When Adults Act Petty and Puerile – Digesting SADTUs Mannya About Turn

by Nomalanga Mkhize

Songezo Zibi wrote this article on Sadtu’s incomprehensible about turn on Modidima Mannya’s firing and Angie Motshekga’s role in this http://www.fm.co.za/opinion/editorial/2013/03/14/a-litmus-test

His article was quite cutting; I felt it merited a response. In fact, it merits a whole national discussion.

As a rural child, I was brought up to believe that adults, especially elders who hold some leadership or social rank, are hardly ever wrong.

As we grew up, we were then taught how to politely point out to adults or elders when they had erred without explicitly humiliating them. I found it hilarious as a child when an adult who had been caught out would cheekily tell us – “umuntu omdala akaqambi amanga, ‘uyaphosisa'”.

This is a cornerstone of traditionalist societies – maintaining respect and decorum between the young and the senior.

This was back in the past of my childhood in the rural idylls of Mpumalanga and Pietermaritzburg where it felt like the universe of norms was relatively intact. Everybody knew their place and responsibility.

But I recall an incident which punctures my rose-tinted memories.

This is when a relative of mine who was a highly respected teacher practically dragged himself home, through the streets of the township, dirt streaks on his half unbuttoned white shirt, stomach exposed, zip and belt half undone, sopping drunk, incoherent. Cousins were dispatched to help him along. It was a painful sight for me, I was barely 5.

There are moments when adults can behave, in the full glare of the public, in ways that are so immature and so childish that one is just left feeling downright perplexed.

A week ago when I read the latest press statement by the executive of the South African Democratic Teachers Union I had such a feeling of complete disbelief.

As Zibi points out, the press statement, criticises Minister Motshekga for making public utterances that hinted at non-procedural dismissal of then Eastern Cape Education HOD Modidima Mannya.

Hawu. Hayibo. Kanti? Imani. Wait. A. Minute. No. Let’s wait two minutes, and reflect.

This is the SADTU that crippled Eastern Cape education for three weeks in 2012 to have Mannya unprocedurally fired.

On the ground, communities were scrambling to organise tutorials for panicked children. I was one of those people who got lots of phone calls from parents “Nomalanga, khawuncede, Nomalanga, abantwana, please”.

In my town of Grahamstown, SADTU officials went from meeting to meeting to explain to angry parents about why Mannya must go. At one meeting, tribalism even emerged as one union official said “He is not even one of us, he is from another ethnic group outside this province”.

Hawu. Ngavele ngaphelelwa amazwi. I was lost for words.

But let’s accept that was the ignorance of one person and not the culture of SADTU nationally. The parents at the meeting dismissed this tribalist sentiment immediately.

Those three weeks of the go-slow were some of the toughest three weeks for Eastern Cape education.

As citizen’s we got together and issued this letter to the local newspapers – in our anger and concern for the children – https://imfundo.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/letter.jpg

We were so angry we could not even bring ourselves to write the letter in English.

We needed to be clearly and properly understood.

Fast forward to March 2013. It is as if SADTU never had a role in the Mannya debacle. It is as if a debilitating go-slow never happened.

Do they take us for fools?

Perhaps, they do!

Or perhaps it may be worse, they are indifferent to pain they cause because they have become so stuck in their bad habits, so unable to reflect on their collective behaviour as seniors and elders.

Just like my drunk relative, rolling down the streets of the township, dignity all gone, family shame exposed.



By Nomalanga Mkhize

Approximately 12 000 learners in the Eastern Cape have had their schools forcibly placed under lockdown by their parents over the past four weeks. Across Uitenhage, the P.E. Northern Areas, and even in Grahamstown we have seen these dramatic shutdowns. [See Herald http://www.peherald.com/news/article/12834.%5D

Gates are locked; no one may enter, at least not for educational purposes. In some schools, staff members who attempt to breach the lockdown may find themselves on the nasty side of angry parents.

