­cent, but we are not be­hind the burn­ing of prop­erty.

“We must say it as par­ents, let’s not de­stroy our prop­erty.”

He gave a dead­line of 14 days for a re­sponse to their de­mands. Na­tional As­sem­bly deputy speaker Lech­esa Tsenoli signed Cosatu’s mem­o­ran­dum and said they would re­spond within the dead­line.

The fed­er­a­tion’s gen­eral-sec­re­tary, Bheki Nt­shal­intshali, said they were pleased with the turnout, but it was un­clear if their 200 000 tar­get was met. To loud cheers from the Gaut­eng crowd, he said: “It has been a long day, and with­out be­ing forced you de­cided that to­day is your day to march to raise the con­scious­ness of both our friends and our en­e­mies that Cosatu is alive and kick­ing.”

But he said they weren’t there to com­pete with any­one, but to “to raise our voices with the is­sues that af­fect us”.

In Johannesburg, the pro­tes­tors car­ried plac­ards bear­ing a num­ber of mes­sages in­clud­ing, “stop ca­su­al­i­sa­tion”, “scrap e-tolls” and “na­tional min­i­mum wage now” as they made stops at var­i­ous govern­ment de­part­ments.

Their de­mands in­cluded the fed­er­a­tion’s long-stand­ing call on the govern­ment to scrap e-tolls, abol­ish labour bro­kers, im­ple­ment a na­tional health in­sur­ance plan and a na­tional min­i­mum wage, an ad­e­quate trans­port sys­tem and free edu- cation. Johannesburg mayor Her­man Mashaba, the Cham­ber of Mines, the Gaut­eng de­part­ment of trans­port and food store Spar were all handed mem­o­ran­dums of de­mands.

PIC­TURE: BHEKI RADEBE

At Par­lia­ment hun­dreds of public ser­vants joined Cosatu’s na­tional strike in­tended to shut down the econ­omy for the day. They took their mem­o­ran­dums to the Western Cape leg­is­la­ture and Par­lia­ment.

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