Metalworkers’ union, Numsa, in Johannesburg has joined a Saftu nationwide stay-away aimed at highlighting the plight of workers as companies continue to cut jobs in a sluggish economy that’s been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yesterday, Statistics South Africa revealed that at least 11 million South Africans are out of work, with the unemployment rate sitting at 32.5%.
Workers are demanding various things, including salary hikes and improved worker safety.
The pickets, under the Saftu umbrella, in the city have taken place at the Johannesburg Central Police Station and the Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto.
The strike coincides with the Finance Minister’s budget speech that’s being table on Wednesday afternoon.
Saftu says it doesn’t have high hopes for the budget.
“We know that he is going to present an austerity budget, a budget that is pro-rich and this is informed by his fear for the raiding agencies, his love for business people, banks, his hatred for state own entities. So there is going to be nothing really for the working class and the poor people in this country,” says Saftu President, Mac Chavalala.
He adds: “We think that he is also going to be following in the presidents footsteps in his state of the nation address, where the president basically presented nothing expect to tell us that he is going to address the triple prices through BEE and he wanted us to clap hands for that and for the fact that the country is now producing 1 million chickens per week as if workers and the poor people want chickens,” Chavalala.
Chavalala says workers don’t want chickens, but want jobs. “We are not told how many jobs were created as a result of that, we suspect that some of these companies were created just for tendering purposes and nothing else. So we can’t celebrate the building of smart cities as if those things are actually creating jobs for our economy. Hence we are saying that we don’t expect anything coming from Tito Mboweni,”adds Chavalala.
Education researcher, teacher and policy analyst, Sara Black, is also not optimistic that education will be prioritised in Mboweni’s speech.
“I don’t hold a lot optimism of education being prioritised to the degree that it needs to be, we know that Mr Mboweni has been a long term advocate for an austerity style of budgeting, very reluctant to consider redirecting funds from parastatals towards basic institutions such as education or even health.
We know for a long time that education budget is inadequate to the task even though we have been told that it is a large percentage of the budget pie. That narrative fails to account for that fact the pie is very small for the numerable mouths that it’s supposed to feed,” concludes Black.
Rights group, Equal Education, is meanwhile protesting outside Parliament in Cape Town, demanding that the Minister prioritises education in his budget speech.
The organisation wants Minister Mboweni to reverse cuts in the Basic Education budget.
Equal Education in the Eastern Cape says the COVID-19 pandemic has had an immense impact on the education system of the country, especially in the rural areas.
The organisation’s Thulisiwe Nkatsha says the pandemic has also highlighted the inequality between public and independent schools.
Independent schools have already begun with their 2021 academic programme, while public school learners will only go to class on February 15.
“That some independent schools are currently operating, and that some public schools may offer remote learning for the first two weeks of February, means that learners from poorly resourced schools will get left behind. The right to learning for all children must be protected,” Equal Education says.
The Department of Basic Education delayed the opening of public schools by two weeks due to the second wave of the COVID-19 in the country.
Equal Education is urging DBE and provincial education departments to use this time to ensure that the non-negotiables are in place so that schools can safely reopen as soon as possible. “We understand the need to ease the pressure on our health system, but we also worry about the negative impact of extended school closures on learning, and on the mental and physical wellbeing of learners.”
One grade 11 learner from the Eastern Cape has also expressed worry over the delays in schools’ reopening.
“I don’t feel very well about schools being delayed. It makes me feel under pressure as I’m going to do Grade 11. I believe there’s a lot of work to do in Grade 11 so I won’t be able to cover all the work. The positive thing about the delays is that [what] the Department can do in the meantime is to fix classrooms, give more textbooks, [and] build a library and computer labs in other schools,” says Mihlali Snyman. – Report compiled by Qaqamba Mdunyelwa from the Alfred Nzo Community Radio news team.
Some learners have expressed frustration over the department of basic education’s decision that they rewrite the leaked maths and physical sciences papers.
During an interview with rights group, Equal Education, Ntombi Mngomezulu, matric learner from KwaZulu-Natal, said: “It’s unfair that all learners will have to suffer for what was done by a few greedy individuals… I’m not prepared [to rewrite]. I’ve told myself that I’m done and that was it… Only the schools [where learners] were found responsible should rewrite. Not the whole country.”
Another matric learner and Equal Education member from Gauteng added: “We as learners have to suffer emotional trauma once more trying to prepare again, keeping in mind that we never had the chance to finish the syllabus thoroughly. I think we should not be rewriting since the Minister (Motshekga) and Umalusi have not given us tangible evidence as to why everyone should write and how far the paper was spread.”
Benedict Matsaung from Limpopo, however, believes the national rewrite is fair. “The rewrite of the maths and physics papers will be fair. The reason is people have worked very hard and they didn’t sleep, while others had practiced with a question paper. Speaking on behalf of my sister, she said that “she is ready to write again” because she [spent] almost 18 hours practicing things that she is not sure about.”