And these parents are angry, very angry. Their children’s schools are under-funded; they have teacher/pupil ratios of on average 1:90. Children go to school and find themselves idling or unheard in huge classes where the teachers struggle to control them.

Discipline goes out of the window, teachers get gatvol, principals come close to nervous breakdowns, and the school life slowly disintegrates.

Under such conditions, would you keep sending your child to school? These parents have decided enough. Such schools have become unsafe environments.

In the discussions around the public education system in South Africa, there is often an uncritical moralism advocating for children to be ‘kept at school at all costs’, for ‘education to not be disrupted’, ‘children to be in classrooms at all times’.

This is because, as the narrative goes, education is the key to all our problems, schooling must never be disrupted – it is sacrosanct.

This position is understandable in a country where school is often disrupted for frivolous or unsound reasons, usually advanced by teacher union politics.

However, it is also a naïve view because there are times when schooling must be justifiably disrupted. This is when conditions can be considered abnormal or no longer conducive to learning. In the 1970s and 80s, the apartheid regime created such an inhumane environment within society as a whole.

Today, however, abnormality in human relations is often found in the local microcosm that is the public school itself. Abnormality is the norm, such that we now consider our schools with their litany of problems to be normal so long as they are not being burnt or stoned.

Yet, we know that much of what children experience in our public schools cannot in any way be considered normal. The problems are very well known, they need not be listed again here. The more destructive elements such as violence, rape, drug-trafficking are acknowledged, nobody denies their existence.

Less acknowledged, however, is the systematic erosion of children’s sense of self, dignity, and intellectual personhood that takes place as a result of going to schools which are badly run, severely under-resourced, overcrowded etc. Even without the gangsters, the drugs and the violence, attending a public school in South Africa can be a highly unpleasant daily experience.

For example, the problem of being a girl who is menstruating in a school with broken toilets and intermittent water service. Of being a child who has to hold it in or run to the bush because there are no ablutions of any kind. Of being that child that must learn to be physically aggressive because bullying is endemic in the school. Of being a boy who is socialised into a culture where male teachers routinely harass your female peers. Of being that girl who is being harassed.

This while the education administrators send their children to schools with freshly clipped hedges, trimmed green grass, pretty flowers, shady trees and a sense of routine, order and pride.

Schools have never been easy places for children, that is known. Teachers have been grumpy since time immemorial, and children learn to navigate that terrain in their own ways.

However, there is a minimum required for dignity; many of our public schools no longer offer dignity to our children.

Under these circumstances, parents are perfectly within their rights to lockdown schools and demand effective and urgent action from the state.

But, where has the state been as these over 12 000 children face this meltdown? Nowhere to be seen. There is absolutely not one figure of authority either in provincial or national government who has taken the public into their confidence to say – we are sorry your children are suffering, this is the plan, this is how we must walk forward with this mess.

In 2011 Minister Angie Motshekga instituted a constitutional take-over of the Eastern Cape education department. Frankly, it was a publicity stunt, an ill-informed crisis management strategy. The root causes of the problem – corruption, union politicking, tenderpreneurship in the department were not addressed.

Although the organisation I work for was sceptical of this now famous ‘Section 100’, we nevertheless compelled her to go to court to ensure that it would work. We were on weak footing because on paper, her lawyers insisted they had the means to make it work. But in real life, we knew their technical arguments were a joke.

Over 16 schools have shutdown, we await the promises of Section 100 to trickle down. The latest meltdown has been a long time coming, aren’t they always?

One usually ends off a piece like this with some kind of ‘should’ or ‘ought’.

But at this point, this is futile. There is nothing to be done or said as we watch these adults watch portions of the public schooling system break off and disintegrate.

No doubt schooling will be restored, but if I have the choice, the money, my child will never sit in a school that suffers these problems, and no child should have to.

You can find out more about the community education work I support at blog.sosac.org.za