Cosatu takes to the streets in support of free education
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.
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.