School closures: frustration mounts as SA waits

By Jenna Etheridge for News24 

Frustration is mounting as teachers’ unions await feedback from Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on its calls to close schools as the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa gains momentum.

Motshekga has been consulting with various stakeholders to find a way forward but the unions appear to be losing patience amid confusion over when she will meet Cabinet to discuss the issue and make an announcement.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga indicated on Monday that the consultation process was now closed.

“The minister has concluded the consultation process … she is now processing a comprehensive report of this process through [the] structure of government eventually with the NCCC [National Coronavirus Command Council] and Cabinet.”

This followed meetings with school governing body and principals’ associations on Thursday, civil society organisations and teachers unions on Friday and associations of independent schools on Saturday, along with the Council of Education Ministers.

But according to the unions, the consultation process is still ongoing.

Meeting

They met with her ministry on Sunday night and were invited to another meeting on Monday evening.

The e-mailed invitation, which News24 has seen, is titled “Follow-Up Consultative Meeting with Unions”.

Professional Educators’ Union general secretary Ben Machipi said they had expected the department to come up with a response on Sunday already.

Instead that meeting had felt to him like a waste of time.

“They had a task team constituted that was introduced to us by the deputy minister, where they requested our consolidated proposal,” he said.

“They cannot come and ask for a consolidated document, when that was something which was already given to her [Motshekga] personally.”

National Teachers’ Union president Alan Thompson said they had been asked to give the team a chance to read their demands.

“To us this is a matter of life and death… If she is saying she has concluded consultation, she is just ticking a box.”

South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said they remained focused.

‘Frustrated’

“We are dealing with lives here and are frustrated; however we must not give up… We are doing this because we have serious problems in schools.”

National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel said the issue now was not just about children being infected, but also the mental health and safety of teachers.

“On Friday, we were told there would be a Cabinet meeting over the weekend. We were told yesterday [Sunday] it was postponed until Tuesday,” he said.

“We are not advocating for teachers to sit back and enjoy a holiday. We want to be working on alternative models [for teaching].”

Rubbishing proposals by some to not pay teachers while they sat at home, he said thousands of teachers continued their work remotely so pupils would not fall behind.

The unions argued that teachers should be trained on how to prepare online lessons and assessments.

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