The Basic Education Minister announced the disputed decision on Friday.
She said it was motivated by the fact that preliminary investigations into the matter – couldn’t pin point to the number of learners who had access to the papers as they had been distributed through social media.
However, Equal Education says it is extremely concerned about the stress and uncertainty that has been caused by the leaking of the papers, and the DBE’s decision.
“Matric learners and teachers have had to struggle against many horrible difficulties this year to reach the final exams. As we have said many times before, the COVID-19 pandemic made the shortage of learning materials and other resources in schools in poor and working class communities even worse,” says the organisation.
Equal Education says the DBE and examinations regulator, Umalusi, have not made a convincing case for the move.
“The leaking of exam papers is very serious, but Umalusi and the DBE have not made a strong enough case for why insisting on a national rewrite is appropriate at this moment.”
Equal Education is urging education authorities to explain to the nation how far these papers were circulated and how many questions, from each paper, learners had access to.
“This is a terrible situation, and we understand that it is complicated. It does not seem that Umalusi or the DBE spoke to learners before coming to this decision, and we urge them to do that immediately.”
The organisation is calling for the urgent tightening of the security of the matric question papers, saying learners can’t be punished for weaknesses in the DBE’s security systems and for the criminals who try to make money from the desperation of learners.
Teachers’ union, Sadtu, is taking the matter to court, while learners’ organisation, Cosas, has urged learners to boycott the exams.
Public backlash over the Brackenfell High School Whites-only matric celebration continues. Equal Education says the incident is one manifestation of the racism found in schools across the Western Cape.
“The fact that the white kids didn’t see anything wrong with a “whites only” party at the school says a lot about the kind of future Brackenfell students should look forward to. The whole scandal is racially motivated in a way that it makes POC (people of colour) look and feel less of humans, which is completely wrong. POC were protesting against racism outside of Brackenfell High and were still attacked which is very disturbing. It is a shame that in our democratic dispensation, you still get such racially motivated acts. Personally, the principal should be held accountable, as he is the leader and is the one to promote a non-racial environment,” says Equal Education learner member (Equaliser) Mihlali Mateta.
The rights organisation says the fight for equal and quality education requires the dismantling of institutional racism (racist policies and practices) being experienced by Black learners (learners of colour) at formerly white public and private schools.
It is describing Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer’s response to the incident as “tone deaf, disturbing and shows deliberate ignorance of what racism and discrimination is and how it plays out in schools.”
In her official statement, Schäfer dismissed the discrimination as a private event. She said the teachers who attended the celebration would not be disciplined as they were at the event in their private capacity.
“This results in schools like Brackenfell High School continuing to be non-inclusive spaces, hostile at times to Black people.When the Western Cape MEC of Education lacks the political will to see basic racial discrimination, how will the department which she oversees be able to properly address long-standing problematic policies, practices and cultures in schools, and what hope do Black learners in the Western Cape have of attending schools that are safe and integrated?,” asks Equal Education.
The organisation is calling on the school community of Brackenfell High, the Western Cape Education Department and the Commissioner for Children in the Western Cape to play a more proactive role in investigating and addressing all complaints of racism at the school and uprooting institutional racism in schools in the Western Cape.
Meanwhile, Sibongile Nkasayi, who was caught on camera being beaten by an unidentified man, has opened a case of assault against her assailant.
No arrest has yet been made.
And the man arrested for discharging a firearm during the Economic Freedom Fighters’ protest at the school on Monday appeared in court on Wednesday.
Jaco Pretorious’ case was postponed for further investigations and he will return to the Kuils River Magistrates Court 25 January 2021.
The EFF has promised to return to the school to “teach racists” a lesson.
The school tried to interdict them but failed.
Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) are concerned over the Western Cape Department of Education’s (WCED) Draft Guidelines on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Public Schools.
The civil rights organisations believe the guidelines, in their current form, will not properly protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ learners.
“We want to emphasise the importance of a document that can provide schools with direction on being inclusive, but are very worried that, despite the previous detailed feedback that we submitted to the WCED, various drafts of these Guidelines have not fixed the critical flaws,” say the organisations.
Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre say earlier versions of the department’s draft guidelines were full of highly problematic language.
“The latest version of the draft Guidelines, shared last week with a small number of academics and organisations who previously submitted comments, have addressed some of the problems, but EE and the EELC’s bigger concerns have remained unchanged,” they say.
Problem areas identified are the documents’ failure to recognise and protect learners’ Constitutional rights; failure to put strong obligations on schools and create processes that protect learners; failure to encourage schools to take proactive steps towards being inclusive and failure to centre learners and use affirming language.
The Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre submitted a third round of feedback to the WCED on Wednesday, which the organisations say, points out the problems and how the guidelines can be improved.